6 Affordable Substitutes for Pricey Ingredients

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Tassii / Getty Images

Though restaurants have widely opened across the country, consumers are still hooked on cooking at home. According to recent research from Acosta, 92% of families intend to continue eating at home as much—or even more than—they do now

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Making a habit of cooking at home can certainly save consumers money, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Especially not when considering the rising costs of groceries

In addition to upping their coupon game and downloading money-saving apps, home cooks on a budget should also look into substituting pricey ingredients with less expensive ones. Not only will you stand to trim your grocery bill, you won’t miss out on the yum factor. Here’s a look at six food items that you can easily swap out for less costly alternatives. 

Last updated: July 14, 2021
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1. Skip Vanilla Extract

“Vanilla extract’s price has skyrocketed over the last couple of years,” said Hannah Shine, health manager of Hourglass Waist. “This is mainly because the majority of the world’s vanilla is grown in the island of Madagascar, which has recently become victim to terrible weather. Failed crop yields have caused vanilla prices to go as high as $600 per kilogram, and the crop security remains incredibly low. In fact, the high failure risk has caused many vanilla farmers to give up their lifelong careers.”

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Buy Maple Syrup Instead

“Maple syrup acts as a wonderful substitute for vanilla extract because the difference in flavor is slight and it is way cheaper,” Shine said. “Moreover, it is one of the most widely available ingredients in the world, so you’ll not have any trouble finding it either. You should opt for equal parts maple syrup to vanilla extract, that is one teaspoon to one teaspoon. Keep in mind that if your recipe calls for sugar, you’re better off decreasing the sugar amount, since maple syrup naturally contains more sugar than vanilla extract.”

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2. Skip Mirin  

“Mirin is a Japanese rice wine which is used as a sweetener in many dishes, specifically Japanese,” said Megan Ayala, a food blogger and fitness and health expert at Patricia and Carolyn. “Not only is Mirin expensive, but it is also very hard to find. You would also feel dumb buying such an expensive bottle just for the sake of one tablespoon of it.”

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Buy Sweet Marsala Instead 

“Sweet Marsala is another rice wine which is commonly used for cooking purposes,” Ayala said. “It is very easily available and can save you good money if used as an alternative to Mirin. Sweet Marsala is very commonly used for tiramisu, zabaglione and some sweet sauces too. Just like Mirin, it is used for a sweetening effect, this is why using it for dishes that require Mirin would be perfect.” 

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3. Skip Pine Nuts 

“Pine nuts are buttery, smooth, and delicious, and at almost $1.50 an ounce, they are pricey,” said Jim Mumford, food professional, cookbook author, chemical engineer and creator of Jim Cooks Food Good. “Pine nuts are expensive [because] they are harvested from pine cones which are tough to process and take years to mature.”

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Buy Almonds And Cashews Instead

For a dish that calls specifically for pine nuts, it’s best that you do buy some, but you don’t need to buy as many as the recipe calls for to see significant savings. 

“Try an equal ratio of cashews, almonds, and pine nuts,” said Mumford. “This will give the best combination of that essential flavor and texture, while saving up to 50%.”

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4. Skip Truffles

“Truffles are often considered one of the fine delicacies in modern cooking, with an unmistakable aroma and umami flavor,” Mumford said. “The problem? Specially trained pigs have to forage for these jewels, as they can’t be farmed. This means the price is hundreds and hundreds per pound.”

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Buy Dried Porcini Mushrooms Instead 

“Instead of using truffles (especially in a cooked application), consider the combination of reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms seasoned with some truffle salt (which is, you guessed it, salt seasoned with bits of truffle),” Mumford said. “The flavor and aroma from the combination is divine, and works great in a truffle mac and cheese, for example.”

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5. Skip Filet Mignon 

“It’s the gold standard for steaks in many cases, but you’ll pay a hefty price at the grocery store for two small puck-sized steaks,” said Julie Ramhold, senior staff writer at DealNews.

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Buy Shoulder Tender Instead 

“Instead, give shoulder tender a try. It’s a lean cut of meat from the cow’s shoulder best cooked by searing in a pan then finishing in the oven or on the grill with indirect heat,” Ramhold said. “Just be sure not to overcook your steak and you can enjoy a tasty cut without spending a fortune.” 

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6. Skip Saffron 

“Saffron is expensive because it’s extremely difficult to harvest,” said Rebecca Tanner, owner of ReheatMyFood.com. “Harvesting it can only be done by hand, and one pound of saffron requires over 250,000 dried stigmas of a crocus flower.”

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Buy Paprika And Turmeric Instead 

“A good alternative to saffron is a combination of paprika and turmeric,” Tanner said. “The taste combination of both is amazing, and they’re much more affordable than saffron.”

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