Under pressure: Cheaper swaps for more expensive food ingredients

Swap kale for broccoli. Picture: Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch

Swap kale for broccoli. Picture: Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch

Published Oct 11, 2023


With the cost of living continuing to soar in South Africa, cooking has also become an expensive process.

Sometimes, a recipe calls for a specific ingredient but when you get to the shop, the price makes you flinch.

And we are often told we need to get “good” ingredients too – free-range this, organic that – but that can mean expensive food, which can really make the costs add up.

But to make your meals taste delicious, surely not every element you buy has to be the most expensive option out there?

Below, we have put together a helpful guide to help you save money and substitute some cheaper ingredients to keep costs down so that you can have more fun in the kitchen.

Disclaimer: When you swap one ingredient in a recipe calling for another, you always run the risk of variation in taste.

However, most changes in taste are so slight that the average person does not even notice. Simply use your best judgement and taste as you go.

Milk. Picture: Pexels/Charlotte May

Replace heavy cream with milk or yoghurt

Heavy cream is a rich and flavourful ingredient, but it can be expensive. Milk and yoghurt are more budget-friendly alternatives that can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, sauces, and baked goods.

Replace saffron with a mix of paprika and turmeric

Saffron is widely known as the world's most expensive spice. It comes from the dried stigmas of the crocus flower and has to be collected by hand. A good alternative to saffron is a mixture of paprika and turmeric.

Yes, you might not get the same aroma of saffron from this combination, as mentioned, but its taste is pretty amazing, and it will be much more affordable. Also, it will work as a substitute in almost any recipe.

Replace pine nuts with almonds and cashews

Pine nuts are buttery, smooth, and delicious, and they are pricey. They are expensive because they are harvested from pine cones, which are tough to process and take years to mature.

For a dish that calls specifically for pine nuts, it is best that you buy some, but you do not need to buy as many as the recipe calls for to see significant savings.

Try an equal ratio of cashews, almonds, and pine nuts. This will give the best combination of that essential flavour and texture while saving up some money.

Swap kale for broccoli. Picture: Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch

Swap kale for broccoli

This is also not a straight swap. We are not about to try and convince you that kale and broccoli have the same taste and texture. They do not. But, if you are looking for an iron and nutrient hit that is easier on your bank account, pick broccoli.

Replace cardamom with cinnamon with nutmeg

Another ingredient that tends to be very expensive is cardamom, which is an aromatic plant with a sweet taste and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

So, what to do if you have plans to prepare a dish that calls for cardamom and you do not want to spend all that money?

Well, one solution could be to mix cinnamon with nutmeg. These two spices will bring sweetness and aroma to your recipes, and in addition to being much cheaper, they are found everywhere.