It’s too easy to get sucked into a foodie spiral and believe that every ingredient in every dish needs to be gourmand-worthy. If you’re on a savings mission, there are budget-priced food substitutes that still make the taste buds sing – maybe just from a slightly different hymn book.

Gruyere cheese is fantastic in quiches, tarts and pastas but it costs about $40 a kilo at the supermarket (that’s those Frenchies for you). Swiss cheese costs less than half that. And apparently there is no flavour sacrifice involved. says you can mix up heavy cream and plain yoghurt, let it stand for about 5 hours and you’ll have a good substitute for Crème Fraiche.

Everyone swears by Parmigiano Reggiano ($60 a kilo), but seriously? If it’s in cooking who’s going to know you’ve used a cup of garden-variety “parmesan” instead, that costs less than half that?

Don’t want to splash out on mascarpone cheese tonight, at $20 a kilo? Mix up some cream cheese with low-fat sour cream or plain yoghurt.

Make mock goat’s cheese by cutting cream cheese with a bit of tangy plain yogurt or sour cream. It’ll cost way less than half of the goaty version.


Saffron is notoriously expensive – anywhere up to $7,500 per kilo. While the purists reckon there is no substitute, the food hackers suggest that a combo of turmeric with a pinch of sweet paprika will just about do the job. Or a teaspoon of safflower works too.

Cardamom pods, while not in the league of saffron, can cost $250 per kilo for the organic variety. Some say you can fake it with a combo of equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg.


They’re quite the thing at the moment, broths, and they come with an artisanal price tag (and a beard). Numerous websites, including Better Homes & Gardens, say that a bouillon cube or the equivalent amount of stock granules will match a cup of broth for taste, if not for gut health.


Balsamic’s not cheap but it’s become a staple – did you know that red wine vinegar mixed with honey is said to make a fine replacement? And that red wine vinegar can cost a quarter as much as a sweet balsamic vinegar?

Maple syrup

If a recipe calls for maple syrup, you could do like frugal minded mom and mix up some brown sugar with a little water.


Nigella Lawson reckons you can use bacon instead of pancetta in Italian dishes – just cook it with more oil than you would pancetta. And bacon can be 50 percent cheaper at the supermarket.


Why buy tahini when you can pull out the peanut butter, thin it with some water and chuck it in your saucepan, is what Cooking on a Bootstrap website says. While tahini isn’t super expensive, it’s a waste if you buy a jar and then it sits in the cupboard for 5 years till you throw it out.

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