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Common ingredient substitutions for smarter baking

Posted on March 23, 2023 by Vauxhall Advance

By Erika Mathieu

Vauxhall Advance

As costs have risen dramatically over the past few years for groceries and other commodities, I have become more and more aware of the importance of buying and and cooking smarter. 

As mentioned in previous columns, part of this has to do with reducing overall waste by buying less of what you know will not be used up before its expiration. In the past, I’ve given tips on how to repurpose food scraps and other kitchen consumables, but it occurred to me recently that many people have a tendency to hit a mental block when it comes to improvising in the kitchen. However, in the spirit of reduc-ing overall food waste and saving a bit of money and/or time, I have compiled a list of some of the most common and useful substitutions in baking.

Knowing when you can simply swap out an ingredient is really useful. It can encourage you to use up the last of an ingredient that’s on the verge of spoil-ing by using it in a recipe.

Rather than looking at substitutions as a result of something lacking, it can be useful to think about substitutions as an easy way to capitalize on the things you already have.

Although the phrase “baking is a science” implies a sort of rigidness, it does not necessarily mean substitutes cannot be made for some ingredients.

Fundamentally, baking is a series of heat-induced chemical reactions, and characteristic PH that contribute to these reactions, are easily replicated by utilizing ingredients with a similar fat content or PH. 

An example that comes to mind is buttermilk. It is something that I don’t typically buy unless I am making a lot of something. It just isn’t an ingredient I use in my two-person house day-to-day. I always keep milk and citrus like lemons on hand, so when I need a small amount of buttermilk, I simply combine one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar with one cup of dairy or plant-based milk. On the topic of buttermilk one cup of plain yogurt will substitute for one cup of buttermilk. Knowing this for example can save you from wasting yogurt nearing the end of its shelf life.

The same principle can be applied to a myriad of different ingredients. This is not to say that you should make your life harder than it needs to be through unnecessary substitutions. It’s just worth noting there can be flexibility even within a prescribed recipe than has benefits beyond your budget. For folks living in rural or remote areas, the grocery store may not always be feasible or accessible; knowing the common substitutions can help maximize your ingredients and save you a trip into town.

1 Cup heavy cream equals 2/3 cup of milk plus 1/2 cup melted butter (won’t whip)

1 teaspoon lemon juice equals 1 tea-spoon of vinegar

Vegetable shortening can be swapped for butter or margarine as a 1:1 ratio.

You can substitute one egg for 1/4 cup of apple sauce, or an equivalent volume of mashed banana plus half a teaspoon of baking powder. Alternatively, you can  also substitute one egg with 2 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of neutral oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

One teaspoon of baking powder can be substituted by combining one tea-spoon of baking soda and half a tea-spoon of cream of tartar.

While recipes calling for cake flour can easily be substituted by sifting one cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour for every cup of cake flour called for in a recipe.

There are countless resources avail-able online, the New York Times has a great piece on herb and vegetable substitutes found online at

Knowing the versatility of specific ingredients is a great way to capitalize on your groceries and ensure you are buying with utility and waste reduction in mind.

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