10 Easy Ingredient Subs For Missing Items In Your Pantry

by Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Last Updated: May 13, 2020

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 utilize. Whatever the state of your pantry, we know that a lot of questions, experimenting, and newly found hacks have surfaced. One of the biggest dilemmas to solve is running out of key ingredients like butter, baking powder, and eggs. Even when this happens, you can always find a solution with what's in the pantry. Check out these hacks that will do just the trick to save the recipe!
  1. Butter
    When you’re out of butter, look no further than it’s liquid cousin, oil. If a recipe calls for melted butter, sub in a neutral flavor oil like canola or olive oil (not extra virgin). This will be a 1 for 1 substitution. Alternatively, coconut oil can be used since it cools as a solid and turns to liquid when heated, like butter, and will help maintain thickness in a recipe. Keep in mind that the coconut flavor will be pronounced in the recipe. This will also be a 1 for 1 substitution.

    If you’re looking to boost the nutrition in a recipe, try substituting plain Greek yogurt. 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.
  2. Baking Powder
    There is a simple mixture to create when a recipe calls for baking powder: baking soda and cream of tartar. Mix 1/4 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.
  3. Flour
    Looking to use cake flour, but don’t have any? Use 1 cup of all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons, plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder. The cornstarch or arrowroot powder inhibits the formation of gluten, giving the cake the soft and spongy feel we all know and love.

    If you are in need of self-rising flour, combine 1 cup of all-purpose flour minus 2 teaspoons plus 1 ½ 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.
  4. Chocolate
    For recipes that call for unsweetened chocolate, combine 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon cooking oil or melted shortening. Looking for semisweet chocolate? Combine 3 tablespoons of chocolate chips for every 1-ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate needed. Another option for semisweet 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.
  5. Heavy Cream
    Combine 3/4 cup of any dairy milk and 1/4 cup of melted butter.

    A dairy-free alternative can be created by combining 2/3 cup of rice or soy milk with 1/3 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.
  6. Sour Cream
    Making its way onto our list again, the 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.
  7. Cream Cheese
    A delicious alternative is substituting cream cheese with ricotta cheese. 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.
  8. Breadcrumbs
    This is a fun and simple substitute; all we 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 will be worth it.

    Using breadcrumbs as a topping? Coat the shredded bread in olive oil, add preferred seasoning, and cook in the oven at 300ºF for 10-12 minutes, stirring half-way through.
  9. Tomato Juice
    Tomato juice can be essential for certain recipes, such as homemade pasta sauce. 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, 1/4 cup of tomato paste and 1 cup of water will do the trick, depending on the recipe. Alternatively, you can combine 1-1/2 cups of tomato sauce plus 1/2 cup of water.
  10. Barbecue Sauce
    A replacement for barbeque sauce can be made in a few different ways. Combine 1 cup of ketchup with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke, or mix 3/4 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.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Victoria is a dedicated dietitian with a love for helping others develop a positive relationship with food, while setting realistic goals. Victoria has professional experience with various conditions such as strokes, diabetes and weight management. She strives to make a nutritious lifestyle attainable for all. You can catch Victoria scratch-cooking at home, trying new workouts at her local gym or spending time with her dog, Jack.