Have you often found yourself in a sticky situation in your restaurant kitchen that requires some skilful improvisation? Kitchens are having to become more diverse and accommodating when it comes to commercial food service as the hospitality industry continues to evolve through time. One such situation can involve the need for ingredient substitutes in patron meals and for a number of reasons. Firstly, advancements in medicine have allowed for better identification of allergies and intolerances, giving chefs the ability to tailor a recipe to suit the unique dietary requirements of their customers, without the risk of illness or reaction. A recipe might simply call for an ingredient that your kitchen doesn’t have on hand or you might find your customers are asking for healthier, more nutritious meal alternatives to the burgers and chips and chicken schnitzels of pub menus.
Here are 12 food substitute ideas to help you swap out common kitchen ingredients:
Brown sugar is essentially regular granulated sugar processed with molasses, so it’s a common ingredient in recipes for baked goods as the added moisture keeps cakes and slices moist. However, it’s not necessarily a staple in commercial kitchens, so you might find yourself having to swap it out for ordinary granulated white sugar.
Monta Foods spoke to Harrison Glasgow, Operations Manager for White Rhino Bar & Eats on Queensland’s Gold Coast about the implications of swapping out brown sugar with white. “It’s really important to keep in mind the potential changes that may occur when swapping brown sugar with white,” he says. While the ordinary laymen might not notice the difference in flavours and texture, a professionally trained pastry chef will tell you there is a noticeable difference between the two types. “The short of it is, both sugar types can only be swapped in recipes that do not require stringent chemistry,” says Harrison. For bread and pastries, for instance, the change of characteristics will be vastly more noticeable. White sugar helps to activate the yeast in bread dough, so the additional moisture content in brown sugar may have an effect on how your dough rises.
Adding molasses to white sugar:
In effect, providing you have molasses on hand, you could recreate brown sugar on your own. To make the switch, add one tablespoon of dark molasses to every cup of white sugar and blitz in a food processor or whisk with a fork until combined.
If you don’t have molasses, then simply double the amount of white sugar the recipe calls for and you’ll achieve a similar level of sweetness you usually get from brown sugar. If you’re making cookies, you might find the texture is a little crispier than if you were to use brown. You could combat this by baking the cookies for less time, to achieve a gooey centre.
Corn syrup is difficult to find in Australia, despite it making a regular appearance on recipe ingredient lists, particularly those from North America. The slightly sweet syrup is made primarily from maize or the starch of corn. Commonly referred to as glucose syrup, it can be used in baking recipes to soften texture, add weight and volume, prevent cakes from crystallising and add a type of sweetness in flavour that plain or caster sugar cannot always achieve. Substitutes for corn syrup include:
Depending on the nature of your recipe, the sugar content is corn syrup acts as a sweetener, so using plain or caster sugar in its place may prove to be the best substitute for sweet baked goods. “Keep in mind that sugar can start to burn at around 180 Celsius,” says Harrison, “so factor this in when considering a substitute for hard sweets like peanut brittle, fudge or caramel slice.”
Maple or maple-flavoured syrup works well for most recipes so long as your recipe can take the addition of the flavour of maple. It’s made from corn syrup, so has a similar molecular makeup as its corn substitute but it has a higher sugar content so it will lend a more intense flavour profile to the finished product.
Light-coloured honey is a healthier alternative to corn syrup for sorbets, toffees, hard sweets and other non-baked goods. It doesn’t, however, prevent crystallisation as well as corn syrup when used for baking and loses a lot of its sweetness in cooking when replaced as an ingredient in cakes, muffins and bread.
Suitable as a last resort, light molasses will achieve a desirable texture, but its distinctive flavour may alter the flavour of the finished meal. Blackstrap molasses has an intensely bitter flavour that could overwhelm a dish. Molasses works better in darker batters and sauces with intense flavours, where distortion of colour and interference with flavour is minimised.
Almond meal is protein-rich, gluten-free and a versatile ingredient in paleo cooking. While it’s long been a pantry staple in gluten-free kitchens, its more popular now than ever, with advancements in technology making gluten sensitivities and coeliac disease more easily medically diagnosed. “It’s considered a very difficult ingredient to substitute,” says Harrison, “its uniquely sweet and nutty aroma with its organic texture is hard to recreate.” But there are some natural alternatives that can achieve a similar effect. Alternatives for almond meal include:
Try experimenting with half a cup of wheat packed flour for one cup of almond meal. You could also opt for one cup of almond meal, half a cup of wheat flour and another half cup of conventional flour for baked goods. Results will vary depending on the recipe.
Coconut flour is another gluten-free substitute with a similarly sweet flavour that absorbs quite a lot of liquid so it’s wise to consider adding ingredients that increase moisture in your dishes. For instance, apple sauce, mashed bananas, coconut milk, and vegetable oil.
Oat flour provides a similar level of moisture and lightness as almond meal and can be store-bought or made in the kitchen by blitzing rolled oats in a food processor until fine. It also presents a mildly sweet flavour and a similarly rough texture.