8 Substitutions for the Most Common Kitchen Ingredients

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Easy substitutions for a plant-based lifestyle. 

One of the nasty pitfalls of becoming vegan or pursuing a more plant-based, healthy lifestyle is the allure of vegan or low-calorie products. These packaged goods mock the “real” thing with often not so forgiving preservatives, colorants, and other additives. That’s why one of the biggest challenges is finding simple, within-hands-reach ways to replace the most common ingredients with their vegan or healthy (and just-as-real) counterparts.

Brighten your kitchen, nourish your heart, and spread the love with these animal-friendly and nutritional kitchen substitutions.

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Eggs

If you aren’t eating an egg-centric dish, chances are that a recipe calling for eggs is looking for either a binding or leavening agent. Eggs are viscous and hold ingredients tightly together, which is why they appear in most baked goods, burgers, and creams. They also help to leaven, or “rise” baked dishes. Depending on what you’re making, the replacement will change accordingly.

To replace one egg in a baked recipe, alternatives that have worked for me in include:

  • 1 tablespoon a of ground flaxseed mixed in 3 tablespoons of water and allowed to sit until the mixture thickens
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or potato starch
  • 1/2 large banana, mashed, but only for sweet recipes
  • 1/4 cup applesauce, but only for sweet recipes

Keep in mind that the replacement should adjust according to the recipe. The flaxseed mixture wouldn’t work in a smooth batter, so opt for another alternative. If the recipe calls for more than two eggs, add some baking powder – 1/2 teaspoon per additional egg – as it will help with the rising effect.

For the pure purpose of binding ingredients in a mixture, the options are wide and varied. Instead of one egg, you could use 1/2 avocado, 2 tablespoons tahini, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, or 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast. Anything viscous and thick enough to hold things together without changing the taste will work. The dry replacements work best in mixtures with a liquid element.

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Milk

This is probably the easiest of the bunch, because there is a hot market for dairy-free “milk” these days. Peruse the health section aisles at your grocery store and choose from the array of rice, almond, hemp, coconut, and soy milks. Avoid brands with too many additives – sugars, flavoring or preservatives.

Whenever I have the ingredients on hand, I like to make my own almond milk. All you need is 1 cup raw almonds, enough water to soak them in overnight, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and 3 cups water. Soak the almonds in the salt and water overnight. The next day, rinse them and toss into a blender. Blend them with 3 cups of water until thin. Separate the almond milk from its fibers with a cheese cloth. Drink immediately and store in the refrigerator.

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Cheese

Dairy cheese can be replaced by any store-bought soy or rice-based cheese, but these often include strange ingredients that are necessary to achieve the same texture, taste, and look of cheese. They are also not much more forgiving in terms of calories and fat.

Luckily, these vegan alternatives make things a bit more interesting and are easy enough to make on the regular:

Keep in mind that when it comes to cheese, nutritional yeast is your most trusted accomplice. It has a cheesy flavor that, when paired with a creamy base, can mock cheese to the T (or C).

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Gelatin

Ever wonder where gelatin comes from? It’s a protein obtained by boiling animal bones, tendons, ligaments, hooves, and skin. Not necessarily the kinds of things you associate with jellied candies, toaster pastries, cereals, and Jell-O.

Alternatives include carrageenan, agar-agar, fruit pectin, and locust bean gum.

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Butter

In sweet recipes, you can replace up to 3/4 cup butter with applesauce. Replace the rest with a vegan butter substitution, such as Earth Balance. In cooking, where butter is scant, use a vegan substitution.

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Oil

Oil has little benefit when it is cooked, literally, to death. Oil biochemically changes when it is heated, and it loses many of its nutritional benefits. Opt to enjoy oils in their raw, extra-virgin states. The healthiest raw oils include olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, and peanut oil. When cooking, use coconut oil – it has a high burning temperature and can withstand heat.

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Buttermilk

To replace buttermilk, simply combine 1 tablespoon of white vinegar with 1 cup of vegan milk, such as almond, soy, coconut or rice milk.

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Sugar

In baked goods, marinades, and sauces, maple syrup is a great replacement for sugar. In fact, I find that it gives the dish a deeper, more complex flavor, making it more unique and enjoyable to eat. You can replace every 1 cup of sugar with 3/4 cup of maple syrup. This requires that you reduce the dominant liquid in the recipe by 2-4 tablespoons, for consistency’s sake. Pick and choose with the liquids – you don’t want to sacrifice an important taste, so don’t reduce the oil or vinegar measurements when you have 2 or 3 cups of milk to take from. To offset maple syrup’s slight acidity, you may choose to add 1/4-1/2 teaspoons of baking soda. If the recipe calls for sour cream, buttermilk, or sour milk, skip the baking soda.

In tea and coffee, there is no need to reach for sugar anymore. Stevia is the only sweetener out there that has a zero-glycemic level and zero calories – to say nothing of its a-little-goes-a-long-way poster child status. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar and if you find a brand that fits your tastes – I am a NuNaturals fan – you won’t be able to leave the house without it! I prefer liquid stevia, because it’s seamless to use and easy to carry around in my purse. A few drops later, and my beverages taste like liquid gold. One 2-ounce bottle tends to last me 3-4 months.

Some manufacturers have come out with powdered versions that can replace sugar in recipes. There are also sugar and powdered stevia mixes that aim to reduce sugar, but not completely nix it.

ALSO CHECK OUT: 

Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Sea Salt

Make Your Own Vegan Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Recipe: Vegan Avocado Alfredo Sauce

Aylin Erman currently resides in Istanbul and is creator of plant-based recipe website GlowKitchen.

Images: Furry Scaly, Robert S. Donovan, Tétine, Jeffrey W, MRBECK, Aylin Erman

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DISCUSSION

5 thoughts on “8 Substitutions for the Most Common Kitchen Ingredients

  1. As an experienced vegetarian chef who has focused on vegan cuisine I rely on a ground flax egg substitute for many many things, most commonly smooth batters. If the picture above is any indication, you didn’t grind the flax, yet the recipe, 1T flax /3T water, calls for it and makes a world of difference. Before you ad water, use a coffee grinder, a blender with a “seeds and nuts” blade, or even a “bullet” style blender with a seed and nuts type blade, and grind the flax seeds into a fine powder. What the flax seed doesn’t bring to the table as far as an egg substitute is concerned is as a macro-fatty component, so consider a little extra oil. Also remember that the longer the flax sits it gets gooey and will gellify, so if it is going to sit or cook for long add a little more water.

    Side note concerning Irish Moss and Carrigeenan: Don’t ONLY eat and drink carrageenan like the rats did, or yes your innards will fill with gel, and that can’t be good. Have a salad, or some oatmeal. Enjoy variety.

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