Ingredient Substitutions & Recipe Adaptations (And How to Make Any Recipe Allergen-Free)

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon Category: Advice

I get so many emails asking about ingredient substitutions that I thought I'd put a big, all-encompassing post together like I did for baking. (See my baking post: Everything you need to know about vegan, fat-free and allergy-free)

: The easiest way to replace cornstarch is to use arrowroot. Arrowroot is available at all health food stores and larger supermarkets. Depending on the recipe and how cornstarch is being used, flour might work. For example, if the cornstarch is being used to thicken a gravy, you can try using white whole-wheat flour or brown rice flour for a gluten-free option. If the cornstarch is being used to make a glaze, i.e., HH Maple Glazed Vegetables, flour won't work. Similarly, if cornstarch is used in savory baking, i.e., HH Greens Quiche, you can't use flour as a cornstarch substitute there either. Another option is potato starch, though I have never used it.

A few people have also asked me how to make corn-free cornbread. This one was a bit of a head scratcher since cornbread is made from cornmeal, which is corn ground into flour. After a little Googling, I found this recipe where millet is used to make cornbread. The recipe is not vegan, or oil-free, but I think you could adapt it pretty easily with my fat-free vegan baking substitutions.

Soy Sauce: For a gluten-free substitution, use wheat-free tamari. For a soy-free soy sauce, you can use coconut aminos (which are also gluten-free) or make this soy-free soy sauce recipe. Another soy-free soy sauce option would be chickpea miso tamari. I also find super condensed mushroom stockworks really well when the soy sauce is being used in something, like a stir-fry recipe.

Miso: Unfortunately, there is no substitute for miso. The taste is too unique (and delicious!) Spend the extra time (and a few extra bucks if necessary) and travel to a health food store or Asian supermarket to get miso. (You'll be so glad you did!!). If you have a gluten allergy, look for miso that is not made with barley. If you have a soy allergy, you can buy chickpea miso (which happens to be my favorite miso anyway!) Note: A few cooking websites suggest you can use a bouillon cube in place of miso. In my experience, this doesn't even come close. Yuck. For more information on miso in general, see my posts: "What is Miso?" and "What are the Different Colors of Miso?"

Tofu: How to replace tofu depends on the recipe. See my post, "How to Replace Tofu," for more specific recommendations. Although I have not tried this recipe myself, this soy-free tofu recipe (tofu-free tofu!) made from chickpea flour looks promising, albeit a little labor intensive. If you're confused about all the different types of tofu, or how to cook with it, see this post: "What Are the Different Types of Tofu?"

TVP/TSP: I find quinoa works pretty well most of the time, but cook time and liquid needed may need to be tweaked.

Gluten: Any time whole-wheat flour is called for, use a gluten-free all-purpose blend (such as the blend in EHH and HHA or a commercial, premixed blend like Bob's Red Mill GF Mix.

For more specific information on gluten-free baking (and gluten-free flours) see my gluten-free baking post.

If you need to replace vital wheat gluten in a recipe, use OrgraN's gluten-free gluten substitute.

Milk/Cheese/Vegan Substitutes: You can find soy milk and almond milk pretty much everywhere now. Other options are rice milk and oat milk. I generally shy away from hemp milk and coconut milk. Hemp because I find the flavor is not complementary in general cooking and coconut because it's so high in fat and saturated fat, and is also not always complementary in general cooking. For more information, see my video "What is Non-Dairy Milk?"

As for "cheese," a word of caution: most almond, soy, and rice-based vegan cheeses are not 100% dairy-free or vegan. They contain whey or casein, milk proteins. Veggie Shreds, which is common in supermarkets, is not vegan, for example. Why you would go through all the trouble of making a soy, rice, or almond-based cheese and then add dairy to it anyway escapes me. Even more confusing: some brands that make truly vegan cheese also make cheeses that contain casein or whey >.<

SO — you really have to keep your eyes out and scan labels, especially if you have an allergy. The most popular brand, which is tapioca-based (and therefore soy-free and gluten-free), is Daiya. Trader Joe's also sells this brand now under their label. Other vegan brands are Follow Your Heart and Teese. (I'm sure there are others).

Of course you can also make your own versions, which I do, since homemade is much, much healthier. You can find my recipes for "cheese" in HHC. You can also make "cheese" from nuts and seeds. Two great cookbooks for that are The Uncheese Cookbook and Artisan Vegan Cheese.

Yogurt: Most supermarkets carry soy yogurt these days and I'm even seeing almond yogurt in chain supermarkets (woo!). At health food stores, there is even more variety: you can find rice, almond, and coconut-based yogurts too. If you have a dairy allergy, be careful with some of the commercial soy yogurts. They may contain dairy or dairy cultures. Always check the ingredients. If you don't have a soy-allergy, try my DIY vegan yogurt recipe.

Ice Cream: You can also find soy, rice, coconut, and almond-based vegan ice creams. Many chain supermarkets carry them now too. Not the healthiest (it's still ice cream, after all) but available. You can also make banana ice cream and tofu ice cream. There are also several vegan cookbooks dedicated to vegan ice cream on the market.

For sugar substitutes click here.

For grain substitutes click here.

For banana substitutes click here.

Recipe Adaptation, Generally: When making a substitution, think about what that ingredient does and ask yourself if the proposed replacement is similar in taste, consistency, color, etc.

For example, if I'm making the Hippie Loaf, and I'm out of black beans, kidney beans would be an okay substitution.

Why? Kidney beans and black beans are similar in texture and consistency. They're both a wetter bean, compared to, say, chickpeas, which are much more dry. (If you tried to use chickpeas instead of black or kidney beans, the loaf would probably be too dry and crumbly, unless you took care to add some other form of wetness — like a sauce or condiment). Next, although black beans and kidney beans are not the same color, the new color (red-brown) of the kidney bean will still complement the overall dish. We're making a mock meatloaf, so a deep brown-red will look just as good as a black bean. Compare this to using chickpeas or black-eyed peas. That color wouldn't make for such a good visual! Finally, taste. While kidney beans and black beans do taste differently, both of those beans work with the other flavors in the overall dish. White beans, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas don't work as well.

Another example: If you're allergic to, say, tomatoes, perhaps try using beets or red bell peppers. If you're all out of sweet potato, try butternut squash or carrots. Remember: color, texture, consistency, and taste! also has a great ingredient substitution list.

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