There’s no doubt about it – cooking can be an expensive process. Sometimes a recipe calls for an ingredient that, when you hit the shops, makes you recoil at the price. And we’re 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? We decided to investigate what cooking items you can swap for a more affordable alternative; one that’d make all the difference to your wallet, and yet taste practically the same.
15 cheaper alternatives for expensive food ingredients
Well, either way, here are a few economical substitutes to consider…
Fresh berries cost a fortune because they’re delicate to pack and ship. Frozen ones however, pack in the same nutrients and flavours for a fraction of the cost.
Don’t let purists convince you that nothing but certified Parmigiano-Reggiano will do. Grana Padano is an Italian hard cheese with a similar texture to Parmesan that grates and tastes almost exactly the same, and comes in much cheaper too, saving you around £1.
Italian bacon can be irresistible but it’s costly – streaky bacon though? Not so much. Streaky bacon is a brilliant alternative to pancetta but cook it with a touch more oil to get the full effect.
This isn’t a straight swap, we’re not about to try and convince you kale and broccoli are indistinguishable taste and texture-wise, they’re not. But, if you’re looking for an iron and nutrient hit that’s easier on your bank account, pick broccoli.
Smoked or filleted, salmon is undoubtedly pricey. Swap for mackerel or sardines, which are both low-cost, yet high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Scrap ready-cut bagged chips in favour of a bag of new potatoes – slice into fries and bake with a little salt and olive oil.
They’re a great go-to snack, but can be expensive. Try a handful of chickpeas (which are ridiculously cheap) roasted with spices instead.
Any dish that calls for creme fraiche or sour cream will be just as good with a dollop of plain supermarket own-brand Greek yoghurt.
Bottled olive oil
It tends to look super pretty in bottles, but scan the shelves and you’re likely to find huge tins of olive oil at a far more reasonable price point.
Fancy oils tend to come in spiffy looking bottles, which could very well explain why the price is often marked up so much. They might look great on your kitchen shelf, but they’re undeniably expensive.
Instead, you can very easily make your own with the help of olive oil (much less expensive than its flavoured counterpart) and some chilli peppers. All you have to do is cook some fresh or dried chilli pepper or flakes in some oil for a minute, add the rest of the oil to warm through, then cool and store in an airtight bottle. And voila! Your own chilli oil.
Pre-packaged chicken breasts
It’s much better value to buy a whole chicken and roast the lot.
Often soggy and prone to rotting in the fridge, buy a whole loose iceberg lettuce instead.
Filling up the spice rack with lots of different individual spices only to use them once and never again is expensive, so opt for spice mixes instead. Try a masala mix for Indian curries, a jerk spice mix for Caribbean/Jamaican dishes, a fajita mix for Mexican food or go Middle Eastern with a harissa mix.
Some food snobs will tell you that fresh ingredients are always better, but that’s not always the case. Save money and energy with cheaper and more practical alternatives such as garlic powder or garlic paste.
Herbs in packets
A few fronds of mint for 70p? Herb prices can be outrageous, especially considering you can grow your own on your kitchen windowsill indefinitely for the price of one packet of seeds. Alternatively opt for frozen herb packets so you can use a little bit whenever you need it, and keep the rest on ice. These can last months and months, and they’re just as tasty.
You may also be interested in…