29 Easy Ingredient Substitutions

OksanaKiian/iStock via Getty
OksanaKiian/iStock via Getty

Don't let a missing ingredient foil your cooking projects. If your pantry's looking a bit scant because of coronavirus-induced shortages, or you forgot to snag a certain product on your last trip to the grocery store, there's no need to toss your meal prep plans in the trash. Check out these 30 substitutions for basic cooking and baking ingredients.

1. Applesauce as a substitute for oil

This substitution adds moisture to baked goods without the fat found in oil. Use a 1:1 ratio, such as 1/2 cup of applesauce for 1/2 cup of oil. It’s particularly tasty in muffins, banana breads, and coffee-type cakes. It also works in brownies—some recipes even call for applesauce specifically.

2. Yogurt as a substitute for mayonnaise

A bowl of plain yogurt
Yogurt's good for more than just a light breakfast.

This one works particularly well when it comes to making salad dressings. (Though you might not want to spread yogurt on your BLT.) You can also use plain yogurt as a substitute for sour cream, either in recipes for baked goods or as a delicious topping for baked potatoes and, in pinch, even Mexican food.

3. Molasses and sugar as a substitute for brown sugar

A combination of 2 tablespoons of molasses mixed with 1 cup of granulated sugar will substitute for 1 cup of brown sugar, firmly packed. Mix thoroughly, preferably in or with a blender or food processor. There are actually a wide variety of substitutes for brown sugar, so you can choose your favorite.

4. Nutmeg as a substitute for cinnamon

Nutmeg is a bit stronger than cinnamon, but at the core, the two spices are quite similar. Allspice can also work a little magic in a recipe that calls for cinnamon, as can ginger, cardamom, cloves, and pumpkin pie spice.

5. Cottage cheese as a substitute for ricotta

Perhaps surprisingly, cottage cheese is delicious in lasagna. And it should work in dishes like stuffed shells, too.

6. Bourbon or rum for vanilla extract

A row of Jim Beam bourbon
Bottoms up for baking.

Not only does this work—vanilla extract contains alcohol, after all—but it makes cooking more fun! The ratio is 1:1, but who’s measuring?

7. Flaxseeds as a substitute for eggs

This trick is commonly used in vegan cooking. Mix 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds with 2 tablespoons of water and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes. The resulting mixture is the equivalent of one whole egg.

8. Rolled oats or crushed crackers as a substitute for dry bread crumbs

The crackers are a no-brainer—it’s basically the same thing. And the rolled oats (ground) will give any “breading” a healthier, earthy vibe.

9. Butter and unsweetened cocoa powder as a substitute for unsweetened chocolate

Swap 1 tablespoon of butter combined with 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa for 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate. You can also replace the butter with shortening or vegetable oil.

10. Baking soda and cream of tartar as a substitute for baking powder

Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar for your own makeshift baking powder.

11. Yogurt and lemon juice as a substitute for buttermilk

Making biscuits, but don’t have buttermilk? Use 1 cup of plain yogurt (or 1 cup of milk) plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. You can also squeeze 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into 1 cup of milk.

12. Bouillon cube as a substitute for broth

Various stock cubes
Tiny bricks of delicious flavor.

Whether it’s beef, chicken, or vegetable broth you need, combine 1 cube of the bouillon with 1 cup of water.

13. Baking soda and lemon juice as a substitute for yeast

You can replace 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast with 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda combined with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.

14. Chicken broth as a substitute for beer

If you'd rather drink your beer than cook with it, use chicken broth instead in batters and breads.

15. Honey as a substitute for corn syrup, and vice versa

This one’s an easy swap, as they’re both sweet and have a similar consistency. The ratio is 1:1.

16. Lemon juice as a substitute for vinegar

The ratio is 1:1, and you can also do 2 teaspoons of white wine per 1 teaspoon of vinegar.

17. Mashed avocado as a substitute for mayonnaise

A cut avocado
Mashed avocado is good for more than just toast.
Foodie Factor, Pexels // Public Domain

They have a similarly fatty, creamy consistency.

18. Tomato paste diluted with water as a substitute for tomato sauce

Use 3/4 cup of tomato paste plus 1 cup of water. Add some stewed or freshly chopped tomatoes for a heartier, more robust sauce.

19. Margarine as a substitute for butter

No, they don’t taste exactly the same, but when used in baking, it truly makes very little difference. Put it this way: If it’s a choice between brownies and no brownies, you’re going to use that margarine.

20. Vegetable shortening as a substitute for butter

This won’t mimic the flavor of butter, but it will replicate its texture and emulsifying effect. Don’t spread it on your bread, though.

21. A mixture of butter and milk as a substitute for half-and-half

Use a ratio of 1 cup of milk to 1 tablespoon of butter.

22. Remove two tablespoons of all-purpose flour as a substitute for cake flour

Take 1 cup of all-purpose flour and remove 2 tablespoons. Nigella Lawson recommends adding two tablespoons of cornstarch.

23. An easy tomato sauce concoction as a substitute for ketchup

All it takes is 1 cup of tomato sauce with a teaspoon of vinegar, plus 1 tablespoon of sugar.

24. Substitute lemon for lime, and lime for lemon

You can do this for pretty much any recipe that calls for either.

25. Substitute brown sugar and cream of tartar for molasses

All it is 3/4 cup brown sugar plus 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. To recreate the gooey consistency of molasses, add some hot water to the mixture.

26. Every member of the onion family can substitute for one another

An assortment of onions at a grocery store
There aren't many layers to swapping onions.

Whether it’s a leek or a shallot or a green onion or a regular onion, or even onion powder.

27. Swap orange juice for any other type of citrus juice

We’re talking grapefruit or lemon or lime.

28. Worcestershire sauce can substitute for soy sauce

Just mix 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce with 1 tablespoon of water.

29. Broth as a substitute for wine

Just like in the instance of any recipe requiring beer, wine can be replaced with a bit of broth (chicken or beef).

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads


When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

When Al Capone Ran a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression

Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

Four years after gangster Al Capone took over Chicago’s leading crime syndicate, he had raked in over $40 million—around $550 million today. The money came from illegally selling booze during Prohibition; bottles were distributed to more than 10,000 speakeasies and brothels in a vast bootlegging network across the Midwest.

Capone’s alcohol distribution was unlawful, but to many Americans, the man’s work was heroic. He claimed he was just a businessman giving the people what they wanted—and what the people wanted more than anything in the 1920s was liquor.

But Capone’s role as an Italian-American Robin Hood didn’t stop there. As he orchestrated criminal activities behind the scenes, Capone simultaneously launched a program to provide milk to Chicago school children and donated huge sums to local charities.

It was the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, however, that spurred Capone to his greatest work of philanthropy. Almost overnight, the American economy collapsed into the Great Depression. Banks failed, businesses shuttered, and millions were suddenly unemployed and hungry. Hundreds of soup kitchens popped up around the country. One of them belonged to Al Capone.

No Questions Asked

Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression
Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression.
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

When Al Capone’s soup kitchen opened at 935 South State Street, in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, in mid-November 1930, hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans were out of work. By the following year, 624,000 people—or 50 percent of the Chicago workforce—were out of a job.

Capone’s charity had no name, just a sign over the door that advertised “Free Soup, Coffee & Doughnuts for the Unemployed.” Inside, women in white aprons served an average of 2200 people a day with a smile and no questions asked. Breakfast was hot coffee and sweet rolls. Both lunch and dinner consisted of soup and bread. Every 24 hours, diners devoured 350 loaves of bread and 100 dozen rolls. They washed down their meals with 30 pounds of coffee sweetened with 50 pounds of sugar. The whole operation cost $300 per day.

The soup kitchen didn’t advertise its connection to Capone, but the mobster-benefactor’s name was connected to it in stories printed in local newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and The Rock Island Argus. Those who were down on their luck, though, apparently had few qualms about eating from the hand of Chicago’s worst crime boss. Often the line to get in to the kitchen was so long that it wound past the door of the city’s police headquarters, where Capone was considered Public Enemy #1, according to Harper’s Magazine. The line was particularly lengthy when Capone’s soup kitchen hosted a Thanksgiving meal of cranberry sauce and beef stew for 5000 hungry Chicagoans. (Why beef and not turkey? After 1000 turkeys were stolen from a nearby department store, Capone feared he’d be blamed for the theft and made a last-minute menu change.)

Capone's Ulterior Motives

Capone’s efforts to feed Chicago during the darkest days of the Great Depression weren’t entirely altruistic. It wasn’t even originally his idea, but that of his friend and political ally Daniel Serritella, who was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1930. Nor did Capone invest much of his own money into the operation. Instead, Deirdre Bair writes in Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend, he bribed and extorted other businesses to stock the pantry. In just one example, during Seritella's 1932 trial for conspiring with grocers to cheat customers [PDF], the court discovered that a load of ducks that had been donated to Christmas baskets for the poor ended up in Capone’s soup kitchen instead.

Perhaps more than anything, Capone opened his soup kitchen to get the public back on his side after he was implicated in the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. In that murder spree, Capone's associates were believed to have assassinated seven men, five of whom hailed from the rival North Side Gang, inside a Chicago parking garage—though no one was ever prosecuted. Harper’s writer Mary Borden distilled Capone's double-dealing when she described him as “an ambidextrous giant who kills with one hand and feeds with the other.”

Capone’s soup kitchen closed abruptly in April 1932. The proprietors claimed that the kitchen was no longer needed because the economy was picking up, even though the number of unemployed across the country had increased by 4 million between 1931 and 1932. The diners who had attended the kitchen daily were forced to move on to another one.

Two months later, Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion; the charges that eventually landed him in San Francisco’s Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Though Capone vowed to reopen his soup kitchen during his trial, its doors stayed shut. By the time he was released from prison in 1939, a raging case of syphilis had rendered Capone mentally and physically incapable of managing his own life, let alone that of Chicago’s once-dominant crime syndicate and the soup kitchen that softened his gangster image.

Capone died in 1947, but his larger-than-life legacy lives on. His soup kitchen wasn’t so lucky. The building became a flophouse, and in 1955, Chicago authorities deemed it a fire hazard and shut it down permanently. Today, only a parking lot remains at the site of Chicago’s most notorious food pantry.