Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: The Food Substitutions Bible

I have recently acquired a copy of David Joachim's wonderful book, The Food Substitutions Bible and I cannot praise this book enough! Just like The Flavor Bible, this book is an invaluable tool in helping you break the grip of recipe dependency and get on with the business of being creative in the kitchen.

The copy I purchased (pictured to the right) is the second edition of Joachim's book, and contains over 1500 additional substitutions not included in the first edition (with the blue cover). It is also about 25% larger than the first and is expanded throughout.

As the title says, this book is filled with substitution suggestions for just about any ingredient you can name. Anyone who has spent any time in the kitchen has had a time when a recipe called for an item they didn't have. My early days of cooking were filled with these experiences, usually ending up with a phone call to my  mother asking what I should do if I don't have buttermilk or baking powder for the recipe I had already started. Now I don't have to do that anymore. I can pull out the book instead, which is much quicker, and call my mom later to tell her how wonderful the recipe turned out!

There are so many food substitutions in this book, it boggles the mind. Everything from Spam to popcorn, duck eggs to korerima, and a thousand other ingredients that I've never heard of! (FYI, if you do find yourself in need of korerima, you can use an equal amount of ground cardamom in its stead.)

The thing about this book is that it's title is deceptive. It is much more than a food substitution guide. There are also substitution ideas for equipment and even cooking techniques. Say for example you would like to try an Asian recipe that calls for cooking in a clay pot but you don't have one. What to do? Should you run out and buy special cookware? I suppose you could. You could also, according to The Food Substitutions Bible, try using either a deep casserole dish or a dutch oven while reducing the temperature by about 100°F and the cooking time by about a half an hour.

One of the most wonderful things about this book are the Ingredient Guides at the back. Lists of apple varieties (including the flavor and texture of each and the best way to use them), dried beans, chili peppers, grains, honey, mushrooms, pasta, rices, vinegars, etc, etc. What the flavor differences are, what each can be substituted for; these lists are invaluable! In addition, there are measurement equivalents that I've never seen in any other book. If a recipe calls for a cup of evaporated milk, how many cans should you buy? According to the Can and Package Size Equivalents chart in the back of the book, a 6 oz. can of evaporated milk is 2/3 cup, while the 14-1/2 oz can is 1-2/3 cups. A #2 can is 20 oz. or 2-1/2 cups and a great big #10 can is 13 cups. Another interesting table is for Temperature Equivalents. Exactly what temperature is "a moderate oven?" According to this list it is 350°F, 180°C, or gas mark 4. Lukewarm water is 95°F or 35°C.

If you are at all serious about cooking, especially if you are among those who create your own recipes, this book is a must have! This is a book I wished I owned years ago and it is a most welcome addition to my book collection now!

Happy cooking (and don't forget to call your mothers)!


  1. I have never heard of this book but it sounds great! My mom was a horrible cook but I always had a copy of the Better Homes and Garden's cookbook with some substitutions on the inside back cover. It saved me many times but I love that this also helps with techniques. I'll have to lift my self imposed cookbook ban. I just hope it doesn't lead me back down the path of addiction again ;)

  2. The great news is that you won't really be breaking your cookbook ban! This is really more of a reference book, the same as Flavor Bible. I believe there are certain books that a cook should have. This is one of them!

  3. I so want/need this book. I can't recall how many times I had to abandon a recipe just because I don't have an important ingredient and have absolutely no idea what I could substitute it with. Bookstore, here I come! Thanks for the info.