Oh Sh*t, I’m Missing an Ingredient! Ingredient Substitutes Your Mom Didn’t Tell You About


Oh sh*t! That’s the first thing you say when you get to the middle of a recipe and discover that you don’t have a key ingredient. WTF do you do next? That’s the million-dollar question!

After all, you’re hungry (or you’re expecting hungry guests) so sitting down and crying is not an option … neither is take-out. You could phone a friend. But let’s be honest, your friends are as lost as you. And calling your mom tells her she was right so you can’t do that either.

That’s why we put together a list of brilliant ingredient substitutions and cooking hacks!

But first, let’s talk about your approach.


Dealing with Missing Ingredients

After you drop a few f-bombs, take a minute to evaluate your situation. What are you missing? Do you have anything similar? What was that ingredient supposed to do (i.e., is it flavor, garnish, a main ingredient, does it impact texture or structure). 

Consider what you have on hand and what will work best to replace what’s missing then get cooking.


Eggs can easily be replaced in just about any dish, except maybe an omelet! Check out these common replacements for 1 egg.

  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup pureed silken tofu
  • 1/2 of a banana, mashed, mixed with 1/2 teaspoon baking powder


Replacing butter is easy if you know it’s purpose in your dish so consider these common replacements:

  • 1 cup margarine, not as yum but works 
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening + 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7/8 cup lard + 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup lard (just be sure to reduce the salt in your recipe)

Milk, Buttermilk, and Cream

To replace dairy you need to know what it is doing in the recipe. Is it the basis of the recipe, like in a pudding or flan, or just an additive, like in a cake. If a recipe calls for a dairy and you have don’t have any, consider these substitutions:

  • 1 cup of whole milk = 1 cup of soy, nut, or other plant based milk
  • 1 cup of whole milk = 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 cup of whole milk = 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of skim milk and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • 1 cup of Half and Half = 1/2 cup whole milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup of buttermilk = 1 cup whole milk and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice (be sure to combine and let curdle for about 10-minutes before using) = 1 cup plain yogurt


You’re probably wondering how TF to replace sugar in your favorite recipe. Well, here’s how:

  • 1 cup Superfine sugar = 1 cup and 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar ground up in a food processor
  • 1 cup powdered sugar: (#1 option)  = 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch ground up in a food processo
  • 1 cup powdered sugar: (#2 option) = 1 cup granulated sugar grind it up in a food processor
  • 1 cup light brown sugar = 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon of molasses
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of molasses.]Molasses: 1 cup = 3/4 cup dark brown sugar and 1/4 cup of water. 


Flour is a staple ingredient in most baked goods but you can substitute different flour types.

  • 1 cup pastry flour = 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup of self-rising flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of bread flour = 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of gluten-free flour = 1 cup of all-purpose flour


Missing the right cut of meat from your main dish? You’ve got choices!

  • Ground turkey = ground beef = ground chicken = ground pork = finely chopped mushrooms = tofu or mock meat
  • The same goes for shredded meat in tacos and stir-fries
  • No steak to grill? Reach for a chicken breast or piece of fresh fish and season simply with salt and pepper


Changing one shape of dried pasta for another is one of the easiest substitutions you can make. Rice, barley, couscous, and even farro are good choices if you don’t have another shape on hand.

Other Common Substitutions

  • 1 cup of bread crumbs = 1 cup of cracker crumbs, cornflake crumbs, parmesan cheese, or rolled oats
  • 1 ounce of chocolate chips = 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate and 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar = 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 cup of cream cheese = 1/2 cup of plain yogurt and 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice = 1 teaspoon of white wine or 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar
  • 1 cup of tomato sauce = 1/2 cup of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 tbsp fresh  herbs = 1/2-1 tsp dried herbs, crushed
  • 1 tsp lemon juice = 1/2 tsp vinegar

The Final 411

Knowing what to substitute when you don’t have all of the ingredients can save your assets and make you look like a star in the kitchen. In some cases, the best answer is to not substitute and simply move on to another dish. It’s not a disaster … it’s an opportunity to explore other possibilities.

Have your own substitution hacks? Share them in the comments section below!