Substitutions: should or shouldn't?

Ever since I read this, it's been grating on me. In the front cover of my copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, under the heading of "Emergency Substitutions," it reads, "Everybody does it (even though they shouldn't)."

"Humph," I thought. "Snobs. Why shouldn't I?" And I left it at that for the next few weeks. But it kept bothering me.

What's wrong with using substitutions in your cooking? Or maybe a better question is, what's right? I can think of a few good reasons to substitute ingredients (being an incorrigible substituter myself).
  • You can often save money.
  • You can simplify your shopping list and your pantry by keeping fewer ingredients on hand.
  • You can make a recipe healthier.
  • You can make a recipe that you wouldn't otherwise be able to without going to the store.
I know there are also reasons for not substituting, mainly that a recipe may not turn out exactly as the author intended it to.

What do you think? Should you or shouldn't you use substitutions in your cooking? Do you?


  1. Always. I live somewhere where it hasn't always been possible to just run to a shop for ingredients so you substitute or you just wouldn't cook. Besides, do enough of it & you learn what goes with what & everything tastes pretty goo. My rule: if it gets eaten there was nothing wrong with it. ;)

  2. I'd be doomed if I could never substitute in recipes. Some ingredients can be hard to find here or impossibly expensive.

    What a dumb statement, saying that you shouldn't substitute!

  3. well, of course you should *never* substitute... unless you want to be creative, thrifty, healthier... or maybe even have *gasp* fun while cooking;)

    so silly, lol.

  4. I always substiture we live way out in the country and running to the store is not an option. And i can make a meal healthier by using applesauce instead of oil or wheat flour instead of white when making a white sauce.

    Erika @ homegrown family

  5. Well, I'd consider the source. As awesome as those test kitchen people are, they're pretty darn specific about things as well. I guess that's what comes from testing umpteen different tiny little variations for every single recipe.

    As for whether you should, I look at it this way: I you end up liking the result, you can do whatever you like. I apply that to my sewing, knitting, cooking... anything. I think it's just important to educate yourself about all the choices and techniques available and the results you'll get with them.

  6. I think this is just a case of a writer that had to come up with something snarky to say and couldn't think of anything. It's bad writing is all.

  7. I pretty much never follow a recipe the ways it's written. My recipes are my own and even those I switch around often. I think they're very unimaginative to say that. Boring!

  8. If someone is new to cooking, I wouldn't substitute. But otherwise, I like making substitutions. Sometimes I like the result better (like substituting a vegetable I like for one I don't) or it ends up saving me money. Especially with baking, you can rarely tell a difference whether you used powdered milk or regular, cocoa powder or baking chocolate, buttermilk or the substitution.

  9. I make substitutions all the time, but understand why the Test Kitchen says not to.

    I love America's Test Kitchen, but their purpose is to take a recipe and perfect it. To try all different ingredients, amounts, and preparation techniques and find the 1 way that will make the perfect dish. When that is your goal, substitutions aren't a good thing.

    At our home, the goal is to make something that tastes good and doesn't cost a fortune. I'm sure that the Huevos Rancheros they made on the show were amazing. I'm also sure that they cost at least $5 more than mine to make. I'm not sure that we'd find their version tastes $5 better though.

    I love cookbooks that give lists of substitutions. Many of Emerill's cookbooks do.

  10. most the time I shouldn't-not my talent for sure-however Hubby is the master Substituter!!

  11. Goodness, yes! I can't remember the last recipe I perfectly followed. At a minimum, I swap the butter/shortening for olive oil or avocado. I'll usually use bananas for eggs, too. And if the recipe only calls for a tiny bit of garlic, I'll add in a lot more.

    When I'm cooking for others, though, I tend to stick closer to the instructions. I know that I have a rather odd palate :)

  12. We have become huge "All Natural" freaks. My little nephew has huge artificial additive issues. So I did my school research paper on it and was shocked at all the things in those artificials and they things they can do to you, so we substitute in almost every recipe now so that we are making it more naturally.
    And I like what Ganeida said,
    If it gets eaten there was nothing wrong with it.


  13. "I swap the butter/shortening for olive oil or avocado. I'll usually use bananas for eggs, too."

    Now, I'm going to have to try that.

  14. Yes I do-- all over the place!


  15. That was a silly thing for them to say. If I am cooking in my kitchen I will do what ever I feel like! (how about that attitude!)

  16. Danielle -

    It takes a little practice to get the texture right.


  17. I substitute all the time! It is a great way to use what you have on hand and save loads of money!

  18. I absolutley believe in substitutions. They are a necessary part of cooking in my house. I think it's the mother of invention in cooking.