10 Easy Ingredient Subs for Missing Items in Your Pantry

by Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

In recent weeks, our pantries have been the center of attention. In many cases, it’s because they’re looking a bit different than usual. Perhaps you’ve had trouble finding specific brands or products that you’re used to buying, or maybe you’ve stocked up on shelf-stable items that you aren’t sure how to use. One of the most common dilemmas today (and every day, for that matter!) is how to find good substitutes for staples like butter, baking powder and eggs. Here are 10 culinary hacks that will save your recipe when you’re missing an essential ingredient!


When you’re out of butter, look no further than its liquid cousin, oil. If a recipe calls for melted butter, sub in a neutrally flavored oil like canola or olive oil (not extra virgin). This will be a 1:1 substitution, using the exact same amount of butter called for by the recipe. In a pinch, coconut oil can also be used as a 1:1 substitution, since it cools as a solid and turns to liquid when heated. Keep in mind that the coconut flavor will be pronounced in the recipe.

If you’re looking to boost the nutrition in a recipe, try substituting plain Greek yogurt for butter. This works well with cakes and quick breads, as it will add moisture and structure. For every 8 ounces of butter, replace with ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt.

Baking powder

There’s a simple mixture you can create when a recipe calls for baking powder: baking soda and cream of tartar.

Mix ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar to substitute for 1 teaspoon of baking powder. We recommend preparing this on an as-needed basis.


Need to use cake flour, but don’t have any? To substitute for 1 cup of cake flour, use 1 cup of all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons, then combine with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder. The cornstarch or arrowroot powder inhibits the gluten, giving the cake the soft and spongy feel we all know and love.

If you are in need of 1 cup of self-rising flour, combine 1 cup of all-purpose flour minus 2 teaspoons, plus 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt.

Oat, almond and gluten-free chickpea flour also work well if you are out of all-purpose flour, especially for items like pancakes and breads.


For recipes that call for 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate, combine 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon cooking oil or melted shortening.

Need a substitute for semi-sweet chocolate? Combine 3 tablespoons of chocolate chips for every 1 ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate needed. Another option for semi-sweet chocolate is 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter, margarine or shortening for every 1 ounce needed.

Heavy cream

To make 1 cup of your own heavy cream, combine ¾ cup of any dairy milk and ¼ cup of melted butter.

A dairy-free alternative can be created by combining ⅔ cup of rice or soy milk with ⅓ cup of olive oil or melted dairy-free margarine. Keep in mind, these alternatives will not whip like heavy cream, but they act as a great replacement in baked goods and creamy sauces.

Sour cream

Making its way onto our list again, versatile Greek yogurt can be used as a replacement for sour cream. Plain Greek yogurt has a thick texture and the same tangy flavor that you’ve come to love with sour cream. The replacement is equal, 1:1.

Cream cheese

Substituting cream cheese with ricotta cheese is a delicious alternative. This is done in a 1:1 ratio with ricotta cheese. Another idea is using low-fat cottage cheese, beaten until smooth, also in a 1:1 ratio.

Bread crumbs

For a fun and simple substitute for bread crumbs, all you need is any day-old bread. Simply toss the stale bread into a food processor and process until well-crumbled. Don’t have a food processor? Go ahead and tear it apart with your hands – it will take a little more time, but it’ll save you another trip to the store!

Using bread crumbs as a topping? Coat the crumbled bread in olive oil, add preferred seasoning, and cook in the oven at 300ºF for 10-12 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Tomato juice

Tomato juice can be essential for certain recipes. If you find yourself out of this ingredient, mix one part of tomato paste with four parts of water and blend until well combined. For example, ¼ cup of tomato paste and 1 cup of water will do the trick, depending on the recipe. Alternatively, you can combine 1½ cups of tomato sauce plus ½ cup of water.

Barbecue sauce

A replacement for barbeque sauce can be made in a few different ways. Combine 1 cup of ketchup with ½ to 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke, or mix ¾ cup of ketchup, 2 tablespoons of mustard and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. You may even like your homemade creation better than what you’d find in a bottle!

Explore more healthy living advice from our team of experts.