Q&A: Ingredient Substitutions

I was recently asked to put together a list of ingredient substitutions for the top allergens in commonly found recipes.  I’m posting this list here and I will also create a new “substitutions” tab across the top of the page (I will work on this and get it up asap).

These are the ingredients that I use in place of food allergens on a daily basis.  I know there are other substitutions out there as well.  Some of my substitutions are made for the entire family, incorporating more allergens, but other substitutions are only for my son.


  • Milk: rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk (carton, not can) — substitute equal amount
  • Buttermilk: any of the above allowed milk plus vinegar (1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp white vinegar, let stand for 5 minutes)
  • Butter (spread only): Best Life Buttery Spread (does not work in baking or frying)
  • Butter: Earth’s Balance non-dairy margarine (contains soy), coconut oil, olive oil (non-baking), grapeseed oil or canola oil (in baking, use about 3/4 cup oil per 1 cup butter)
  • Cream Cheese: Tofutti Cream Cheese (contains soy)
  • Yogurt: any soy-based yogurts
  • Ice Cream: Rice Dream ice cream pints or sandwiches, Trader Joe’s sorbet


  • EnerG egg replacer:  This works the best of all the egg substitutions I have tried.  The box is pricey up front, but it lasts a long time.
  • Applesauce: 1/4 cup applesauce per 1 egg (This isn’t the best substitute for helping baked goods to rise.)

Peanut (if no tree nut allergy)

  • Almonds, Cashews, Sunflower Seed: All can be used in whole form or made/purchased as butter — equal substitution.

Tree Nuts

  • You can substitute various tree nuts if you are only allergic to one specific tree nut, but you must be very careful of cross-contamination.


  • Oat Flour*: substitute approximately 1 1/4 cup oat flour (I grind old-fashioned oats in coffee grinder) for 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Rice Flour (white or brown): equal substitution
  • As thickener (in soups/sauces): use oat flour, arrowroot flour, or tapioca starch as equal substitute
  • For bread crumbs: oatmeal
  • Noodles: Rice Noodles (I prefer those found in the Asian section, Asian grocer or Trader Joe’s.  They have a better texture, taste and price than the advertised gluten-free pasta, in my opinion.)
  • Almond flour and coconut flour sound like promising substitutes but I have not fully experimented with them yet.
  • Substitutions I want to try experimenting with more: almond, coconut, potato
  • *oats that are not certified to be gluten-free may contain traces of wheat


  • Vegetable (soybean) Oil: canola oil, grapeseed oil
  • Shortening: coconut oil, non-soy shortening (have not used this), butter, non-dairy butter, oil (use about 3/4 cup oil per 1 cup shortening)
  • Earth Balance Non-dairy/soy butter: I have not used this because it contains corn.
  • Soy Sauce: There is a gluten-free soy sauce on the market, but I do not believe I have seen a soy-free soy sauce.  This is a very hard substitution to make, in my opinion.  As a condiment, I have not found a good substitute.  As an ingredient, I have used the following recipe: 1 1/2 cup beef broth (I have only found organic beef broth to contain no soy or corn), 4 tsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp molasses, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, pinch pepper and garlic powder.  Boil about 15 minutes until reduced (or if you’re in a big hurry and don’t feel like this step, just throw it all in the recipe).

Corn (this isn’t a top allergen, but exists in my home):

  • Corn Starch: arrowroot flour works best (have also used tapioca and rice starch)
  • Corn Syrup: maple syrup

Are there any substitutions that should be added to this list? Have you found any of the above to work well or not so well?  Please help us compile a thorough list for our readers and allergy cooks.

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11 Responses to Q&A: Ingredient Substitutions

  1. Kim says:

    Great list!! Looks very similar to my pantry/fridge. 🙂 One thing I would caution is the use of Sunbutter for a peanut butter replacement. Seeds and nuts aren’t necessarily related, but the replacement of that ended up bad in our house. We stick with Soybutter as soy is better in our house.

    • Cook says:

      Kim, Thanks for mentioning the caution about sunbutter. If one is allergic to peanuts/nuts, they should also be tested for seeds as there can often be an allergy to seeds as well.

      Thankfully, my son has come back negative for all tree nuts and seeds and we’ve been using Sunbutter for years. As usual, I hope I don’t ever have to regret that substitution.

  2. Donna Spencer says:

    I buy Raw Coconut Aminos Soy-Free Seasoning Sauce to use in place of soy sauce, since I’m allergic to soy. http://www.coconutsecret.com. I’ve been eating Chex Honey Nut Cereal often, and have been getting really bad headaches. I know there must be something in it that I’m allergic to. I just went 2-3 days not eating it, and I’ve been okay. I ate some two hours ago, and the throbbing headache is back! When I stopped eating it 2-3 days ago, the headache had started 1/2 hour after eating it. The nut flavor is Almonds. Have you heard of anyone being allergic to this cereal? I had been making my own Granola and it started bothering me. I put walnuts, almonds and pecans in it.

    • Cook says:


      I haven’t heard of the soy-free seasoning sauce; I will have to check into it.

      As far as the Chex goes, I looked up the ingredients and saw that it contains Natural Flavor and Natural Almond Flavor. Natural flavors often contain soy in them. I would recommend calling the company and asking what ingredients are in the natural flavoring. If there is, in fact, no soy in the natural flavor, how do you respond to almonds or corn? Either one of those cold possibly be contributing to it, but my first guess is that there is soy in the natural flavor. On the other hand, it’s strange that the homemade granola starting bothering you too. You might want to try eating a handful of raw almonds and see how that affects you. What other ingredients are in your granola?

      I seem to get a migraine-strength headache whenever I cut strong raw onions. I have taken to buying diced frozen onions (a budget splurge, I know) because I’d rather not be incapacitated with a severe headache for a couple of days. I’m fine eating raw or cooked onions, just as long as I don’t have to cut them. Strange, I know.

      Let me know what you find out about the Chex.


  3. My 5-year-old grandson (lives with me) was recently tested for allergies and has begun receiving shots, once a week.

    Among his food allergies -onion, garlic, soy and pork!
    Pork I can control for but how to control for soy products which seem to be in darned near every product on the market. And any suggestions as to what I can use as a substitute for onion in cooking -like in homemade spaghetti sauce, for openers as well as in many other recipes?

    His most severe allergies do tend to be from grasses/trees/leaves and especially strong in the spring/early summer but he’s never had any type of noticeable reaction to any food products. (He loves bacon, hot dogs and sausages and roast pork or pork chops were one of the few meats he would eat at least a little bit of them. He’s also autistic so does have an attitude about certain food products.) One of the items that is high on his list of mandatory foods is Nestle’s Quick Chocolate powder and my daughter noticed it also contains soy but knowing how the boy is about the good old Nestle’s quick and if that chocolate milk were to be omitted from his diet, there would be hell to pay so we have continued to give him milk with that powder mixed in to it.

    Any information or suggestions anyone else has about dealing with this in an effective as well as safe manner, sure would be appreciated.

    From Kurt’s Grammy J

    • Cook says:

      For some reason, there is often a link between autism and food allergies. I don’t think doctors know why that is.

      I’m not sure you’d be able to find a substitute for onion. I just can’t think of any other ingredient that is similar in taste and texture. When preparing meals for your family, you can do as much of the recipe without certain ingredients as possible in one pan, then switch to another pan for the remaining ingredients the he is allergic to. Look at your spaghetti example, put all the ingredients together except the onion and garlic. Then, remove the portion that your grandson will eat to another pan or to his plate. At that point, add in the onion and garlic for the rest of the family in the original pan. It’s a little extra work, but I often do this for my husband in dishes that contain soy or wheat. It works out for everyone.

      Have you looked into all-beef hot dogs, like Hebrew National? I assume they do not contain pork, but I’m not absolutely positive. However, they may contain soy. I use a brand called Coleman’s all-natural hot dogs b/c they do not contain soy or corn, but they do contain pork.

      Nestle Quick: I wonder if there is a soy-free alternative out there. Would he be willing to try a different brand (don’t tell him 🙂 )? How about just using 100% cocoa?

      If you’d like me to do further research on specific brands of any of the above, let me know. I’ll see what I can come up with.

      Thank you for sharing, Kurt’s Grammy! I wish you all the best as you willingly walk along this journey of food allergies, autism, and raising children!

      • DeAnna says:

        Recently I found Oscar Mayer Selects Turkey hardwood smoked uncured turkey franks. They have none of they mentioned allergens and taste wonderful. My son who does not have allergies prefers them to any others, so do I.

        • Cook says:

          I prefer the Coleman’s brand of hot dogs that do not have any preservatives, corn, soy, etc. I typically won’t eat any of the other brands. 🙂

  4. Paul says:


    Just noticed your list of substitutions and would like to comment. I have been using Bestlife buttery sticks as well as there tubs in baking with great success or quite sometime now. I moved away from Earth balance for there price point and taste. We use it in our vegan puff pastry, vegan Viennese butter cake and in our vegan wedding cake. It is used in a 1 to 1 ratio That is correct, it does not work for frying. Thanks for a informative website. I hope I was able to contribute to it as well, Paul

  5. I use flaxseed and water for egg.

    And although not real healthy, we use Fleischmann’s Unsalted Margarine for baking. And squeeze Parkay for “butter” on toast and potatoes and in oatmeal, etc.

    I am happy to find you!

    • Cook says:

      Welcome to The Willing Cook! I am so glad to have you here. You know, I see people use flax eggs all the time, but I have yet to try it myself. I need to put that on my substitutions list though, for sure. Thanks for the reminder. I too have used Fleischmann’s Margarine, but it’s not always easy to find. I had no idea that Parkay was DF. I’ll have to check that out. I know, none of them are very good for you, but you have to use those things on occasion. Thanks for your comment!


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