Performancing Metrics

Ingredient Substitution Ideas for Foreign Fares

If you decide to cook a meal that originates from another country, things can get tricky. Recipes sometimes call for ingredients you can’t find or never even heard of. Even if you know what it is, certain ingredients can be really difficult to come by in local grocery stores and markets. If this is the case, don’t give up! You can substitute a lot of these spices and herbs and duplicate the same, delicious taste. Here’s a glossary of some of the more difficult ingredients to find and how you can substitute them in your recipes.

If the recipe calls for Bulgur, use brown rice.

Brown rice

Bulgur (left) and brown rice

Bulgur is a grain made of precooked wheat berries and is most commonly used in Middle Eastern food. If your recipe calls for it, rice will make the perfect substitute. However, if you can find Bulgur, many people recommend it over rice because it has more nutrients and fiber and is also a low glycemic index food.

If the recipe calls for Cardamom…

If the recipe calls for Cardamom, use ginger.



Cardamom is a type of plant native to India and Bhutan. Because it belongs in the ginger family, ginger would probably be the best substitute for this ingredient. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, though, that many cooks say can’t be duplicated any other way. However, if you’re unable to get a hold of it, ginger is probably the best way to go.

If the recipe calls for cumin…

If the recipe calls for Cumin, use chili powder.

cumin seeds

Cumin seeds

Cumin seeds make the second most popular spice in the world (after black pepper). People in India, Pakistan, North Africa, Cuba, the Middle East, and other regions enjoy its distinctive aroma. Because cumin is often used in making chili powder, chili powder would make a good substitute and has a similar, smoky flavor.

If the recipe calls for fennel…

If the recipe calls for Fennel, use celery.

fennel plant

Fennel plant

If the recipe calls for harissa…

If the recipe calls for Harissa, use chili paste.



North African cuisine most commonly incorporates Harissa, a type of hot chili sauce. It’s made of different varieties of peppers and chilis, so if you can’t get a hold of it, chili paste would be a good substitution. This sauce can be pretty intense in the heat department, so if you’re looking for something a little milder, just go with hot sauce.

If the recipe calls for Mascarpone…

If the recipe calls for Mascarpone, use a cream cheese, butter, and heavy cream mixture.

Coffee mascarpone cream

Coffee Mascarpone cream

This Italian cheese is the main ingredient of tiramisu and sometimes used in risotto. If you don’t have any mascarpone on hand, experiment with mixtures of softened cream cheese, butter, and heavy cream in order to replicate the taste and consistency. Hopefully you’ll be able to take these common cooking items and duplicate a delicious Italian cheese.

If the recipe calls for Porcini mushrooms…

If the recipe calls for Porcini mushrooms, use mixed dried mushrooms.

Porcini Mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms are another Italian contribution to cuisine, but they’re relatively hard to find. They have a nutty flavor like many mushroom varieties, but when substituting, it’s important to use mushrooms with a similar texture. Avoid fresh mushrooms as a replacement and choose any sort of dry mushroom type for your recipe. Many dried mushroom mixtures will actually include porcini, too.

If the recipe calls for Shadow Benny…

If the recipe calls for Shadow Benny, use cilantro.


Cilantro, Shadow Benny substitute

This West Indies and Central American herb is also called fitweed, cilantro, sawtooth, and several other names, so it tends to get confusing. It’s also known as “false cilantro” because they’re very similar in taste, which is why cilantro would make a very appropriate substitute. However, the flavor of shadow benny tends to last longer and be a tad more intense.

If the recipe calls for tamarind paste…

If the recipe calls for tamarind paste, use lime juice and raisins.

Tamarind paste

If you’re not around any Asian markets, you may not be able to find this paste. If your recipe calls for it, you’ll have to find a substitute that matches its sour flavor. Try blending lime juice and raisins, but if you don’t have raisins, you can give mixing in prunes and apricots a try. If you’re not satisfied, you can purchase a jar of the paste online.


Even if you can’t travel the world, there are definitely ways you can substitute international ingredients to make amazing meals. Get ready to taste some great cuisine using these accurate food replacements!

Photos via kirrilyrobert, fotoosvanrobin, visualdensity, quinnanya, kochtopf, 40385177@N07


  1. Jenn says:

    I think nutmeg or cinnamon usually work well for cardamom… but I just always keep some on hand because it is so awesome! I like the Tamarind sub idea. You can use a lot of subs for bulgar– I use Quinoa sometimes.

  2. Savorique says:

    What about “If the recipe calls for Mascarpone” use ricotta cheese?

    • franky says:

      Savorique, ricotta’s a great substitute for Mascarpone but one might not always find good ricotta either. You could also go with cottage cheese.

Speak Your Mind


Current month ye@r day *