Here are 25+ Healthy and Easy Food Substitutions that will save you money, time, and space in your pantry! Learn more here on stocking a real food pantry to save time and money!
I know you’ve been there. We’ve ALL been there.
At some point in time, you’ve brought home from the grocery store an oddball ingredient listed in a recipe, only to use a tiny little bit. Then as you stick the rest in the fridge or pantry, you wonder to yourself, “How in the world am I going to use up the rest of this without making this same recipe million times over?”
And then a week (or several) later, when that particular item gets moldy or expires, you kick yourself in the foot as you throw the item into the trash thinking, “Well shoot! There goes $5 (or $20!) down the drain. What a waste!”
Oh gosh. I could wish for a nickel for every time I did that, but it really wouldn’t make much of a dent in the money I know I’ve wasted!
The madness stops today. Instead of throwing away our hard-earned money, let’s be proactive and purposeful in our spending and cut out ingredients we don’t really need anyway. Surely we can be creative and find a great substitute, right? Do we REALLY need to have 50 different spices in the cabinet when we only regularly use 5-6?
This list of the top 25 frugal food substitutions will help you whittle down your cabinets so you’re only spending money on the foods and baked goods that really count and will give you the most bang for your buck.
For all the items listed below, there’s a really, really good chance you have the substitution already in your pantry. If by some chance you don’t, I’m 100% positive you can find it at a local store for an affordable price.
My small disclaimer: When you swap one ingredient in a recipe calling for another, you always run the risk of variation in taste and different behavior in cooking. However, most changes in taste are so slight that the average person doesn’t even notice. Simply use your best judgment and taste as you go.
My second small disclaimer: This is not the end-all, be-all of substitution lists. I tried to compile a comprehensive list of substitution ideas and do you know how long it was?
Folks. Are you REALLY going to stick around here and read every possible substitution idea known to man… for Nine. Full. Pages?!
I think not. So I took the liberty of ignoring the common ones and sharing only the best of the best – the ones that trim your grocery bill and even help you find a way to use real food instead of the fake stuff. Let’s get to it!
25+ Easy Food Substitutions That Will Save You Money
Allspice: 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg + 1/4 tsp cloves (makes 1 tsp)
Apple Pie Spice: 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg + 1/8 tsp allspice + dash ground cloves OR ground ginger (makes 1 tsp)
Butter: Pureed white beans, applesauce, coconut oil (for up to half of the butter in the recipe)
Buttermilk: Find 7 substitution ideas HERE.
Cardamom: Ground ginger OR equal parts cinnamon + nutmeg
Cheese: Find 6 substitution ideas HERE.
Chervil: Tarragon OR parsley
Chili Sauce: 1 cup tomato sauce + 1/4 cup brown sugar + 2 Tbsp vinegar + 1/4 tsp cinnamon + dash ground cloves + dash allspice (makes 1 cup)
Chocolate, semisweet (chocolate chips): 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder + 2 tsp sugar + 2 tsp butter
Corn Syrup: 1 cup granulated sugar + 1/4 cup water (makes 1 cup)
Creme Fraiche: 1 cup heavy cream + 1 Tbsp plain yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk & let stand for 6 hours at room temperature
Egg (egg whites): 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 Tbsp water OR 1/4 cup pumpkin puree OR 1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda (full tutorial here + 15 more ways to make egg substitutes)
Bread Flour: 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 Tbsp vital wheat gluten (makes 1 cup)
Flour, cake: 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour (makes 1 cup)
Pastry Flour: 1/2 cup all-purpose + 1/2 cup cake flour OR 2 Tbsp corn starch + all-purpose to make 1 cup
Flour, self-rising: 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt + 1/4 tsp baking soda (makes 1 cup)
Half & Half: 1 Tbsp melted butter + whole milk to make 1 cup
Heavy Cream, not whipped: 1/3 cup melted butter + 3/4 cup whole milk (makes 1 cup)
Mace: Ground allspice OR round nutmeg
Pumpkin Pie Spice: 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 tsp ground ginger + 1/4 tsp ground allspice + 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (makes 1 tsp) (here’s my recipe)
Saffron: Dash ground turmeric
Savory: Thyme OR marjoram OR sage
Tarragon: Chervil OR fennel seed OR anise seed
Thai Seasoning: 1 tsp ground coriander + 1 tsp crushed red pepper + 1/4 tsp salt + 1/4 tsp ground ginger + 1/4 tsp garlic powder + 1/4 tsp onion powder (makes 1 Tbsp)
Vanilla Beans: 2 tsp vanilla extract per 1 bean (here are 15 vanilla extract substitutes)
Wow… I’m thinking you could easily save $50 right there! Who knew simple swaps could save so much?!
What Can You Use to Substitute Milk in a Recipe?
If you happen not to have milk or there is a sensitivity to milk, creamy non-dairy milk (like almond and coconut) can work 1:1 in most cases.
What Can I Replace Cream Cheese with in a Recipe?
If you happen to have equal parts cottage cheese on hand, you can drain it, then puree it with half & half or cream + a little butter for a cream cheese replacement.
More Easy Ways to Save Money on Food
- Stocking a Real Food Pantry to Save Time and Money
- Top 11 Frugal Gluten-Free Foods to Buy at Aldi
- Best Foods to Make from Scratch
- 25+ Cheap and Healthy High Protein Foods
- 5 Reasons You’re Not Saving Money on Food
Buying your spices from a store that sells bulk spices (a co-op or some grocery stores) is the cheapest way to go, especially for a new recipe. You can buy only the amount you need (I’ve taken measuring spoons with me😉). My co-op does have a minimum cost for small amounts that don’t register, but it is around 35¢! Generally, I can buy organic spices from the bulk bin at the co-op for less than half the price of conventional spices pre-jarred at the grocery store. And I only have to buy the amount I want.🙂
When you say “for 1 cup” do you mean use the substitution – whatever that amount produces “as if” it equaled 1 cup in the recipe or make enough of the substitute to still create 1 cup of product? Sorry, just wanted to be sure. And 9 pages is fine with me too! !
Would live to read the full 9 pages of substitutions.
I, too, am interested in reading all nine pages.
I’d be interested in the 9 pages as well. Thank you for doing all of this!
Interested in the 9 pages too
Did you ever gussy up the 9 page substitues list so we can download it? I’d sure like to have it all in one place, instead of googling every time I run out of something!
Some of these I knew, some would never have occurred to me. Some are puzzling–like using melted butter and milk in place of cream. The properties of melted butter and cream are so different, and the two behave differently in recipes. But the one I’m keenest in learning more about is making a butter substitute from chickpeas, applesauce and coconut oil. What is the ratio of the ingredients and how does one obtain the butter-like consistency?
I’m always looking for a tasty alternative to butter, especially for my baking. Quite often, I swap in coconut oil for the butter, but the scientific community is not in agreement yet on whether coconut oil is better for us on butter, and it is more saturated.
In any event, thank you for compiling this list. What a reference!
Hi Kathryn! I don’t have exact measurements on all of these since I haven’t tested them all, but I CAN say that the beans for butter is accurate. We made black bean brownies this week and they were AMAZING. I don’t think it’s necessarily a straight sub in all cases, but rather testing one recipe at a time. Let us know if you make any swaps that work out!
I’d read the 9 pages too! Thx for the great sub ideas.
Hi, this may sound like a silly question but for the butter substitution, is that all three items – pureed white beans, applesauce and coconut oil, for up to half of the butter or is it any one of those? I also would like to read the 9 pages 🙂
Hi Kim! There should be an “OR” in there. You can choose any one of the three, as needed, in place of butter. I’m not sure I’d recommend all three at the same time. 😉
What would one use to make sour cream, not creme fraiche? I want to use a cup of cream and leave out on the counter, but not sure what to make it sour? We LOOOVE sour cream, but not the price!! Cream itself is priced bad enough lol
Plain yogurt or Greek yogurt, depending on your texture preference.
Vinegar might work like making buttermilk with milk and vinegar
Buy a little Daisy brand sour cream. Add a teaspoon or so to plain cream. Let sit on your counter 12-24 hours until thick. Now you have your own sour cream. Always save some for the next batch. As far as I know Daisy brand is the only one without preservatives, guar gum etc. At least the last time I got some. Also I use Dannon plain yogurt for starter to make my own instead of having to buy a fancy starter.
This is pure gold! Thank you for taking the time to share some substitutions that can save money. I have been guilty one too many times of buying crazy ingredients that are just problematic to our budget. I was thinking about this the other day, because I was making a meal where I had substituted at least 3 of the ingredients. Guess what? It still tasted great. Not the same as the original, of course, but I might just make this new version more often because my husband loved it so much.
I’d like the full 9 page list as well! Thank you for sharing your findings and helping us out!
LOL, ok then, I’ll see if I can pretty up my chicken scratch and make it available to download for you guys. 🙂
Count me as another one who would like the 9 pages! Also a side note here. I’m subscribed, but only get the weekly newsletter, not the regular posts. I looked at my subscription and it looks right. Is there a way you can check that? Thanks!!
Can you substitute ghee for butter or other fats? If so, is it 1:1?
Hi April! You’re probably fine in cakes or breads, but because the solids are removed items like cookies or crusts would be slightly different. If you need to avoid butter, try substituting coconut oil instead.
Wait. The chile sauce… doesn’t involve any chiles? Or peppers of any kind? One of us is misunderstanding the definition of chile sauce. Tomato paste, brown sugar, and vinegar to me is barbecue sauce. Chile sauce would be a hot sauce of some kind, like sriracha, or chile paste like sambal oolek. What am I missing?
Some of these are quite clever! Of course adding butter back to milk could be a cream substitute, but it never occurred to me before! I’m like Liz; I would read nine pages. 😉
Look into stores that have ‘bulk’ foods where you can buy just a little bit. I made a chai tea mix for my daughter, and didn’t want to spend $12-20 for 3-4 oz of cardamom, so I found the cardamom in the bulk spices, and just put a teaspoon or so in a little plastic bag. It was expensive – like $9/oz but when I went to check out, the cashier couldn’t get the bag to weigh on the scale, so I got my teaspoon I needed for free! And it added just the flavor my daughter wants in her chai tea mix.
Our Sprouts Farmer’s Market here has many spices, teas, baking supplies and candies in the bulk section where we can get just what we need.
Yes, this is a GREAT tip, and the ideal circumstance when you need just a little bit. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Kirsten!
Well. IIIII will read nine pages!!! Please send it! I will put it in my folders for future reference!
LOL! So far you’re the only one Liz!
i would also like to see the whole 9 pages!
I would also love to read it. I love stuff like this 😀
As I 🤗
The spice substitutes surprised me, since I have a huge drawer full of spices and use every single one probably every week. But I like to make Indian dishes, Arabic, Mexican, Italian, and that covers quite a lot of seasonings. I definitely make my own spice mixes though (like Pumpkin Spice), and that suggestion totally makes sense! It’s a good reference for if you absolutely can’t buy another spice, or ran out in the middle of cooking/baking. Cardamom and allspice being so different from cinnamon, for example, really won’t get the same result. I’m kind of a flavor junkie I guess! But you’re right, most substitutions aren’t noticeable, and I hardly taste it when whole wheat or honey is subbed in a recipe and common things like that.
I use the cheapest darkest rum I can find as a substitute for vanilla extract. It is far less expensive than vanilla and a jug of rum used only for recipes lasts for ages. If you do have vanilla beans on hand, add the scraped out pods to a little jar of rum to add even more flavor.
Ah! That’s a really great idea Tarynkay! I bet that adds some great flavor too. Homemade vanilla uses vodka, so this isn’t too far off. Thanks for the tip!
THIS IS BRILLIANCE! I will try this out for flavoring and see if I like it. I love vanilla flavor, so I don’t know… You are a genius 🙂