When I was in preschool and made my first batch of muffins for class, my mother told me to substitute applesauce for oil. A curious suggestion, I thought. For brownies, cakes and banana bread, we’ve always used applesauce in lieu of oil. For a while I wondered why the ingredient lists even included oil. It was clearly an unwritten, unspoken rule. 

It wasn’t until recently I learned this is not a standardized practice. But, it totally should be. Eliminating some of the saturated fat and added sugar, this particular substitute is a pretty fool-proof choice. Unless, of course, you have an allergy to apples. 

I have compiled some of my favorite substitutes for dietary restrictions, healthy cooking or times when you’ve simply run out of eggs. 


Maya Salem / Daily Nexus

Buttermilk is really just fermented milk. Its acidic quality aids in the leavening process of baking. It also breaks down proteins, such as gluten, resulting in a more delicate crumb. 

In order to achieve that same characteristic with a substitute, simply add an acid. For example, for a cup of buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup and fill the rest with milk. It’s important to let the mixture sit for a few minutes before incorporating it into your recipe.


For 1 cup of milk, substitute 1 cup of buttermilk plus ½ teaspoon baking soda. Or, 1 cup of skim milk plus 2 teaspoons of oil/fat.

In baking, depending on the recipe, a 1-to-1 ratio of fruit juice can be sometimes substituted for milk. Make sure to adjust any additional sugar levels.

Chocolate or Cocoa Powder

Substitute 3 tablespoons of cocoa plus 1 tablespoon of shortening for 1 square (or tablespoon) of unsweetened chocolate, or vice versa. 

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve used up your cocoa powder on homemade hot chocolate mixes or forgot that you snacked on the rest of the chocolate chips while watching “Bridgerton” last night, this substitute has you covered!

Applesauce for Oil

Unsweetened applesauce can be used pretty universally in a 1-to-1 ratio for baking. The antioxidant-rich fruit contains no fat, unlike its 109-grams counterpart. It also keeps your baked goods moist. 

If you have no applesauce on hand, a mashed banana or other pureed fruit can work in a pinch.


For most cooking purposes, you can substitute 2 teaspoons of flour for 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Cornstarch is a pretty unique, though somewhat uncommonly used, ingredient. It’s usually just used as a thickening agent. 

If you’re looking for a vegan egg substitute, you can also mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of warm water. This is best used in cookies, cakes or breads.

Herbs, Spices, Seasonings 

The general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon fresh equals ⅓ to ½ teaspoon dried. When you don’t have access to the fresh stuff, dried seasonings work pretty much the same. It’s important to remember that dried herbs are more concentrated, so stick to this ratio.  

Black Beans for Flour

Maya Salem / Daily Nexus

Rinsed and drained black beans can be pureed and substituted for flour in baking. Not only does it provide a gluten-free option, but it also provides a good source of protein! One can of black beans has double the amount of protein than flour.

Bananas for Sugar

Similar to the applesauce tip, bananas can be substituted for sugar. As fruits ripen, their nutrient makeup changes, an evolutionary tactic to encourage animals to eat them and spread their seeds. This breakdown in starch is fairly easy to see in bananas, as they become more colorful. In other words, the more spotted the fruit, the sweeter.

Simply add one mashed ripe or overripe banana (plus a little water to balance the viscosity) to your baked good, in place of 1 cup of sugar. Figs and dates work well too, though they are less common.

It’s always better to have options when it comes to cooking, whether for dietary restrictions, an attempt at healthy eating or even a lack of ingredients in your pantry! As I learn new facets of ingredients, I think it’s important to understand the versatility of kitchen items. Especially given the rising price of vegetable oil around the world, as Ukraine faces extreme conditions as one of food oil’s biggest exporters.

Tag us @ucsbonthemenu on Instagram if you try out any of these baking substitutions, or if you have any of your own!