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Suggested substitutions that are total BS


Chris Hennes
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Anyone who tells you that slivered almonds can be substituted for pine nuts should be banned from kitchens immediately and never be allowed to cook anything for anyone else, ever again...

That's harsh. Pine nuts are about $4,720,000 each now, aren't they ?

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Replacing cilantro with parsley-plus-ground-coriander is a way to approximate cilantro's flavor without setting off those who find cilantro to be soapy ick. But just parsley, not so much.

The better canned stocks can be doctored into something passable, via something like Julia Child's instructions in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's not quite right, but there are worse things. Bouillon cubes, for instance, are worse things.

But subbing Worcestershire sauce for soy sauce, which I've seen in at least one cookbook... that's some major ick.

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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A co-worker brought in a chocolate cake supposedly based on an old war-time recipe that substituted mayonnaise for the eggs and butter. I get the concept, but still couldn't force myself to try it.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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But subbing Worcestershire sauce for soy sauce, which I've seen in at least one cookbook... that's some major ick.

That suggestion is just so wrong on so many levels...

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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Most suggested substitutes in recipes are not intended to be replacements i.e. exact replicas. Of course they're not going to give the final product the exact same flavour, texture, etc. as the original ingredient and to say they're BS because they don't is somewhat ridiculous.

For some people, substitutes are absolutely necessary. There's an eG member who is on a very restrictive low-fat low-sodium diet. I'm sure she remembers what butter tastes like, but she can't use it. Period. So should she stop making anything that requires butter just because it won't be the same?

I get that some ingredients cannot equal others and I get the purpose of the discussion, but the tone (people are soooo stupid for recommending X be used instead of Y) is rather off-putting.

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I maintain that recommending cilantro as a substitute for epazote is BS, pure and simple. Naturally there is a "reason": to sell more cookbooks! I think it's misleading, and I don't think you should do it. And I certainly don't expect all my cookbooks to include things like "half teaspoon of salt (unless you have hypertension, then omit it, it's all the same)". People on restrictive diets are a separate case: if you are writing a cookbook specifically for them, by all means, substitute away! But don't go telling us that it's OK to substitute things willy-nilly and hell you won't be able to taste the difference anyway.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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But don't go telling us that it's OK to substitute things willy-nilly and hell you won't be able to taste the difference anyway.

Perhaps you could quote from a cookbook or recipe that actually says that. I don't recall ever seeing a recipe that offers substitutions while stating that there won't be a difference in the final product if you use said substitutions. They may not state outright that there will be a difference, but I think most people who are intelligent enough to read a recipe are probably intelligent enough to figure that out.

And if one has never had an ingredient such as epazote, a person really won't be able to tell the difference in the final product if s/he uses cilantro. But if s/he has had epazote and is still willing to substitute, then they know there will be a difference, and has made a conscious decision to render such substitution as trivial in the greater scheme of things. Which really, it is.

There are, of course, those stories of people who say, "I made that recipe you gave me, but I used A instead of B, and X instead of Y, and then I didn't have M so I used N, and dear Johnny is allergic to T so I just left that out. It was a horrible recipe and I can't believe you recommended it!" But I'm not convinced most of those stories aren't urban myths designed to allow anti-substitutionists to roll their eyes at the stupidity of others and feel superior.

edited to change the spelling of my made-up word.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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There are, of course, those stories of people who say, "I made that recipe you gave me, but I used A instead of B, and X instead of Y, and then I didn't have M so I used N, and dear Johnny is allergic to T so I just left that out. It was a horrible recipe and I can't believe you recommended it!" But I'm not convinced most of those stories aren't urban myths designed to allow anti-substitutionists to roll their eyes at the stupidity of others and feel superior.

I suggest you go read the recipe reviews on allrecipes, foodnetwork, or epicurious (or anywhere else with recipe reviews). There are several of the above types of reviews for nearly every popular recipe. I highly doubt there is a cadre of "anti-substitutionists" out there creating thousands of reviews merely to manufacture a point.

P.S. Chris, if there really is a cadre, send me an invite. It sounds like fun.

Edit to add PS

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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There are, of course, those stories of people who say, "I made that recipe you gave me, but I used A instead of B, and X instead of Y, and then I didn't have M so I used N, and dear Johnny is allergic to T so I just left that out. It was a horrible recipe and I can't believe you recommended it!" But I'm not convinced most of those stories aren't urban myths designed to allow anti-substitutionists to roll their eyes at the stupidity of others and feel superior.

I suggest you go read the recipe reviews on allrecipes, foodnetwork, or epicurious (or anywhere else with recipe reviews). There are several of the above types of reviews for nearly every popular recipe. I highly doubt there is a cadre of "anti-substitutionists" out there creating thousands of reviews merely to manufacture a point.

P.S. Chris, if there really is a cadre, send me an invite. It sounds like fun.

Edit to add PS

Next time I'll add a little tongue-in-cheek emoticon to make my intentions clear.

But do you really think all the reviews written on such recipe sites are genuine? Some of them really are written just for fun.

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There are, of course, those stories of people who say, "I made that recipe you gave me, but I used A instead of B, and X instead of Y, and then I didn't have M so I used N, and dear Johnny is allergic to T so I just left that out. It was a horrible recipe and I can't believe you recommended it!" But I'm not convinced most of those stories aren't urban myths designed to allow anti-substitutionists to roll their eyes at the stupidity of others and feel superior.

I suggest you go read the recipe reviews on allrecipes, foodnetwork, or epicurious (or anywhere else with recipe reviews). There are several of the above types of reviews for nearly every popular recipe. I highly doubt there is a cadre of "anti-substitutionists" out there creating thousands of reviews merely to manufacture a point.

P.S. Chris, if there really is a cadre, send me an invite. It sounds like fun.

Edit to add PS

Next time I'll add a little tongue-in-cheek emoticon to make my intentions clear.

But do you really think all the reviews written on such recipe sites are genuine? Some of them really are written just for fun.

No, I agree that some are written in jest but there usually is an earlier review (like the type above) that acted as impetus.

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In baking, the roles and flavor of the fats is Turn Turn Turn. Butter in a carrot cake doesn't add flavor and ruins texture. Use the canola oil. Shortening makes for the tenderest oatmeal cookie, and butter is overwhelmed by the spices. And, when making shortbread or puff pastry or any number of other desserts:accept no substitutes; butter is essential.

Margarine is the lipid of Satan.

Sorry, no disrespect intended, but I'm gonna disagree twice. First, butter in a carrot cake does add flavor and doesn't ruin texture when used in combination with the oil rather than as a replacement. Second, I can tell in one bite or less if shortening is used in a cookie instead of butter regardless of the spices involved... and I'm never happy about the substitution. I'll sacrifice a little tender for better flavor if I have to make the choice. I agree with the rest though.

There are, of course, those stories of people who say, "I made that recipe you gave me, but I used A instead of B, and X instead of Y, and then I didn't have M so I used N, and dear Johnny is allergic to T so I just left that out. It was a horrible recipe and I can't believe you recommended it!" But I'm not convinced most of those stories aren't urban myths designed to allow anti-substitutionists to roll their eyes at the stupidity of others and feel superior.

Not urban myth. I've witnessed it first-hand many times. "I didn't have this but the internet said I could use that instead." "I don't like those so I used these." "The kid won't eat that so I used the other... and the recipe just wasn't as good as you made it sound." I'm not an "anti-substitutionist" but if you didn't make the actual recipe, you can't really make a judgement on the recipe.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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And if one has never had an ingredient such as epazote, a person really won't be able to tell the difference in the final product if s/he uses cilantro. But if s/he has had epazote and is still willing to substitute, then they know there will be a difference, and has made a conscious decision to render such substitution as trivial in the greater scheme of things. Which really, it is.

So because some people don't know what an ingredient tastes like, it must not matter that replacing changes the taste of the final recipe? I refuse to buy into that. If there is no reasonable substitute, don't choose an unreasonable one!

As an example of this kind of unreasonable substitution:

White Wine

White wine for cooking should be strong and dry, but never sour or fruity. A most satisfactory choice is what Mâcon, made from the Pino Blanc or the Chardonnay grape. It has all the right qualities and, in France, is not expensive. As the right white wine is not as reasonable to acquire in America, we have found that a good, dry, white vermouth is an excellent substitute, and much better than the wrong kind of white wine.

Load of crap, if you ask me. There are a few rare circumstances where vermouth can be used to good effect, though of course it will dramatically change the taste of the final product. But she presents it like you can go ahead and do it whenever you want! The fact of the matter is, sometimes you have to accept that if you can't find the ingredient, you can't make the dish.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I don't think that there's an internet conspiracy here. I bet that several of us will go home tonight and find some pretty specious suggestions in otherwise respectable cookbooks....

Read again with the bolding added.

But don't go telling us that it's OK to substitute things willy-nilly and hell you won't be able to taste the difference anyway.

Perhaps you could quote from a cookbook or recipe that actually says that. I don't recall ever seeing a recipe that offers substitutions while stating that there won't be a difference in the final product if you use said substitutions. They may not state outright that there will be a difference, but I think most people who are intelligent enough to read a recipe are probably intelligent enough to figure that out.

And if one has never had an ingredient such as epazote, a person really won't be able to tell the difference in the final product if s/he uses cilantro. But if s/he has had epazote and is still willing to substitute, then they know there will be a difference, and has made a conscious decision to render such substitution as trivial in the greater scheme of things. Which really, it is.

Your answer does not really refute what I wrote. Whether a substitution is specious or not is not the issue to which I referred; the issue is whether the recipe states the final product will be identical regardless of which ingredient is used.

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And if one has never had an ingredient such as epazote, a person really won't be able to tell the difference in the final product if s/he uses cilantro. But if s/he has had epazote and is still willing to substitute, then they know there will be a difference, and has made a conscious decision to render such substitution as trivial in the greater scheme of things. Which really, it is.

So because some people don't know what an ingredient tastes like, it must not matter that replacing changes the taste of the final recipe? I refuse to buy into that. If there is no reasonable substitute, don't choose an unreasonable one!

Again, I did not say that. Or if I did, please point out the words which you are interpreting to mean this. I said a person who has never tried a dish with a particular ingredient won't know the difference if they don't use it. Ignorance is bliss. And I also said if someone who does know the difference is willing to make a substitution anyway, then they do so armed with the knowledge that the final product will be different. Again, they are making a conscious decision to deem the whole topic as trivial.

As an example of this kind of unreasonable substitution:

White Wine

White wine for cooking should be strong and dry, but never sour or fruity. A most satisfactory choice is what Mâcon, made from the Pino Blanc or the Chardonnay grape. It has all the right qualities and, in France, is not expensive. As the right white wine is not as reasonable to acquire in America, we have found that a good, dry, white vermouth is an excellent substitute, and much better than the wrong kind of white wine.

Load of crap, if you ask me. There are a few rare circumstances where vermouth can be used to good effect, though of course it will dramatically change the taste of the final product. But she presents it like you can go ahead and do it whenever you want! The fact of the matter is, sometimes you have to accept that if you can't find the ingredient, you can't make the dish.

No, she doesn't present it that way at all, at least not the way I read it (though I am very literal, and I don't normally read more into something than what the words actually express).

Keeping in mind when the book was written (1961), there really wasn't much choice in the USA in affordable French wines that could be used in cooking and she says as such "As the right white wine is not as reasonable to acquire in America. . ." So perhaps at that time, "a good, dry, white vermouth" really was the best substitute when compared with "the wrong kind of white wine". I don't see at all that she says you can do "whatever you want", but she is stating that for the times, it's a reasonable substitution. And even if the dish was not the same as it would have been if made with the proper type of wine, it probably still made a reasonably tasty dish.

I have to wonder, had hundreds or thousands of people not used white vermouth instead of the unavailable white wine 50 years ago, would the revered Julia Child be as revered as she is? And given that hundreds or thousands of people did make the substition and she still became the food goddess she did, then that substitution must not have been all that bad. But according to some, it must have been.

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I wasn't trying to refute that. I was responding to this:

But do you really think all the reviews written on such recipe sites are genuine? Some of them really are written just for fun.

Sorry, I was confused because of this part

several of us will go home tonight and find some pretty specious suggestions in otherwise respectable cookbooks....

I'm still confused, but I'm left-brained and very literal.

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White Wine

White wine for cooking should be strong and dry, but never sour or fruity. A most satisfactory choice is what Mâcon, made from the Pino Blanc or the Chardonnay grape. It has all the right qualities and, in France, is not expensive. As the right white wine is not as reasonable to acquire in America, we have found that a good, dry, white vermouth is an excellent substitute, and much better than the wrong kind of white wine.

There is no caveat there, no "except in this or that case." Simple, literal "an excellent substitute." Not even an "adequate" substitute! "Excellent"! And of course it works sometimes: a beurre blanc is actually quite good with vermouth. But to simply state that you can make the substitution at any time is crazy.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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prasantrin, I'm having a hard time understanding your position here. Let's use some specific examples and I'll ask about substitutions. Then you can help me understand what criteria you use for determining what counts as a legitimate substitute.

In your azuki bean shortbread recipe, can you substitute in any beans for the azukis? If not, why not? What should someone do if they can't get them?

In your mango pudding, you specify Alphonso mangoes. What about other types of mangoes? Can I substitute those? How about bananas?

Would substituting pinto beans for azukis and canned pineapple for Alphonso mango be trivial in the greater scheme of things, or would those substitutions so utterly transform the two dishes as to render them no longer worth making at all?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, can you give an example of a dish where substituting vermouth for white wine would ruin the dish? I do this all the time - with mussels, in risotto, in sauces for chicken, etc. - and am never bothered by the results.

In my opinion, any application where the wine is uncooked, or only cooked to a low temperature: for example, marinades that rely on white wine. I don't think any of us would argue that the taste of white wine is more than superficially similar to the taste of vermouth in their uncooked state. While I am sure there are examples of uncooked applications where it might still taste good, to pretend that it's an equivalent substitution strikes me as, well... BS.

I keep coming back to the example that spurred this topic on: epazote. For those not familiar with the stuff, let me try to concoct an equivalent example. Imagine a recipe for "pesto genovese" that suggested that if you can't find basil, you can use cilantro instead. Cilantro has a very strong flavor. So does basil. And they are both green and leafy! But who would argue this is a reasonable substitution? If you can't get basil, you simply don't make pesto genovese, it's as simple as that.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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In my opinion, any application where the wine is uncooked, or only cooked to a low temperature: for example, marinades that rely on white wine. I don't think any of us would argue that the taste of white wine is more than superficially similar to the taste of vermouth in their uncooked state. While I am sure there are examples of uncooked applications where it might still taste good, to pretend that it's an equivalent substitution strikes me as, well... BS.

Fair enough, I guess. The applications where I use vermouth as a substitute all involve cooking it down. And I don't think white wine is as integral to the identity of risotto as basil is to pesto genovese...

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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My position was stated in my initial post in this thread:

Most suggested substitutes in recipes are not intended to be replacements i.e. exact replicas. Of course they're not going to give the final product the exact same flavour, texture, etc. as the original ingredient and to say they're BS because they don't is somewhat ridiculous.

And to add, I wrote:

But if s/he has had [a particular ingredient] and is still willing to substitute, then [s/he] knows there will be a difference, and has made a conscious decision to render such substitution as trivial in the greater scheme of things.
(corrected a grammatical error and an error in parallel construction, just because they bugged me)

I don't really care if people use substitutes or change a recipe to make it more palatable to them, or to use ingredients more easily available to them. I would suggest that if you make my co-worker's adzuki bean shortbread recipe with some other beans that you rename it to kidney bean shortbread or lima bean shortbread, but that's me. And if you want to use bananas to make my mango pudding, that's OK, too, but call it banana pudding, and I can't guarantee the pudding will turn out. I've made it with peaches, and it was pretty good. I'm pretty sure in a discussion on that recipe somewhere, I said something about how my mother prefers alphonso mangos, but that I (and many others) can't tell the difference (that may have been in a different forum. . .I can't remember). But since my mother gave me the recipe, and she likes alphonso mangos, I specified those in the recipe.

A better example of a possibility of inflexibility in substitutions would be using ketchup in pad thai. I think it's wrong. But I won't stop you from doing it, though I would prefer you call it by a different name. Because quite frankly, I just don't care enough about the matter, nor do most Thai people. Many would never dream of using ketchup, but they wouldn't stop you from doing so or make a big deal out of it. Mai pen rai, and all that. And I'm not going to call you stupid or say you're full of BS for suggesting the substitution.

Anyway, addressing another issue, I feel sorry for Julia Child for thinking a good white vermouth could have been used in place of pinot noir or chardonnay in any dish. What a terrible palate she must have had. Had she spent time on eG, she could have been educated. (More seriously, I wonder if she changed her mind about white vermouth in her later years when affordable French wines became more available.)

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