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Cooking Tips

Save Money at the Supermarket with These 6 Simple Swaps

Get similar flavors without breaking the bank. 
By Published Aug. 19, 2022

You probably know this dilemma all too well: you're walking down the aisle of the grocery store with a recipe in mind, and the ingredient on your list costs an arm and a leg or has a ridiculously short shelf life. Is it really necessary for your recipe, or is there another option?

In many cases, there are more affordable ingredients that can be used instead. It’s a great way to avoid spending extra money at the grocery store or better yet, use what you already have.

Here are six swaps to get you started.

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1. You can swap sour cream for crème fraîche.

Crème fraîche is thicker, higher in fat, and far more expensive than sour cream. The higher fat content means it won't break when used to boost the creaminess of soups, pan sauces, and even risotto. If you’re stirring together cold and/or uncooked sauces, or simply dolloping it over the finished dish, you can substitute sour cream for crème fraîche at a 1:1 ratio (be sure to stir it first!).

2. Imitation vanilla is (almost!) as good as the real thing

Because baking drives off most of the flavor compounds anyway, imitation vanilla might make sense in high-heat applications (think: cake or brownies) where the nuanced flavors are mostly lost.

If you want to make the most of your real vanilla extract, use it in things that aren't baked (such as whipped cream or hot fudge sauce) so you get more of the complexity you're paying for.

3. Need sweetener? Honey, agave, or maple syrup all work.

If you’re looking for something to drizzle over your morning oatmeal or breakfast bowl, agave, maple syrup, or honey are all good options. They can also stand in place for each other in simple liquid applications, like dressings and sauces. However, though these sweeteners have relatively similar consistencies, they will yield slightly different results when baking (a cake with honey will brown and rise more than one with maple syrup, for example).

4. Ditch the boxes of broth and go for the broth concentrate.

A 32-ounce carton of broth can range in price from $2-4, but once it’s opened it should be used in 7-10 days. That’s not a lot of time if you’ve just made a vat of Mexican Chicken Soup; you may not use the rest before it expires.

What’s better? Bouillon. (Our favorite is the Better Than Bouillon brand.) An 8-ounce jar will usually run you about $6, but that one jar can replace many boxes of broth and save you a whole lot of money in the long run. Using broth concentrate costs $0.02 per reconstituted fl oz compared to $0.13 per fl oz of our winning liquid chicken stock. With a two-year shelf life from manufacture date, it pays for itself in a few uses.

5. Use powdered buttermilk instead of liquid buttermilk, change your life.

Do you really have to go to the grocery store and shell out money for a measly ½ cup of buttermilk? Powdered buttermilk is the long-lasting, more economical substitute of your dreams.

We’ve said it before—powdered buttermilk is a lifesaver. Not only is it less expensive than liquid buttermilk, an unopened container has a shelf life of up to 2 years if refrigerated after opening. Its uses abound from seasonings to bread making.

6. Looking for a crunch? Any nut will do.

While it’s good practice to keep a few types of nuts and seeds in your pantry, the cost difference can vary widely. Sometimes, the nut matters: the quintessential flavors of a Perfect Pecan Pie can’t be replicated with almonds, for example. But if you’re simply looking for a textural element, the pine nuts in your salad or lemony spaghetti can be replaced with whatever you have on hand or a less expensive option at the store. (Try walnut pieces, which are usually the least expensive.)

Photo: Mok Jee Chuang / EyeEm via Getty Images