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

Yogurt's good for more than just a light breakfast.Jin Zan, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Bottoms up for baking.Hans, Pixabay // Public Domain

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

Tiny bricks of delicious flavor.Rainer Z ..., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

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

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

There aren't many layers to swapping onions.Paul Brennan, Public Domain Pictures // Public Domain

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).

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More


During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219


You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35


For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46


This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180


If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65


This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120


The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90


Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155


Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46


Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

20 Fall Harvest Words and Their Origins


Thanksgiving originated as a way to celebrate, and enjoy, all the fruits and vegetables harvested this time of year. But the fall harvest doesn’t let word lovers go hungry: it yields a cornucopia of etymological roots as well. Feast on the bounty of these seasonal word origins.

1. Artichoke

Artichoke ultimately comes from the Arabic al-harshuf, “the artichoke.” The word, and plant, passed into Spanish, Italian, and then English, as archicokk, in the 1530s. Speakers tried to explain its unusual name with folk etymologies: The plant’s center would choke anyone who tried to eat it, or it chokes the growth of other plants in the garden. These folk beliefs are preserved in the modern spelling.

2. and 3. Scallion and Shallot

Scallions and shallots may be two different species of onion, but they share a common root: the Vulgar Latin cepa escalonia, the “Ascalonian onion.” Ascalon is modern-day Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city and a historically important seaport, apparently, for trading the likes of scallions and shallots. The Latin cepa, for onion, is also the source of another name for the scallion, chive.

4. Onion

If we peel back the etymological layers of onion, we find the Latin unio, which named both a pearl and a type of onion. Unio probably sprouts from unus, Latin for “one,” the idea being that this vegetable’s layers all comprise a single whole.

5. Fennel

Fennel looks like an onion, but it’s actually in the carrot family. Appearances, though, are still the key to the origin of this word. Fennel, which is documented in English as early as 700, comes from a diminutive form of Latin faenum, for hay, which the plant’s feathery foliage and aroma evokes.

6. Carrot

Speaking of carrots, this orange vegetable is rooted in the Greek karaton. The origin of the Greek word is unclear. It could be from an Indo-European root ker, for horn, thanks to its shape. Ker could also mean head, possibly alluding to the way the carrot grows—and making a red-headed carrot-top etymologically redundant.

7., 8., 9., and 10. Kale, Collard, Kohlrabi, and Cauliflower

These seasonal superfoods have a super-etymology. Latin had a word caulis, for stem, stalk, or cabbage, which produced quite the lexical bumper crop.

Old Norse borrowed caulis as kal, source of the word kale and the cole in coleslaw. In English, cole itself was an old word for cabbage as well as other leafy greens, like colewort, which American English speakers came to pronounce as collard, hence collard greens.

Kohlrabi literally means “cabbage-turnip” in German, cultivating its kohl from an Italian descendant of the original Latin caulis. And cauliflower, from Modern Latin cauliflora, is simply “cabbage flower.”

11. Cabbage

If Latin’s caulis means cabbage, what does cabbage mean? Head, from the Old French caboce, in turn from the Latin caput. It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand why the Romans so named this heavy and round vegetable.

12. Turnip

A turnip is a neep that looks like its been “turned” into its round shape, or so some etymologists guess. Neep comes from the Latin napus, a kind of turnip.

13. Parsnip

This vegetable was once believed to be a kind of turnip, and so was made to look like turnip as a word. (The parsnip is actually related to the carrot while the turnip is related to the cabbage.) Parsnip stems from pastinaca, the Latin name for the vegetable, which may be related to pastinum, a two-pronged tool used to harvest tubers like parsnips.

14. and 15. Radish and Rutabaga

The roots of these roots are “roots.” Radish comes from the Latin radix, a root, both botanically and metaphorically, as we can see in derivatives like radical and eradicate. This radix, according to Indo-European scholars, grows from a more ancient soil: wrad, believed to mean root or branch. Wrad is featured in another vegetal word: rutabaga, which English took from the Swedish rotabagge by the 1780s. Rotabagge literally means “root bag,” with bag a kind of bundle in Old Norse.

16. and 17. Pumpkin and Squash

If you thought turnips and parsnips were all mixed up, then have a look at pumpkin. English immediately carved pumpkin out of French and Latin roots. The word’s ending, -kin, is influenced by a Germanic suffix for "little," also seen in words like napkin. The ultimate root is the Greek pepon, meaning “ripe” and related to its verb for "cook."

A Greek pepon was a kind of melon enjoyed when ripe. And the word melon, squashed from the Greek melopepon, literally means “ripe apple.” So, etymologically, a pumpkin is a melon, which is an apple. Early British colonists applied the word pumpkin—which, to make things more confusing, is technically a fruit—for the type of squash they encountered in the Americas.

Squash has nothing to do with smashing pumpkins. The word is shortened from the Algonquian askutasquash, literally “green things that may be eaten raw,” as the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology glosses it.

18. Potato

You say potato, I say batata. Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the word batata back from his voyages. The batata, probably from the Haitian Taíno language, was actually a kind of sweet potato. Later, Spanish conquistadors brought what we commonly think of as the potato back from South America, where it was called papa in the Quechuan language. Botanically, sweet potatoes and potatoes are completely unrelated, but that didn’t stop English speakers from confusing them by using the word potato as a common term.

19. Yam

Sweet potatoes aren’t a type of potato—and nor are they yams, even if we insist on calling them so. Yam crops up as inany in 1588, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a borrowing of the Portuguese inhame or Spanish igname, possibly from a word in West African languages meaning “to eat.” Because of the slave trade, yam may have been directly borrowed from a West African language in American and Jamaican English.

20. Beet

Beet comes from the Old English bete, in turn from the Latin beta. These words just mean, for a refreshing change, beet. But even the humble beet has its baggage. The word was common in Old English but disappeared from the existing record until about the 1400s. It seems the English language didn’t much want to eat its vegetables in the late Middle Ages.