Substituting ingredients in recipes can be a daunting thought, especially when you have no idea how it will result in the taste and texture of a favorite food. There are many reasons for making a substitution; not having what the recipe calls for, trying to lose weight, a challenge with diabetes or heart disease, a need to reduce animal products in your diet, or just the interest in trying new flavors. This post coordinates with the segment for Good Morning Texas to introduce you to your substitution options in the four culinary elements of Fat, Acid, Salt and Sweet…called FASS. These elements are the building blocks of taste for any recipe. For most dishes to have full flavor these four categories need to be represented. Keep in mind that all ingredients work off of each other as they bake. When you change the amount or type of one ingredient, often other ingredients need to be modified. When making substitutions, please do trial baking before baking this special dish for an event or special person. The recipe for the zucchini muffins on the show is at the end of this post.
FAT: Substitutions for Butter & Oil
Fat gives baked items tenderness, moisture, a velvety mouth feel, texture and in some cases color. Here are a few substitutions:
Baking Time Rule: Recipes with butter and oil replaced will have a shorter bake time. Begin checking about 10 minutes before the completed time specified on the recipe, and continue to check every few minutes until a toothpick or fork comes out clean, and it looks baked enough to your eye. Remember, without butter, they can dry out quickly, so watch carefully.
- Fruit Puree when substituted for butter or oil is one choice that will add moisture and sweetness, without adding extra sugar. Start with 1/2 cup of puree = 1 cup of butter in a recipe. If the batter looks dry add more in tablespoons until you have the desired consistency. Some good choices are bananas, peaches, pears, prunes, or stewed prunes from a baby food jar. Because prunes are dark in color, they are best used in brownies or dark spice breads. Unsweetened Applesauce is a very popular alternative. Keep in mind that fruit has a high water content, which is the reason to start with 1/2 cup, and add more in tablespoons if needed. A batter can quickly become too wet. Follow the baking time rule listed above.
- Vegetable Puree is another substitute for butter or oil. Cooked mashed squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. The latter two work really well in items with Fall spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Because these vegetables do not have as high a water content as fruit, start with 3/4 cup of puree = 1 cup of butter. Add more as needed in tablespoon increments. Follow the baking time rule listed above.
- Plain Greek Yogurt is a wonderful substitute. Begin with 1/2 cup of yogurt = 1 cup of butter. Add more in tablespoon increments if batter appears too dry. Remember, follow the baking time rule listed above.
- Silken Tofu is a non-dairy alternative. Puree’ it and use it as you would Plain Greek Yogurt. Baking time rules apply
- Virgin Coconut Oil (NOT conventional hydrogenated coconut oil). Substitute in a 1:1 ratio. I cup Virgin Coconut Oil = 1 cup butter. It works best in recipes that call for softened or melted butter. Coconut oil begins to melt at 76º. If using it in doughs, that require cold butter, place it in the refrigerator till ready to use. There is a lot of controversy about coconut oil. Most studies related to what you hear are based on studies done on conventional hydrogenated coconut oil. To avoid going into too many words, I am attaching Fact Links for your own research. I do rely on the book, The Coconut Oil Miracle by Dr. Bruce Fife. On a Personal Note, I keep a small glass jar of it in my bathroom, and use it to remove my eye makeup and mascara, so I am not putting a chemical on my eye, and I have the benefit of a moisturizer around my eyes. I also smooth it around my eyes, and lips before getting in the shower. The steam allows the moisture to penetrate. I have staved off crows feet and wrinkles for years, so it must be working!
Carrington Farms brand Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is a good brand readily available at most stores, including Costco.
FACT LINK: The Coconut Research Center.
- If you must use butter or oil, here’s a way to use less. For a recipe that calls for 1 cup butter, use 1/2 cup butter plus 1/4 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons yogurt or tofu.
- If you want to use butter, upgrade to grass-fed butter for additional nutrition.
Dairy: Substitutions for Eggs, Milk, Buttermilk & Cream
EGGS: If you do not have an egg or are trying to lower cholesterol, here are a few substitution choices.
- Banana. Begin with 1/2 cup pureed ripe banana = 1 egg. Eggs bring moisture, so if the batter still looks dry add more in tablespoon increments. Baking rules listed above apply.
- Applesauce. Unsweetened applesauce is a vegetarian stand-by in baking. 1 egg = 1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened applesauce. Add more if batter is dry. Watch it as it bakes, so it doesn’t over bake.
- The Flax Egg. Okay, if you are not a vegan, this probably sounds icky, but it works, and has the added benefit of many phytonutrients, fiber, and lower cholesterol. 1 egg = 1 tablespoon ground flax plus 3 tablespoons water stirred well. Note: when grinding your own flax, whole seeds double when ground (1 1/2 teaspoon whole flax = 1 tablespoon (which is 3 teaspoons) ground flax). Baking rules apply!
- Silken Tofu. If you like tofu and have it on hand, Begin with 2 tablespoons = 1 egg, and add more by tablespoon increments if batter is dry.
- Eggs. If you want to use an egg, but need to reduce fat and cholesterol, 2 egg whites = 1 egg.
Milk & Heavy Cream Substitutions
MILK brings flavor, texture, and richness to a baked item. Substitute a non-dairy milk.
- Soymilk has a nice thick richness that equals milk. Use it in a 1:1 ratio. Consider unsweetened soymilk if your recipe already has a sweet ingredient.
- Coconut Milk also has a nice thick richness. Use in a 1:1 ratio. The coconut flavor will slightly alter the flavor of your recipe.
- Almond Milk & Rice Milk are thinner milks. Either use less, so the recipe will not be too wet, or use 1/2 of the amount of cow’s milk called for in the recipe and add texture with a tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce, yogurt or silken tofu to build up the desired texture. Apply the baking rule mentioned at the beginning of this post.
BUTTERMILK is not commonly used as much as it once was, so many people don’t have it on hand, unless it is going to be used specifically for a recipe such as buttermilk biscuits. When buttermilk is produced, the lactose in the milk is converted to lactic acid. When buttermilk is used, in baked items, in place of regular milk, this acidity is neutralized by the baking soda called for in the ingredients. The baking soda and the acid together release carbon dioxide, giving your baked items extra leavening power. If you don’t want to buy it specifically, here are a few substitutions to help create the same results as buttermilk.
- Soymilk or Cow’s Milk will give you a nice alternative to buttermilk. Use 1 cup soymilk or cow’s milk, stir in 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. You may also use 1 3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar in the 1 cup of milk of your choice. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes. The milk will become thickened, and small curdled bits will appear on top. Use this, curdled bits included, as buttermilk is called for in your recipe.
- Yogurt, because of it contains lactic acid will work. For a recipe calling for 1 cup buttermilk, use 3/4 cup plain yogurt plus 1/4 cup filtered water to thin. Stir and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.
HEAVY CREAM may be substituted with two non-dairy alternatives.
- Canned Full-Fat Coconut Milk. Place the un-opened can in the back, coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. At the moment you need it, and not too soon, open the can and use the solidified top layer in place of heavy cream.
- Cashew Nuts Make Cream. Yes they do, and it is my personal favorite. Buy raw un-seasoned cashews (pieces are always cheaper than whole nuts). Use 1 1/2 cups cashews, cover with filtered water and allow to soak for 2-4 hours. I leave mine out on the kitchen counter. They will be all gray, murky looking…don’t worry. Rinse, rinse, rinse in a strainer basket. Put them in a blender, and add fresh filtered water 1 tablespoon at a time as you are blending. You are looking for a thick, creamy consistency of sour cream. You now have a perfect non-dairy creamer for your recipes. Once you have that, you may flavor it any way you like. It can become a sweet cream for desserts, or a sour cream for enchilada or taco toppings. If you like, separate the cream equally, and experiment with both flavors. I keep mine in a squeeze bottle, and use as needed. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
- Sour Cream Recipe: If using the whole 1/1/2 cups cashews, add to the blender; 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice, 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1/2 tsp sea salt. Add more water if you want a thinner consistency…start by adding more water by tablespoons till you have desired consistency.
- Sweet Cream Recipe: If using the whole 1 1/2 cups cashews, add to the blender; 1-2 TBSP maple syrup, or more if you like it sweeter. 1/2 -1 teaspoon vanilla extract, pinch of sea salt, and follow the water instructions listed in the sour cream. Feel free to play with this. You can make it anything you want it to be. Use chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, agave, honey or even mint. It can be a lemon-mint cream…just play with it. This is a cream that is open to become any flavor you desire!
Parmesan Cheese Substitution
- Nutritional Yeast is a vegetarian substitution for a cheese flavor. It is NOT the same as baking yeast or brewer’s yeast. It comes in both powder and flake. I find the flake has more flavor. I buy mine in natural food markets. Some stores have it in the bulk section. WHAT IT IS is a deactivated yeast grown on a medium of molasses, then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to deactivate it. It has no leavening ability. It is a good source of B12 for vegetarians. I use it on brown rice, baked potatoes, and steamed vegetables. Below is a recipe for what I call, vegan parmesan.
- Making the Parmesan Cheese. I use a small Cuisinart food processor. You may use a blender, or anything that will grind. Take 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast, 1/3 cup raw un-seasoned walnuts, and a pinch of sea salt. Grind all together. There you have it…a yummy topping for salads, rice, potatoes, or just a spoonful to get you through the day. If eating in a few days, leave on the counter. If past three days, refrigerate, but use fast.
When I think of acids in food, I think of lemon, lime and vinegar, but a lot of people cannot tolerate the acid from tomatoes in pasta dishes. Here are a few good tips on ways to use acids when cooking.
- Roasted Red Pepper Puree is one of the best alternatives to tomatoes. De-stem, and seed the peppers. Leave the skin on and grill them or roast in a 350º oven. Watch closely to make sure they don’t burn. When nice and roasted, peel the skin off and puree in a food processor or blender with one clove garlic, some toasted pine nuts and maybe a dash of maple syrup for sweetness. Use this in place of pasta sauce. It will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
- White Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar splashed in a pot of boiling vegetables will help the veggies retain color, hence retaining nutrients. You may also find that you will not need salt on the vegetables if vinegar is used. White vinegar is also mentioned above as an acidic agent in milk to replace buttermilk. I use Raw Apple Cider Vinegar as my deodorant. No chemical or aluminum worries. Here’s my post explaining how and why I use it.
- Marriages: Apple Cider Vinegar = salad dressings. Lemon juice loves apples and apple pie. Lime juice loves guacamole. Balsamic loves strawberries, tomatoes or lettuce.
- Lighter Flavors: Use champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar when lighter flavors are desired.
Using flavored vinegar is a wonderful way to create a No-Oil Salad Dressing. There are many companies online that sell flavored vinegars.
- My favorite NO-Oil Salad Dressing is called: 3,2,1. In a bowl or jar you can shake or stir to mix, use 3 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar, 2 TBSP Honey and 1 TBSP yellow or dijon mustard. Shake like crazy. Exchange the amounts of honey and mustard if you like less sweet and more spice.
SALT: Substitutions & Thoughts
Salt is an integral part of our modern world. All living things utilize salt as an essential ingredient for life. A person needs 1500 milligrams of sodium each day or a bit less than one teaspoon. By weight, Table Salt and Unrefined Salts like Pink Himalayan, Celtic or Redmond Real Salt have the same sodium content. I alternately use all three mineral salts listed above for their trace element and mineral content. Unrefined salt contains all the elements necessary for life. As for vegetables, celery is the saltiest, and asian seaweeds can be a great alternative.
- Celery is the saltiest of vegetables. In raw fermentations of kraut, celery juice is used in place of salt. For vegetable stir fries, toss in some celery. Since salt should not be added to beans as the cook (salt beans after they are done), diced celery in the pot will help with flavoring.
- Asian Seaweeds such as kombu, arame, hijiki are all good choice in stir fries or bean pots. Plus, you have the added benefit of minerals.
- Refined Table Salt is the most common white colored salt. It contains only two major elements: approximately 39% Sodium, 60% Chloride, and up to 2% additives for anti-caking or stabilizing agents.
- Unrefined Sea Salt is a range of colors from pink colored Himalayan, grey colored Celtic and tan colored Redmond Real Salt. They contain over 80 minerals and elements. Here are FACT LINKS for the mineral profiles of each.
- FACT LINK: Pink Himalayan Salt Mineral Profile
- FACT LINK: Celtic Sea Salt Mineral Profile
- FACT LINK: Redmond Real Salt Mineral Profile
- TIP on Using Salt in Food. Do not salt your food as it cooks. Wait, and salt topically with an unrefined salt before you eat. When the salt is sprinkled on the top, it hits your taste buds first. You get the satisfaction of the salt taste without adding salt into the food. Using an unrefined salt will give you additional minerals and trace elements for a healthier meal.
- The book: Salt Your Way to Health by Dr. David Brownstein is a good resource to understanding salt in your diet.
Sweets: Substitutions and Healthy Alternatives
Who doesn’t have a sweet tooth? There are so many sweetener alternatives, it can be difficult to know what to use. First, let’s get an understanding of the Glycemic Index: It is basically a scale of 1 to 100+, with 100+ being the highest. Low GI Foods are 55 or less. Medium GI Foods are 56 – 59. High GI Foods are 70 or more. Common table sugar has a GI of 68 per TBSP, according to the Nutritional Data website. Here are a few alternatives.
- Stevia is a herb available in both liquid and powder. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The leaves are crushed and steeped like tea, then dried. The GI of Stevia is 0 to 1. Yes, very low. We used Stevia in food preparation at The Tree of Life, Patagonia, Arizona. 2 tsp Table Sugar = 1 tsp Stevia as used topically on cereal and fruit. You can bake with stevia, but you will have to replace the bulk lost from the lack of physical sugar. So, based on a recipe that calls for 1 cup of sugar, use stevia in these increments; 17-24 packets (depending on your taste), 1/2 – 1 teaspoon dry stevia powder (taste after mixing) 1 teaspoon of a liquid stevia. Now for replacing the bulk. Use 1/3 cup of unsweetened apple sauce, yogurt, fruit puree or banana. Baking with Stevia can be tricky to the taste buds, so keep tasting the batter till you have the sweetness you like. Brands I use are: Wholesome Brand Stevia Powder, SweetLeaf Stevia drops and also NuNaturals Stevia drops.
- Coconut Nectar & Coconut Crystals are created by tapping the sap of the coconut blossom that will bloom to become a coconut. It has a GI of 35. It is available in two products; a thick syrup called Coconut Nectar Syrup and a dry Crystal Powder. It does not give your recipes a coconut flavor. Bake in a 1:1 ratio of sugar. 1 cup of coconut crystals equal 1 cup of table sugar. It will not carmelize with heat like sugar will.
- Make a Coconut Crystal Simple Syrup by using 2 cups Coconut Crystals to 1 cup filtered water. Boil water, like making hot tea. Add sugar or pour over sugar. Stir and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Cool and taste. You may want to pour into a glass dropper bottle, and take along to sweeten your tea or coffee. Refrigerate when not in use.
- Agave comes from the blue agave plant. Darker syrups are filtered less, and have stronger, sweeter flavor. GI of Agave, depending on the brand and darkness is 18-38. Bake with Agave in a ratio of 1 cup sugar to 3/4 cup Agave. Reduce liquids in recipe by 30%. Reduce bake temp by 25º, and watch it closely. Here is a FACT LINK for more details. While it is a favorite in raw foods, Agave has been called an unhealthy sweetener. This depends on the amount of processing. Some agave syrups are cut with high fructose corn syrup…no, no. no! Look for brands that have minimal processing and buy a raw, low-heat processed brand. Several good brands are available. I like Wholesome Brand Organic Raw Blue Agave. It is widely available at most grocery stores.
- Date Syrup, a Whole Food Alternative is a completely unrefined liquid sweetener that you make yourself. Use soft Medjool Dates rich in fiber, potassium, and minerals. Use it for all your liquid sweetener needs! Use pitted dates and filtered water in an equal ratio; 1/2 cup pitted dates soaked for one hour in 1/2 cup filtered water. Allow the dates to soften. Place total mixture in a high speed blender, and blend until smooth and syrupy. Taste. Add more water in one tablespoon increments if you desire thinner syrup. Store in glass in the refrigerator, and use for all liquid sweetener needs.
- Ripe Banana is a great alternative sweetener. Here’s my post for Banana Water Oatmeal.
A Flavor Substitute
Nothing equals the taste of a fresh vanilla bean. Sometimes recipes call for a vanilla bean, and I either do not have one, or I have guilt at the price of buying one bean. Depending on the season, they can be enormously expensive. So, save them for that very, very special dish, and substitute vanilla extract. The typical ratio is 1 vanilla bean = 1 tsp of vanilla extract. However, I like the taste of vanilla, so I usually spill it over the teaspoon into what is probably 1 1/2 teaspoons. On a personal note, I stopped wearing perfumes, realizing they are so heavy in chemicals, I wear vanilla extract. Heck, everyone likes fresh baked cookies!
The Zucchini Muffins on the Show
After college, when I got my first apartment, and was learning to take care of myself, a friend gave me the Good Food Book by Jane Brody, the Personal Health columnist for The New York Times. I think I read it cover to cover. To this day her “Grate” Zucchini Bread, page 594-595 is my all time favorite. The page is tagged with a worn out old, faded yellow post-it note. I savored slow Sunday mornings, when I would get up early make them to have with my coffee and settle down on the sofa with my cat, Simon, to watch the show CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt…and my apartment smelled wonderful from the freshly baked muffins…glorious! Here is the recipe entirely from the book. Thank you, Jane Brody. Substitutions are noted in green, because this post is about substitutions.
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired (Redmond Real Salt was used for the show’s muffins)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg white (one flax egg was substituted for both the whole egg and the egg white for the show’s muffins)
1 whole egg
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) vegetable oil (Virgin Coconut Oil was substituted for the show’s muffins) (SEE NOTE)
1 1/4 cups packed, finely grated unpeeled zucchini (about one medium zucchini)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans work well)
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
1. In a large bowl, combine the whole-wheat and white flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the egg white, whole egg, oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, stirring the ingredients to combine them well. Stir in the nuts and/or raisins, if desired. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. I grease the pan with coconut oil before adding the batter.
3. Bake the bread in a preheated 350º oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.
1. Instead of a loaf pan, grease a muffin tin with Virgin Coconut Oil. Spoon in batter. Most muffins bake in 20 minutes, so watch this recipe to make certain they do not dry out and overcook. They are done when they slightly pull away from the sides and a pick inserted comes out clean. To get them to release from the tins, allow to cool for a few minutes, and insert a rounded edge knife (butter knife) around the edges to loosen the muffin. Flip them out and cool on a cooling rack.
NOTE: Traditional muffins made by the original recipe take about 20 minutes. If you are using the coconut oil, the bake time will increase. I set my timer at 30 minutes, check, and usually continue baking for another 10 minutes. This depends on your personal taste. The denseness of the coconut oil at high heat, can give them a tendency to appear not done in the middle. The additional time, helps with this appearance.