Foodie Tuesday: Substitutions

We’ve all been there: halfway through cooking a recipe and you realize you don’t have an ingredient on the list. You’ve got no time to go to the store and are kicking yourself for forgetting something so simple — like the eggs for your banana bread. Don’t let this happen to you. With the Substitutions app by Gormaya, you’ve always got an answer for kitchen conundrums like, “How can I make buttermilk in a pinch?” What would have been a disaster is now just a tiny bump on the road.

Gormaya is the creator of several handy apps for cooks, including a few different recipe timer apps and Conversions for Cooking. Their straightforward style and simple design is immediately recognizable and easy to use. I was surprised and delighted to find such a wide array of ingredients with practical suggestions for replacements in Substitutions. It’s as if you’ve got an authoritative chef at your side offering helpful tips, not a random computer generated answer.

To learn more about this handy pocket-guide to food substitutions, keep reading.

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Getting Started

Substitutions is a straightforward pocket-guide with no bells and whistles. The home screen is a list of categories, including common ingredients you may be looking to find substitutions for: alcohol, dairy, herbs and spices, and seafood and meat. Other categories on the list include cooking techniques (baking) and special diets (gluten-free, low fat, low sodium and vegan). Scroll through the categories to find the appropriate one for your conundrum.

The home screen is a list of cooking categories, left. Select All to find the search tool or scroll through ingredients alphabetically, right.

The home screen is a list of cooking categories, left. Select All to find the search tool or scroll through ingredients alphabetically, right.

Tap the All tab to find a list of all 438 substitutions covered in the app. Here you can type an ingredient into the search box to find it quickly. Scroll through the ingredients to browse the alphabetized list, or tap the letters on the right side of the screen to jump down the page. Punchy icons on the left side of the page are helpful when you’re quickly browsing the list – you can immediately identify the category of ingredient. Gormaya does a good job of saying a lot with very few words, for example, the heart icon symbolizes a low-fat substitution and the saltshaker icon signifies the substitution is low in sodium. Substitutions embraces a minimalist design that is refreshing amongst a sea of over-designed utility apps.

Delving Into Categories

On the surface, Substitutions is a handy pocket guide for making do with the ingredients you’ve got on hand in the kitchen. Look a little closer and you’ll find many ways to use this app. Let’s say you’re thrown off by a fancy cheese mentioned in a recipe due to a limited selection in your neighborhood grocery store. Substitutions smartly suggests a more widely available option. Not only does the app offer suggestions for alternate cheese, it also gives instructions for making your own cheese substitution with ingredients commonly kept in the fridge. For example, if you need cream cheese, Substitutions recommends straining plain yogurt or pureeing cottage cheese to get a similar texture and flavor.

Each category lists ingredients alphabetically. You'll find many substitutions for everyday conundrums.

Each category lists ingredients alphabetically. You’ll find many substitutions for everyday conundrums.

The category you will probably consult most often in Substitutions is Baking & Cooking. How often have you gotten everything out to make muffins on Saturday morning and realized you’re out of eggs? This happens to me all the time. Substitutions has the answer: banana mashed with baking powder will give your muffins the moisture and lift they need. Another common situation is the chocolate conundrum: bittersweet, semi-sweet, baking chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa … Most often you’ve probably got some type of chocolate on hand and Substitutions will guide you to the right selection for your recipe. As an experienced cook, I can look at many of these suggestions and know they are good ones, but it would be nice if the app included a bit of information on where the information came from and why it works to give credibility to their recommendations.

Special Diets

The app also addresses issues many modern cooks face, like Gluten-Free diets or how to find practical vegan substitutes for common meaty flavors. Whether you’re embracing a lifestyle change or cooking for friends with unfamiliar dietary restrictions, Substitutions offers answers to your questions.

The special diets sections, like Gluten-Free and Vegan, are great for brainstorming ideas when modifying recipes.

The special diets sections, like Gluten-Free and Vegan, are great for brainstorming ideas when modifying recipes.

Rather than give you a full description of the special diets, Substitutions keeps the information load practical for your mobile device. Think of their suggestions as a jumping off point for further research. If you’re preparing to begin baking gluten-free, the app has a long list of ingredients you’ll soon be stocking in your pantry. Gluten-free cooking often takes a bit of experimentation to get the texture right, and this app provides a lot of suggestions for alternative flours for baking. It also shares ideas for grain substitutions to try, such as quinoa instead of couscous or the clever spaghetti squash in lieu of pasta. The Vegan section is especially helpful for finding vegan baking substitutions or ideas for ingredients that contribute meaty flavors to dishes without consuming meat (mushrooms, smoked paprika).

Conclusion

Substitutions is a handy pocket guide for kitchen emergencies when you’re already knee deep in a recipe and realize one ingredient is missing. It’s also great for finding alternatives when the local grocer doesn’t carry an item on your list. The special diet categories are a fantastic resource for sparking ideas when it comes to modifying a tried and true recipe to meet requirements of vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium or low-fat eaters. The minimal design is easy to navigate and refreshing, but it would be nice to see evolution of the features over time. Overall, you’ll be consulting this app again and again, which makes it a very useful and practical resource for the home cook.


Summary

A handy pocket guide for improvising in the kitchen whether you're out of an ingredient or cooking for guests with special dietary requirements.

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