No lemons? No problem! This handy guide will save you a trip to the store.

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The holidays can be stressful and perhaps nothing that adds more to that stress than finding out you're short of a specific ingredient. Maybe another member of the family used the last of the lemons without telling you or perhaps you just forgot to pick up sugar on your way home from work. Whatever it is, take a deep breath. Dinner can still be served without embarking on an emergency trip to the store. Simply substitute ingredients you already have on hand. If you're not sure where to start, we've got you covered. We went to Kimberly Baker, director of the Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Team at Clemson University and Chef Brett Ashcraft at Queenie's Southern Restaurant and Bar in Atlanta and asked them to come to the rescue. Here are their recommendations for common ingredient substitutions that will get you through the holidays without an extra trip to the store. 


Believe it or not, you can still make your famous buttermilk biscuits, even if you're missing the buttermilk. Ashcraft says you can substitute half a cup of whole milk mixed with half a cup of sour cream for a cup of buttermilk. If you don't have sour cream, Baker says you can add a cup of milk to a tablespoon of white vinegar. She adds that you should allow it to sit for five minutes and stir before using. 

Self-Rising Flour 

It's easy to make your own self-rising flour at home. Baker recommends mixing one cup all-purpose flour, one teaspoon baking powder, one fourth teaspoon baking soda and one half teaspoon salt to make self-rising flour in a pinch.

Lemon Juice 

If you ever made the mistake of thinking you had lemons on hand, Ashcraft can relate. "I am great at thinking I have lemons in my vegetable drawer in the fridge and then they are either past their prime or I don't have any at all," he says. "In a pinch for things like hollandaise, gremolata, or salad dressings, I will substitute a splash of champagne vinegar. The ratio isn't quite one to one, but it'll work." 

Fresh Herbs 

Fresh herbs have a notoriously short shelf life, especially if you don't store them correctly. If you're in the midst of a recipe when you discover your fresh herbs are past their prime, Baker says you can substitute dried herbs instead. She cautions, however that dried herbs have a much more concentrated, powerful flavor. For this reason she suggests substituting a third of the amount called for in the recipe. In other words, one teaspoon of dried herbs would substitute for three teaspoons, or a tablespoon, of fresh herbs. 


Ashcraft says he always keeps jars of Better Than Bullion in the refrigerator for those occasions when he needs stock in a pinch. "The flavor of these versus dry powdered bouillon is far superior and they keep in the refrigerator for months," he adds. He loves substituting juice for stock when he's braising meats like pot roast too. "I make chipotle-pineapple braised country-style ribs in the slow cooker with canned chipotle chiles and pineapple juice instead of chicken stock." 

chef preparing chocolate strawberry cream cake
Credit: Getty Images

Brown Sugar 

You can still treat your guests to brown sugar rum cake, even if you're out of brown sugar. "To substitute brown sugar, mix one cup granulated sugar with one fourth cup molasses," baker says. To compensate for this, she suggests reducing the total liquids in your recipe by one fourth cup. 

Soy Sauce 

"I keep Bragg's Liquid Aminos around for things that could use some salt and umami of soy sauce, but without the strong soy sauce flavor. It's great in pot roast, brown gravies, and vegetable soups that need some extra depth," Ashcraft says.


The best substitute for cornstarch is white flour. For every tablespoon of cornstarch your recipe calls for, you'll need three tablespoons of flour. 


Are chives our of stock at your local grocery store? According to Baker, an equal amount of chopped green onion tops can be substituted for chopped chives.

Heavy Cream 

All is not lost if you don't have heavy cream in your refrigerator. Simply melt four tablespoons of butter and allow it to cool so enough to approach room temperature without turning solid again. Next, use a wire whisk to mix in three fourths cup of whole milk. The combination of whole milk along with the added fat from butter will substitute nicely for heavy cream in your recipes. 


If you don't have the shallots your recipe calls for, but you do have onions, you're in luck. "An equal amount of white or yellow onion can be substituted for shallots," Baker says. 

Cooking Sherry 

If you're looking for the best substitutions for cooking sherry, you'll be pleased to know there are multiple options that can be subbed in on a one to one basis. The best choice is dry vermouth, but if it isn't available you can also use dry white wine or chicken stock with a touch of lemon juice in a pinch. 


Discovering you're out of butter while you're knee-deep in meal preparation can be frustrating, but luckily there are a number of good substitutions you probably already have in your kitchen. Shortening, margarine, olive oil, vegetable oil, and coconut oil can all be subbed in for recipes that call for butter. For baked goods, you can even get creative and substitute ingredients like nut butters, apple sauce, or mashed avocados on a one to one basis. 

Tomato Paste 

If you've got canned tomatoes, you've got an easy substitute for tomato paste. Simply blend them in a food processor, then bring them to a boil over medium heat. Cook the tomatoes while stirring constantly until they thicken and reduce down to about a third of the original amount. A 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes will yield the same as a six ounce can of tomato paste. 

Unsweetened Baking Chocolate 

Baker says it's easy to make unsweetened baking chocolate at home. Simply mix three teaspoons of cocoa powder with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. 

Semisweet Baking Chocolate 

If you don't have any semisweet baking chocolate, Baker says you can make it yourself by combining an ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate with a tablespoon of granulated sugar. Simply multiply this recipe by the number of ounces you need. 

Bookmark this list and keep it handy to alleviate your stress over the holidays.