If you’re a foodservice pro like me, it’s incumbent upon you to have a wide variety of spices and ingredients on hand. But the average home cook usually tries to put together a more-modest spice rack and a pantry which can be adapted to all purposes. Substitutions are a daily challenge…
This amazing ‘Flavour Map’ (click on image for larger view) illustrates the relationship
of difference foods to one another, based on the similarity of their flavours…
But substituting one ingredient for another need not be ‘rocket science’.
The computer-generated ‘network analysis’ model, pictured above, published in the learned journal Scientific Reports,of the flavour interrelationships of most common foods and ingredients shows just how complex a task it can be to come up with suitable alternatives to ingredients you don’t have on hand…
But there are more-convenient resources to help you make the right alternative choices.
Herbs and Spices
It seems that the most-asked-for category of ingredients in which folks seek substitutions is Herbs and Spices. This one is easy. The most common Herbs are referenced at:
The most common Spices are at:
But there’s more… Even the lesser-known and exotic Spices and Herbs can usually be substituted with more common ones, as the big chart at this website shows:
Flour and Baking Ingredients
Okay… One of the most-asked questions I get is, “What’s the difference between Bread Flour and Pastry Flour?” Bread flour is high in gluten (the stuff that makes the dough elastic and lets your bread rise), and Pastry Flour is low in Gluten, which makes your cakes light and fluffy and your pastries crisp and flaky.
You can use ‘All-Purpose’ wheat Flour (APF) for almost any baking or cooking chore. In fact, many recipes on flour bags and in mainstream cookbooks are already balanced to give acceptable results with APF. However, it’s always best to use Bread Flour for Bread and Pastry Flour for Pastry and Cakes if you are serious about your baking. APF is really just a compromise between soft (pastry) and hard (bread) Wheat. I make my own, when I need it, by blending equal parts of Bread and Pastry flour.
A comprehensive chart of substitutions for most common (and some not-so-common) baking ingredients is available at this old, reliable website:
Other foods and ingredients…
The Cook’s Thesaurus:
…is one of my favourite sources of sensible and creative substitutions for ingredients I either don’t know or don’t have on hand. For example…
I’m thinking of making Pad Thai for supper because I have some frozen shrimps I want to use up and I’m experiencing an undeniable craving for noodles. I’ve got the veg and other incidentals I need. But… What about the tamarind paste that the classic recipe calls for? Who keeps that in the house ‘just in case’?
I go to the website, search for ‘Tamarind’, and I get a page full of references. I click on the primary one that deals with the Tamarind as an ‘Exotic Tropical Fruit’. I scroll down to the ‘T’s and there it is. Who knew the substitution could be as simple as a squeeze of Lime Juice?
The Thesaurus is also a great cross-reference for food and ingredient names. That’s really handy, as many ingredients are called by different names in different cultures and languages. Depends on whose cookbook you’re reading!
~ Maggie J.