Cooking Ingredient Substitutions – Conversions, Charts, & More

Published on October 14, 2021 | Updated on July 8, 2024 | by Nathan Crane

Know your ingredients Featured image

Knowing Your Ingredients

In the way back machine, it seems like there were two kinds of households in America. Those who used Betty Crocker cookbooks in their iconic red check binder, and those who used The Joy of Cooking in the blue cover with stripes. Both had certain strengths, but Joy in particular offered a ‘Know Your Ingredients’ section. See some of our favorite cookbooks here.

Betty Crocker cookbook and The Joy of Cooking

What is a cook to do if you have no baking powder, or bittersweet chocolate? Those questions were answered along with how to dress a squirrel for cooking, how to lard a roast and more notable details like where on the animal cuts of beef or pork originated. In short, it was encyclopedic about the depth and breadth of information it offered.

Crucial Snippets

woman adding oil in pan

It is really easy to start a recipe and hit one relatively little ingredient that you are lacking, which is also crucial to the recipe. We’ve accumulated the most common missing ingredients we’ve encountered while in the kitchen, along with the easiest substitution. Our goal is that the substituted item is something that you are likely to have on hand. While we aren’t offering the entire encyclopedia these snippets will keep you cooking.

Some things are not exactly a straight line substitution bringing all the exact same properties. Take for example ½ cup cooking oil for baking listed below. Typically it is a moistening agent in quick breads or such. Applesauce, the recommended substitution, will accomplish the goal of holding moisture. You need to fill in the blank with some common sense and compensate by oiling the pan for example to avoid sticking.

Common Kitchen Substitution Chart

Baking powder1 teaspoon¾  teaspoon baking soda plus ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Baking soda1 teaspoon3 teaspoons baking powder, or 1 teaspoon potassium bicarbonate and ¼ teaspoon salt.
Brown sugar1 cupUse one cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon of molasses
Butter, salted1 cup1 cup shortening plus ½ teaspoon salt, or ⅞ cup vegetable oil plus ½ teaspoon salt
Buttermilk or sour milk1 cup1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup, let rest for 10 minutes
Chocolate, unsweetened1 ounce3 tablespoons cocoa plus 1 tablespoon butter
Cream, heavy1 cup for recipes not whipping¾ cup milk plus ⅓ cup melted butter
Cream, light1 cup⅞ cup milk plus 3 tablespoons melted butter
Cream, sour1 cup⅞ cup plain yogurt plus 3 tablespoons melted butter
Egg1 whole medium3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon water for baking, or 3 tablespoons mayonnaise for cakes.
Flour, self-rising1 cup1 cup all-purpose flour plus 1½ teaspoons baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt
Flour, as a thickener1 tablespoon1 teaspoon either corn starch or arrowroot powder
Herbs, dried½ to 1 teaspoon1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs
Honey1 cup1¼ cups sugar plus ½ cup liquid called for in recipe like milk or water, or 1 cup real maple syrup
Lemon juice1 teaspoon¾ teaspoon white vinegar
Lemon rind, grated1 teaspoon½ teaspoon real lemon extract
Mayonnaise1 cup1 cup sour cream or 1 cup pureed cottage cheese
Milk, whole1 cup¾ cup 2% milk plus ¼ cup half and half
Molasses1 cup1 cup dark corn syrup or B grade honey
Mustard, dry1 teaspoon1 tablespoon prepared mustard, subtract 1½ teaspoon liquid from the recipe
Oil, for baking½ cup½ cup of applesauce to keep baked goods moist
Sugar, granulated1 cup1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar. This will make baked goods less crisp.
Sweetened condensed milk1 can (14 oz.)1 cup evaporated milk plus 1¼ cup granulated sugar. If not a cooked recipe, heat the milk and dissolve the sugar
Vanilla bean1-inch bean1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or substitute whiskey or rum, using twice the amount of vanilla as called for in the recipe.
Vinegar1 teaspoon1 teaspoon lemon juice, or 2 teaspoons white wine
Vinegar, balsamic1 tablespoon1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar
Wine1 cup1 cup fruit juice mixed and 2 teaspoons vinegar

Source:Ingredient Substitutions Chart | The Old Farmer’s Almanac


Man adding flour in bowl

In the arena of substituting comes the idea of measuring and sometimes multiplying recipes. These are by volume measurements, not by weight. If a recipe calls for 3 Tablespoons, you’re cooking for a crowd and will multiply by a factor of four do you really want to measure out 12 Tablespoons? Or is it easier knowing that a Tablespoon is ½ ounce, which means you need 6 ounces for this example, or ¾ of a cup.

And don’t even get us started about teaspoons. Okay fine, we’re started. The old timey call was 2 teaspoons plus a scant teaspoon equals one Tablespoon. Scant meaning like 7/8 or thereabout. Modern conversion is straight line 3:1 teaspoons to Tablespoons.

Side note;
When you see recipes, a common shorthand is that a lowercase ‘t’ means one teaspoon, and upper case ‘T’ means one Tablespoon.

Measuring Equivalent Chart

3 teaspoons= 1 Tablespoon
1 Tablespoon= ½ ounce
2 Tablespoons= 1 ounce=1/8 cup
16 Tablespoons= 8 ounces=1 cup
2 cups= 16 ounces= 1 pint
2 pints= 32 ounces= 1 quart
2 quarts= 64 ounces= ½ gallon
8 pints= 128 ounces= 4 quarts= 1 gallon
About the Author Nathan Crane

I love to eat and I love to cook. I’ve been getting roped into Jacob’s business ideas for decades now, and Cookware Junkies is the best of the lot. Here at the site, I help with the test kitchens and videos, and do most of the write-ups. [Read More]

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