Common Ingredient Substitutions

As a person with dietary restrictions and intolerences, I know firsthand, that I constantly have to make adjustments to recipes I get from elsewhere – so that I don’t suffer for it later.

Indian recipes use many ingredients that may need to be swapped out for something else – because someone is allergic or intolerant to an ingredient.

Here are some substitutions and modifications to dietary leanings, purely based on mimicking the flavor of the original ingredient. Some substitutions are better suited for sweet preparations, while others are better suited for savory, as marked by the note in parentheses. For example, tapioca pearls can be substituted for cracked wheat in both sweet and savory preparations, but tofu substitutes for paneer only in savory dishes. Just a word of caution with tapioca, it needs to be cooked differently than cracked wheat, and any of my tapioca recipes will detail its preparation for specific dishes.

These substitutions are not based on finer details such as protein content or volatile oils—typical factors used to determine the appropriate allergy-related dietary substitution.

This list is not exhaustive, but it is based on the recipes found in this book. Please check product labels for specific allergens and consult your allergist or dietician if you are unsure about the safety of the substitutions.

Substitutions for common ingredients, based on savory or sweet preparation

  • Breadcrumbs: savory – cornmeal

  • Cracked wheat: savory – quinoa, tapioca pearls (savory and sweet)

  • Ghee: savory – oil of choice; sweet – unflavored oil

  • Jalapeños: cayenne pepper powder, white pepper, black pepper powder

  • Meat (chicken, lamb, goat): savory – paneer, tofu, crimini mushrooms, soy nuggets, textured vegetable protein

  • Milk, heavy cream: savory – soy milk, rice milk, potato milk, coconut milk (savory and sweet); sweet – almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk

  • Mushrooms: savory – soy nuggets, tofu, paneer

  • Paneer: savory – tofu

  • Sesame seeds: eliminate

  • Shellfish: any firm white fish (cod) or poultry (chicken)

  • Tree nuts and peanuts: toasted sunflower seeds (Use alternate thickening agents if the nuts are included in sauces or as a paste. Skip the dish if substitutions are not possible.)

  • Vegetable oil: refined oil

  • Vegetables/fruits (e.g., potatoes, eggplant, sweet potato, onions, garlic, mangoes, cashew apples, kiwi, etc.): Consult your health care provider to determine specific substitutions.

  • Vermicelli: savory – rice-, corn- or quinoa-based vermicelli; sweet – rice-based vermicelli

  • Wheat/gluten-based flours (in small quantities only): savory – rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, potato flour, sorghum flour, bean flour; sweet – tapioca starch

  • Yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream: soy-based, rice-based or coconut milk-based equivalents


Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect.

Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & poet. 


Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 


Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 


Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

Nandita is a proud member of the Asian American Journalists Association & Association of Food Journalists.

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