Have you ever been in the middle of preparing something only to discover you don’t have all of the ingredients or simply do not have as much of it as you thought you had?
While, ultimately, it is best to double check everything prior to starting a recipe, even when doing so mistakes will still be made — and it just isn’t always possible to know exactly how much of product is in its container without actually pre-measuring it first before shopping so mistakes are going to be made in guessing how much is really left from time to time — or you mistake a can of chicken noodle for condensed cream of chicken.
My primary goal for today is to provide a list of potential solutions in the form of substitutions in case of an emergency — plus, a few easy recipes for making some of your own staples in a pinch.
Also, there will substitutes which are simply more cost effective — or that are substitutes for those on particular dietary restrictions such as sugar or gluten.
Plus, I will be throwing in few odds and ends of “Helpful Kitchen Tips” here and there from time to time.
I’ve included a pretty extensive list of substitutions below — particularly for the most commonly used herbs and spices, pantry staples, as well as for many other ingredients.
However, this is just a start, keep checking back as I will be adding more to this substitution list over time. There just isn’t enough time in a single day to list every substitution (that I am familiar with and have used) all at once. I will most likely also list others I may learn about in the future once I’ve tried them out.
If you do not see what you are specifically looking for, leave a comment below, or privately email any questions and requests (NOT SPAM!) to us at:
I did an earlier blog post that was all about deciphering vintage recipe terms for measurements (a handful, a dab, a pinch, etc). Today, I thought I should probably also include the basic modern day list of U.S.A. standards of measurements. I may even update it later to include metric equivalents — although these are easily found using many free online conversion tools and charts.
(Modern Day) U.S.A. STANDARD MEASUREMENTS, SUBSTITUTIONS & EQUIVALENTS
a pinch = 1/8 teaspoon or less
3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon
4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup
8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup
12 tablespoons = 3/4 cup
16 tablespoons = 1 cup
2 cups = 1 pint
2 pints = 1 quart
4 quarts = 1 gallon
8 quarts = 1 peck
4 pecks = 1 bushel
16 ounces = 1 pound
32 ounces = 1 quart
8 ounces liquid = 1 cup
1 ounce liquid = 2 tablespoons
Be sure to use the appropriate dry or liquid measuring cup. There is a huge difference between the two!
All measurements should be level — unless otherwise indicated by the recipe. Shake the measuring container or device back and forth to fill any air pockets and level it, then only if necessary use a straight instrument (such as the non-sharp side of a dinner knife blade) to scrape off any excess.
Do not tap, bang, nor press which will compact it — unless the recipe specifically calls for it to be a “packed” amount.
On the other hand, if it calls for a “heaping” then fill the container by dipping it into the ingredient so that it holds as much as it comfortably can without spilling including a mound with center peak that rises well above the rim of the measuring device. If it calls for a “rounded” then the mound (no peak) should rise only slightly above the rim. Think of sort of like comparing a little hill to a very small mound of dirt — while avoiding any mountains that may have land slides.
Substitutions & Equivalents & Other Tips
If your recipe calls for 1 pound of cake flour, use 4 -1/2 cups.
If your recipe calls for 1 pound pastry flour, use 4-1/4 cups.
If your recipe calls for 1 pound whole wheat flour, use 3-1/3 cups.
If your recipe calls for 1 pound all purpose flour, use 3-1/2 cups.
Not all substitutions will result in the exact same taste or texture. However, when caught in a bind they are acceptable and can be quite the life savers!
When butter is indicated, use unsalted butter — unless the recipe specifically states to use salted. You cannot take away excess salt once added — other than to cut it by doubling (or more) the recipe without putting in any additional salt.
If you do not have unsalted butter, use the salted butter but do not add any additional salt to the recipe or at the very least cut the salt in half.
When substituting dry baking cocoa for solid chocolates in cakes, the amount of flour should be reduced — unless each of the 3 Tbsp cocoa has been combined with 1 Tbsp melted butter or oil first (not counting any other butter, oil, or shortening called for in the recipe)
Brown and White Sugars: Usually may be used interchangeably.
However, it takes 2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar to equal one cup granulated sugar.
Due to the anti-caking agents (corn starch or tricalcium phosphate), add 1 tsp additional liquid per 1/2 cup of the substituted powdered sugar used in order to maintain the proper moisture balance in the recipe — only if being used as a substitute in place of granulated sugar. If a recipe actually calls for powdered sugar, then there is no need to make such moisture adjustments.
Syrups may be used in place of sugars, however, you will have to adjust other liquids in the recipe to accommodate for the extra moisture. (If there is a formula for this adjustment, I am not personally familiar with it — I just “eyeball” and “ball park” it based upon experience. I do know from experience that it varies depending upon the type of syrup, honey, molasses being used for substitutes — as well as the density of the batter it is going into — and that adjustments — usually — only need to be made if the quantity exceeds 4 or 5 Tablespoons in a quantity of batter going into a 13 x 9 pan or two 9 inch rounds).
The same is true if using chocolate syrup in place of solid chocolates or cocoa powder. Other liquids must be adjusted to compensate for the added moisture.
Chocolate syrup, however, used alone will not be very flavorful and it is just not possible to add a sufficient quantity to get more than a faint hint of chocolate flavor. It does not make the best substitute.
However, if you find yourself only slightly short of the needed solid chocolate or cocoa powder, then it works okay as an adjunct — additional partial filler — provided you make the required liquid adjustments elsewhere to compensate for the extra moisture being added.
More Substitutes & Equivalents:
self rising flour (1 cup) = 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp.baking powder
all purpose flour (1 cup) = 1 cup wheat or oat flour; if use self rising flour, reduce the amount of salt by 1/2 tsp and the baking powder by 1 tsp in the recipe; see below for making own gluten free oat flour.
cornstarch (1 tablespoon) = 2 T. flour or 2 tsp. quick-cooking tapioca (for thickening sauces)
baking powder (1 teaspoon) = 1/4 tsp. baking soda plus 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
powdered sugar (1 cup) = 1 c. granulated sugar plus 1 tsp. cornstarch –provided the unprocessed granulated sugar doesn’t interfere with the consistency– it is okay mixed with most cake batters (but not angel food or sponge). However, it results in very grainy frosting/icing and things like fudge — and its hit or miss with meringues — see below for making an all purpose home-made powdered sugar for use in glazes and frosting/icing, fudge, etc.
brown sugar (1/2 cup) = 2 T. molasses in 1/2 cup granulated sugar
sour milk (1 cup) = 1 T. lemon juice or vinegar plus regular milk or cream
to make 1 cup (combine, let stand 5 minutes, whisk)
whole milk (1 cup) = 1/2 cup evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water — or may simply use 1 cup evaporated milk if prefer as well as cream, half n half, or non-dairy milk substitutes — or use 1 cup of water and 1-1/2 teaspoons of butter for every 1 cup of milk called for in the recipe.
cracker crumbs (3/4 cup) = 1 cup bread crumbs
chocolate 1 square (1 oz.) = 3 Tbsp cocoa plus 1 T melted butter or oil
fresh onion (1 small) = 1 T. instant minced onion, re-hydrated, or
dry mustard 1 teaspoon = 1 T. prepared mustard
tomato juice (1 cup) = 1/2 c. tomato sauce plus 1/2 c. water (for cooking only; not for drinking or drink mixes)
ketchup/catsup or chili sauce (1 cup) = 1 c. tomato sauce plus 1/2 c. sugar and 2 T.vinegar (for substitute in cooking only — not as a condiment)
dates (1 lb) = 1 1/2 c. dates, pitted and cut
bananas (3 medium) = 1 c. mashed
mini marshmallows (10) = 1 large marshmallow
butter (1 stick) = 8 Tbsp or 1/2 cup
buttermilk (1 cup) = 1 cup yogurt — or 1/2 cup sour cream plus 1/2 cup milk — unless the actual culture action specifically being provided is not required for in the recipe in which case you may simply substitute 1 cup sour milk.
coconut, flaked (3 1/2 oz.) = 1 1/3 cups
sour cream (1 cup) = 3 T. butter plus 7/8 cup sour milk (melt pre-measured amount of butter, add to liquid measure cup, and then add sour milk until reaches 1 cup) — OR microwave 1 cup sour milk made with half and half or heavy cream, instead of regular milk, for 30 to 45 seconds then whisk before using.
fresh herbs (1 tablespoon) = 1 teaspoon dried herbs (as a general rule of thumb; some herbs become much weaker or more rarely stronger when dried — and some lose or more rarely gain potency with increased age when dried)
One tablespoon of dried minced onion flakes equals 1/4 cup minced raw onion; however, dried onion loses potency with age so more may be needed.
Substitute 1 tablespoon of onion powder for one medium chopped onion; however, dried onion loses potency with age so more may be needed.
For best onion flavor (listed in descending order from the most to least flavorful), use fresh onion, frozen minced onion, dried minced onion flakes (re-hydrated), onion powder.
Bittersweet and semisweet chocolate may be used interchangeably in recipes, but there may be slight differences in flavor and texture.
semisweet chocolate chips (1 ounce) = 1 ounce unsweetened baking cocoa plus 1 tablespoons sugar
unsweetened baking cocoa (3 to 4 Tbsp) or unsweetened chocolate (3 ounces) = 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or morsels – plus cut sugar by 1/4 cup and cut any shortening, oil, or butter by 1 tablespoon in your recipe
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 4 teaspoons sugar, and 1 tablespoon butter, shortening or vegetable oil for every 1-ounce German’s sweet baking chocolate
1 ounce dark sweet chocolate for every 1 ounce German’s sweet baking chocolate
Substitute equal amounts of sweet chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate for milk chocolate,
Substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus a pinch (1/8 teaspoon) baking soda for every 1 ounce Dutch-Process Cocoa.
Substitute 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (reduce fat in recipe by 1 tablespoon for every 1 ounce of Dutch Process Cocoa.
Vegan Carob for Cocoa Substitutions:
3 tablespoons carob powder for every 1-ounce Dutch Process Cocoa
3 tablespoon carob powder plus 2 tablespoons water for every 1-ounce unsweetened cocoa
In mole sauces, substitute 1 tablespoon cocoa powder for every ounce of Mexican chocolate or 1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate plus 1/2 teaspoon ground Mexican cinnamon for every 1-ounce Mexican Chocolate called for in the recipe.
Mexican cinnamon or canela is a soft bark variety. You may substitute the more common hard bark variety in equal quantities.
1 – 3 inch cinnamon stick = 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 – 3 inch cinnamon stick = 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon extract
For 1 tsp ground cinnamon, substitute 1/4 tsp of either nutmeg or allspice.
For 1 tsp ground cinnamon, substitute 1/8 tsp nutmeg plus 1/8 tsp allspice.
For 1 tsp allspice, substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.
For 1 tsp. coriander, substitute 7/8 tsp ground caraway or fennel seed with 1/8 tsp cumin (simply add pre-measured cumin to a teaspoon measure and finish filling with ground caraway or fennel).
For 1 tsp ground cumin, substitute 1 tsp chili powder plus 1/8 tsp cinnamon.
For 1 tsp chili powder, substitute 1 tsp hot sauce plus 1/2 tsp ground cumin and 1/4 tsp dried oregano.
Cardamon and ginger may be used in equal quantities as substitutes for each other.
Apple pie spice:
For 1 teaspoon, substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, plus 1/8 teaspoon each ground allspice, ground cloves and/or ground ginger.
Pumpkin pie spice:
For 1 teaspoon, substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg.
Homemade Powdered/Confectioners/Icing Sugar:
20 Tablespoons (1-1/4 cup) granulated sugar plus 1 Tablespoon cornstarch; blend in food processor until super finely powdered. Store in airtight container at room temperature in a cool, dry place away from excess heat. Sift before using.
The addition of cornstarch prevents caking (clumping) as well as protects against melting or dissolving with normal everyday humidity (moisture) in the air.
Caster or Baker’s sugar:
Blend granulated sugar in blender, coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or food processor until granules are approximately half the normal size. Do not powder!
Snow powder or snow sugar cannot be reproduced or substituted at home. It is a very highly processed, complicated, factory manufactured only, non-melting , non-dissolving, decorative, powdered sugar which tastes 20 percent less sweet than regular sugar. It is manufactured out of plant extracts, dextrose, anti-binders, various starches, and titanium dioxide (to make it white in color) and is intended for special use as a powdered sugar decoration on top of cakes, pies, and pastries requiring refrigeration or that are frozen.
Sweetened Condensed Milk:
Equivalent to 12 to 14 ounce can of condensed milk — although actual total quantity may vary slightly.
1 can evaporated milk
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Heat 1 can evaporated milk and granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium heat just until warm and whisk in 1 Tbsp cornstarch. Reduce heat and simmer stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Cool completely and use right away.
Sugar Free Confectioners Sugar
1 cup granulated sucralose/Splenda (or other sugar substitute that measures cup for cup — IF not being heated or cooked)
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup powdered milk
yields 1 3/4 cup sugar free powdered sugar
Blend or food process to powdered sugar consistency and store in airtight container
Sugar Free Sweetened Condensed Milk
Equivalent to 12 to 14 ounce can of condensed milk — although actual total quantity may vary slightly.
1 can evaporated milk
1-1/2 cups granulated sucralose/Splenda
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Heat 1 can evaporated milk and granulated sucralose in a saucepan over medium heat just until warm and whisk in 1 Tbsp cornstarch. Reduce heat and simmer stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Cool completely and use right away.
Do not use any other “zero calorie” sugar substitute. At present, only granulated sucralose is safe for use when being heated or cooked.
Otherwise, carefully choose an approved for cooking and baking “low calorie” sugar substitute (some “low calorie” substitutes are safe for cooking — and some are not).
To learn how to make your own version of canned evaporated milk:
Oat Flour (Gluten Free)
Process no more than 1 cup at a time of gluten free rolled oats in a food processor or 1/2 cup at a time in blender until reaches a fine powder (flour) consistency. Store in airtight container at room temperature. Sift before using.
If live in a particularly humid climate and find clumping becomes an issue, next time making oat flour add 1 tsp. cornstarch per 2 cups oat flour and process to blend well in food processor or blender prior to storing.
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, make sure the rolled oats are certified as gluten free. While naturally gluten free, they are sometimes processed in factories that also process other types of grains using the exact same equipment resulting in gluten cross contamination.
“Helpful Kitchen Tips”
Clumping and Hardening:
To prevent brown sugar from hardening, store in airtight container or zippered bag with a large marshmallow on top. Take out the marshmallow and replace with a fresh one as needed or about every 2 to 3 months.
To prevent sugar or flour from clumping, store in an airtight container with a dry saltine cracker placed on top. Remove and replace the cracker as needed or about every 1 to 2 months.
Do not use bread — as it can become molded! If this happens then all of the flour or sugar must be thrown away, and the container soaked in a very strong bleach water solution for twenty minutes to kill the spores, then washed very well, towel dried, and finally it should then be allowed to air dry in a clean well ventilated area for 24 to 72 hours before being used again.
To save brown sugar which has hardened, put in microwave safe bowl and microwave in 10 to 15 second intervals — stirring and fluffing with a dinner fork after each interval — until reaches the desired consistency. Place in a zippered bag or an airtight container with a large marshmallow on top as described above.
Proofing Bread Dough:
When proofing most types of bread dough (allowing the dough to rise), you can turn your microwave into a professional bread proofing drawer! Bring a cup of water to boil in the microwave then carefully move it into one of the very back corners of the microwave. Place your covered bowl of bread dough inside. Close the door and keep it closed to maintain a mildly warm, moist environment.
If the bread dough being proofed is temperamental to humidity, skip boiling water and simply place your dough inside the microwave where it will be out of the way and not subjected to drafts.
Just make sure nobody turns the microwave on while the dough is inside waiting to rise! Usually not an issue since it involves putting something in there first. However, once a well meaning somebody felt the side of my covered bowl, and not being hot to the touch, decided to turn on the microwave to heat it up first, before removing it to use the microwave for their own purpose. It was actually my second and final proofing so I lost an entire day’s worth of hard work! Now I only cover the bowls with see through clear shower caps and warn everyone — as well as placing a sticky note on front of the microwave door!
Shower Caps for Covers:
Shower caps make great, quick, easy to use, washable, re-usable covers!
Keep a package or two in the kitchen to use in place of disposable cling wrap or for when you can’t find the lid that goes with your container!
They can be used to cover various sized bowls, plates, pitchers, and even some oddly shaped dishes and smaller square shaped containers.