Transform These Kitchen Staples With Just One Ingredient

In every home cook's pantry, there is a selection of staple ingredients waiting to be used in various recipes. Essentials such as milk, butter, and baking powder are the unsung heroes of our dishes, barely detectable but playing an important part in the background.

However, these kitchen stalwarts may have more potential than you realize, and adding just one ingredient to some of these staples can transform them, often substituting for other components we may be lacking. Whether you have run out of baking soda or are looking to make a healthier version of jello, there may be an ingredient in your pantry that can save the day.

Join us as we explore the potential of your cupboard, offering fresh alternatives when other ingredients may be lacking. Understanding these pairings will open up a world of culinary opportunities and cut down on those last-minute emergency runs to the grocery store.

Combine lemon juice and milk to make buttermilk

If you are a keen baker, chances are there is usually buttermilk in your fridge. Originally a drink, buttermilk is now used regularly in baked goods such as pancakes, scones, and waffles. It can also bring a tangy flavor to savory dishes like fried chicken and dressings for salads. If you run out of buttermilk while preparing dinner, there's no need to rush to the store — you can whip up a quick replacement using just lemons and milk.

Though traditional buttermilk was the leftover liquid after cream was churned into butter (hence the name), buttermilk nowadays is made by fermenting milk using specific bacteria in a similar way to yogurt. This creates its signature tangy flavor that lends itself to a variety of dishes. A similar flavor can be created from the citric acid in the lemon juice combined with the milk, and the acidic nature of the mixture will allow it to react with baking soda in the same way as buttermilk. This creates bubbles of carbon dioxide, which make baked goods light and fluffy.

To create the buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of whole milk, mix together, and let stand for 10 minutes. It should then have a distinctive tangy taste, though it may be thinner than store-bought buttermilk. You can use it as a substitute in virtually any recipe that calls for buttermilk, meaning you never have to ignore that pancake craving again!

Add cream of tartar to baking soda to make baking powder

If, in the middle of baking a delicious sweet treat, you reach for the tub of baking powder and find it empty, don't despair! With a couple of kitchen staples and some basic chemistry knowledge, you can effortlessly create a substitute powder that will allow you to get right back on track. The trick is knowing that the magic behind baking powder is the combination of an acid and a base, in this case, cream of tartar and baking soda. When these two ingredients meet in the presence of water, they produce bubbles of carbon dioxide, which causes baked goods to rise. 

Therefore, to create your own baking powder, you simply need to add 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar to 1 teaspoon of baking soda. If you want to make a large batch and keep it in the cupboard, add a little cornstarch, too, to prevent it from clumping.

The secret to successful baking is to understand how ingredients interact with each other and the reactions that take place. In this case, it allows you to solve your baking powder predicament and take pride in the fact that you were able to make your own.

Add brown sugar to ketchup for a quick BBQ sauce

Ever present in the kitchen cupboards of amateur chefs, tomato ketchup is a mainstay of American cooking, gracing burgers, hotdogs, and fries. Its smooth, tomato-rich flavor can be put to more use than just a fast food condiment, however, lending its hand to dressings and sauces, including Marie Rose and sweet and sour.

Its simplest and arguably tastiest transformation comes when pairing it with brown sugar to create a quick barbecue sauce. BBQ sauce is a meat-lovers delight, slathered on pulled pork, ribs, and chicken to create a smoky but sweet flavor profile. An authentic homemade barbecue sauce will contain perfectly balanced spices, garlic, and vinegar, but if you have neither the time nor the resources to make the real thing, this cheat's version will still hit the spot.

Simply add equal amounts of ketchup and brown sugar to a saucepan and cook on low heat for around five minutes, and that's it! You could add whatever spices you want into the mix or a dash of vinegar for some extra tang, but they are optional. The ketchup and brown sugar alone will replicate the satisfying depth of flavor that a BBQ sauce provides.

Your super-quick sauce can also be used as a dip for fries or onion rings if you have any left over. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, meaning you can make a large batch and use it all week to jazz up your meat or vegetables.

Add water to evaporated milk for a milk substitute

Milk is the ultimate kitchen staple in most households in the United States. It features in so many of our regular foods — cereal, oatmeal, coffee, or simply as a refreshing drink to name a few. But beyond these day-to-day applications, milk can also play an important role in both savory and sweet recipes. From adding creaminess to soups and smoothies to complementing desserts in the form of a smooth, sweet custard, the versatility of milk means it is always worth having a carton or two in the fridge door.

If you open the fridge to find (to your horror, of course) that the last of the milk has been used up, there may be the perfect substitution lurking in your pantry — evaporated milk. As the name suggests, evaporated milk is regular milk that has had some of its water removed, usually around 60%. Returning it to its former glory is simple — add roughly the same volume of water to the evaporated milk, and you will have a perfectly acceptable substitute for fresh milk.

Your newly hydrated milk will be a near-perfect replacement for fresh milk in recipes, meaning it is a good idea always to have a tin in the pantry in case you are caught short. Don't make the mistake of thinking condensed milk is the same thing, though. Although they are often sold side by side, condensed milk is sweetened and is intended for baking, so it wouldn't make a good milk substitute in your savory dishes.

Add brown sugar to soy sauce to make teriyaki sauce

Teriyaki sauce is a staple in Japanese cuisine — a sticky salty/sweet sauce that is used to glaze meat and add depth to stir-fries. The word teriyaki comes from the Japanese words 'teri,' meaning shiny, and 'yaki,' which refers to the method of grilling. Though high-quality bottled sauces are easy enough to find in your local grocery store, you may find yourself needing a quick method to create a version of teriyaki sauce from the staples in your pantry. You're in luck, because a combination of soy sauce and brown sugar will create a perfectly acceptable substitute in minutes. The soy sauce provides the deep umami flavor, while the sugar delivers sweetness.

To make this sauce, combine a cup of soy sauce with ½ cup of sugar and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Simmer until the sauce has reduced to a sticky glaze. If you have other ingredients at hand, you could always add additional flavorings, such as garlic or ginger, but the sauce will be a great teriyaki substitute on its own.

Though this may not be the classic method of preparing a Japanese teriyaki sauce, it will result in a delicious, sticky alternative with just a few minutes of preparation. Use it as a marinade for meat and fish, or drizzle it over vegetables and rice for a tangy kick.

Add cream cheese to pesto for a silky pasta sauce

One ingredient no aspiring chef should be without in their pantry is a good-quality jar of pesto. The delicious umami blend of basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts has many different uses, from drizzling over a fresh caprese salad to lifting the flavor of a classic roast. Where pesto really shines, though, is when paired with pasta, and the addition of just one ingredient will give you a delectable creamy sauce that will make the perfect midweek meal.

Cream cheese, with its thick, velvety texture and creamy taste, is the perfect vehicle to turn vibrant green pesto into a luxurious sauce that can coat pasta beautifully. The Italians take their pasta sauces very seriously, and each sauce has a specific shape of pasta that complements it perfectly. Long, skinny pasta such as spaghetti is favored for light sauces, whereas thicker, ribbon shapes are reserved for meat-based sauces. 

Since our pesto cream cheese sauce is not authentic Italian, there is no assigned pasta shape, but fusilli or conchiglie would make good options since the creamy sauce would stick to the ridges. Why not conduct your own culinary experiment by making the sauce a few times with different pasta shapes to find the best match?

Add water to chia seeds to create vegan eggs

Chia seeds are popular in the health scene and have made their way from a niche ingredient to a pantry staple. Packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein, these tiny seeds are an easy way to add nutrition to every meal. Being virtually tasteless, they can be added to savory and sweet dishes and give overnight oats a unique texture. 

As it turns out, they have another talent: The ability to emulate the binding power of eggs, which is great news for those following a plant-based diet.

When chia seeds are mixed with a liquid, their texture changes significantly, forming a jelly-like substance. While this quality can be used in various dishes to help thicken the texture, when added to water, chia seeds resemble the texture of a raw egg and can be used as a substitute in recipes. To create your chia egg, simply add 1 tablespoon of dry chia seeds to 2 ½ tablespoons of water, then stir until completely mixed together. Roughly five minutes later, you will have a gooey mixture that can be used to replace one egg in your recipe.

While chia eggs do a good job of replacing eggs in baking recipes, they cannot be used in dishes where eggs are the main ingredient, such as omelets or egg muffins. They do, however, make a great substitution in dishes where eggs are the binding element. So next time your egg carton is emptied too quickly, try making a quick substitute with chia seeds.

Add garlic to mayonnaise for a quick aioli

Any foodie who travels around the Mediterranean has surely fallen in love with aioli. Popular in Spain and southern France, this garlicky condiment is widely used in tapas dishes, as a dip for fried seafood, and even in sandwiches. Yet preparing it from scratch can be an endeavor, as it involves emulsifying eggs, which can easily split, meaning you need to start over. If you have the time and patience to make it from scratch, you definitely should — but for the rest of us, there is a cheat's version. If you have shop-bought mayo and a clove of garlic, you can whip up a decent aioli substitution in a few minutes.

For the best garlic flavor, slice very finely using a sharp knife. Unless you really want the garlic flavor to smack you in the face, don't use a garlic press. As well as being a pain to clean, the tiny particles that are squeezed out of the press create a pungent taste that is too strong for most palates, especially when eaten raw. Add the garlic to the mayonnaise and mix well. This super-speedy version of aioli gives you a great sauce to include in all manner of savory foods — or it simply acts as a dip. If you wish to thin down the sauce, add a squeeze of lemon juice too. While the real thing may be worth the effort if you have time, this cheat's aioli is an excellent substitute when you're in a hurry.

Add avocado to chocolate chips for healthy chocolate truffles

In our modern health-obsessed age, we are always looking for ways to improve nutrient intake and cut out unhealthy food from our diets. One of the first things to go is often chocolate treats — for many, however, chocolate can be challenging to avoid. Traditional chocolate truffles, made with heavy cream and lots of sugar, are unlikely to make it onto any diet plan. However, with a couple of kitchen essentials, you can whip up a healthy version of chocolate truffles that will satisfy your craving while giving you a healthy boost.

The creamy flesh of avocado makes a great replacement for fat or cream in many recipes, and its mild flavor means it doesn't overpower other ingredients. Avocados are full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, meaning you get the rich, fatty texture without the guilt. By adding a bag of chocolate chips from your kitchen cupboard, you can create luxurious truffles that are actually good for you!

To create the truffles, simply melt the chocolate chips down and blend with the avocado flesh until fully incorporated. Chill the mixture in the fridge for around two hours, then roll into truffled-sized balls. Though they taste great on their own, you can choose to roll them in a topping to add extra flavor and texture. Crushed nuts, coconut, and chopped dried fruits are all delicious options. You can also mix up the flavor for each batch by using dark, milk, or white chocolate chips, depending on your mood.

Add banana to oats for healthy oatmeal cookies

There is something undeniably satisfying about making your own baked goods, but many of us don't have the time, and often, when you manage to find space in your day, you discover that you don't have all the ingredients. This is why simple recipes that only need a couple of store-bought cupboard ingredients can be lifesavers. As long as you have some ripe bananas and a box of oatmeal, you can whip up a batch of tasty cookies with minimal effort. What's more, they will be significantly healthier than their sugar-laden counterparts, as well as being vegan-friendly.

To create the cookie mix, mash one very ripe banana and add a cup of oatmeal, mixing them well to make a batter. Create small balls with the dough, then flatten onto a baking sheet to make equal-sized discs. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes until they are golden and cooked through.

Though these simple cookies taste delicious with just two ingredients, feel free to add other ingredients from the pantry if you wish. Chocolate chips, dried fruit, or cinnamon will all work perfectly with the existing sweet flavor from the bananas. With their chewy texture, these store-cupboard cookies make a comforting, healthier alternative to store-bought treats.

Add fruit juice to gelatin for homemade jello

A much-loved dessert by children and adults, jello comes in many vibrant flavors and colors and is easy to make. But store-bought jello is full of sugar or artificial sweeteners and often other additives to make it look and taste appealing. Making your own from ingredients you already have in your pantry means you and your family can enjoy the fun of jello without the unwanted nasties.

Making your own jello is straightforward if you have a box of gelatin and some fresh fruit juice. Gelatin is a common pantry ingredient, especially for those who enjoy home baking. It is colorless and flavorless, meaning it can be used in a variety of dishes to help them set. Since gelatin is derived from the collagen of animals such as pigs and cows, it should not be used in dishes for vegetarians and vegans.

Most flavors of fruit juice can be used to make this jelly, with the exception of mango, papaya, and pineapple, as these fruits contain enzymes that can prevent the gelatin from setting. Boil 3 cups of your chosen fruit juice, and add two envelopes of gelatin to 1 cup of cold juice. Once the juice has boiled, pour it over the cold juice/gelatin mixture and stir until it has all dissolved. Pour it into whatever molds you wish and refrigerate for a few hours. Enjoy your jello treat, safe in the knowledge that you know exactly what is in it.

Add lemon juice to heavy cream to create sour cream

Sour cream is a wonderfully versatile ingredient that has become a fridge staple in most kitchens. From balancing out spicy dishes like fajitas and tacos to creating creamy sauces and even cheesecakes, sour cream is an important accompaniment to many recipes — with its tangy flavor and smooth texture providing a unique contrast. However, if you forget to pick up this essential ingredient the day before taco night, for example, fear not. You can make your own using ingredients you already have in your fridge.

In traditional sour cream, the cream is fermented using lactic acid bacteria. In this cheat's version, we can create a similar flavor profile with citric acid. By adding lemon juice to heavy cream, you'll get a pretty good substitution for sour cream in both flavor and texture.

Add 4 teaspoons of lemon juice to 2 cups of heavy cream and mix well. For the perfect consistency, leave the cream mixture at room temperature for several hours or overnight in the fridge.

This homemade substitution may not be an exact replica of the real thing, but the thick texture and tangy flavor will give you a close enough match for most recipes. So next time you find your fridge lacking the sour cream you need, grab some heavy cream and a lemon and make some yourself!

Add yogurt to self-rising flour for flatbread

A staple in almost every family home, bread is a food that many of us would struggle to imagine without. Whether you enjoy dark rye bread, soft, fluffy brioche, or simple white bread, there is no denying its universal appeal. From morning toast to our packed lunch, bread is the foundation of so many meals and snacks, and opening the cupboard to find the last slice has been eaten can induce panic!

Making bread from scratch is a labor of love for many, and nothing beats the smell of a fresh loaf cooking in the oven or sinking your teeth through the warm crust and into the soft bread underneath. However, homemade bread requires a number of ingredients and quite a bit of time and patience, which is not all that helpful if you are craving some doughy sustenance. Fortunately, with a couple of kitchen staples, you can whip up a quick flatbread that will keep the family full until your next trip to the store.

All you need for this flatbread is self-rising flour and some natural yogurt. Flatbreads don't rise as they don't contain yeast, which means you don't need to wait for the dough to prove. Simply mix together 1 cup of self-rising flour with 1 cup of yogurt until they form a dough. Split the dough into four equal-sized balls, then roll each ball out to the desired thickness. Cook in a dry pan for a few minutes each side until they reach a golden color. Serve them warm with your favorite sandwich toppings, and enjoy!

Add butter to milk to make cream

Heavy cream is a luxurious and decadent ingredient essential for making rich sauces and desserts. High in fat and unlikely to be a part of anyone's diet plan, heavy cream is the thick layer that rises to the top of milk and is skimmed off. Most amateur cooks will generally keep a tub of cream in the refrigerator, but we have all experienced the panic of opening the fridge door to find it missing that vital ingredient. Before you rush out to the store, there is a way to create a great substitute for heavy cream using two other ingredients from your fridge — milk and butter.

By whisking together one part butter to three parts milk, you can create a cream-like mixture similar to heavy cream in both texture and richness. Using whole milk will give the best results, but lower-fat versions will work, too, albeit with slightly thinner results. This homemade cream can be used in various recipes as a 1:1 substitute for cream, with little difference to the final dish. From pasta sauces and mashed potatoes to rich desserts, this concoction will save the day and prove that a little ingenuity in the kitchen can go a long way.