How To Make Almost Any Recipe Clean

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Ever wonder how to make a not-so-clean recipe, clean?

No, you don’t scrub it with a brush. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that (really bad) joke!

I firmly believe that most recipes can be converted to a clean eating plan with a little experimentation and some elbow grease. So if you’d like to take a crack at it with one of your favorite recipes, here are some basic guidelines for making those healthy and clean substitutions.

If you would like any help with substituting a particular ingredient, please leave a comment and I’ll see if I can help. And here’s how to make (almost) any recipe clean.

How To Make Almost Any Recipe Clean

Copyright Information For The Gracious Pantry

THAT AWFUL WHITE STUFF

Sugar is pretty easy to substitute if you have a kitchen scale. Simply weigh the amount of sugar called for in a recipe, and then use that same weight in any natural liquid sweetener like honey or maple syrup. (Don’t try to substitute by volume. 1 cup of sugar does NOT equal 1 cup of honey.) Check out my Sugar Substitution Chart for substituting different types of sugars. Coconut sugar and sucanat are also good substitutes, though I rarely cook with them.

THINK BROWN SUGAR IS A HEALTHIER OPTION? THINK AGAIN!

Brown sugar is simply white sugar with molasses added. Need to find a substitute? Follow the directions above for weighing. Once you have the weight, use 3/4 honey and approximately 1/16 molasses to get a flavor that is close to the real stuff. If you want a dry version, try sucanat. It has a mild, brown sugar flavor.

WHAT ABOUT OIL?
  • In cooking or “frying” – if your recipe calls for more oil than you’d like to use, start with 1 tbsp. olive or safflower oil and replace the rest with plenty of chicken broth and a non-stick pot or pan.
  • In baking – use 3/4 cup apple sauce (no sugar added), and 1/4 cup fruit purée (like pumpkin or banana) for each cup of oil. But be sure to add extra spices and extracts, as there is then little or no fat to enhance the flavor of what you are baking. Typically, 1 extra tsp. of extract or spices will do nicely. Watch your baking times closely as low-fat/non fat items turn from raw to dry very quickly when in the oven.
THE OTHER WHITE STUFF

White flour is not only used for baking, but also for thickening sauces and other culinary uses. If the texture of your recipe depends on the flour (like in baking), then stick to whole wheat pastry flour. If not, experiment with the myriad of whole grain flours found in your local health food store. It’ll be a very tasty adventure!

LITTLE GLOBES OF PROTEIN

As much as I love eggs, I know lots of folks can’t eat them. I found a fabulous source for all kinds of ways to replace eggs, either the whole egg or just the whites or yolks. Check it out here.

WHAT ABOUT GLUTEN?

This is such an involved subject that it would take me a whole other blog to cover it. So instead, I’ll send you to the expert: Elana’s Pantry. Her tips are excellent.

OTHER SUBSTITUTIONS?

If you are wondering about something not listed here, leave a comment below. I’d also love to know what substitutions you use to keep YOUR cooking and baking clean!

Article is an original work and is © Tiffany McCauley. It may not be reproduced for any reason without written permission by the author.

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330 Comments

  1. (To: The Gracious Pantry) Have you tried pureeing potatoes as a base ingredient for Cambell’s cream soups? Perhaps add some milk and chicken/veggie stock. I used purreed potatoes in a recipe that called for cream of chicken soup one time and it worked pretty well.

    Also, I have a question: I’ve been looking all over Google for this information and I have found dissenting opinions. Is Duram Wheat Semolina clean? Duram Wheat I know is, but it’s the “semolina” part I’ve found varying opinions on. What’s your expertise on the subject? Thanks in advance.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      No, I haven’t tried potatoes yet. As for the wheat, it’s only clean if it’s 100% WHOLE duram wheat semolina. It must be a whole grain.

  2. So, semolina doesn’t mean refined?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Not that I’m aware of. I thought it was just a type of wheat, but I could be wrong…

  3. Ok so I am very new to this, can you tell me is rice pasta good for you or do I have to cut out pasta altogether. Thank you

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      As long as it’s WHOLE grain pasta, you’re fine. So BROWN rice pasta is fine, as is whole wheat pasta.

  4. What can I use as a substitute for bouillon ? It’s the sodium I’m worried about.
    Thanks

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I use the Rapunzel brand. They have a no-sodium version that is tasty. Not sure if that really answers your question though…

  5. Hi Tiffany, Thanks for all your great recipes! Do you have a substitute for shortening (Crisco)? I’m trying to clean up the peanut butter blossoms (with the Hershey kiss on top) including a dark chocolate on top. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup shortening. I’m guessing you could use applesauce and butter…I’d love to know your thoughts. It also calls for 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar…I was planning to use 2/3 cup sucanat. What would you use in this case? Thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I believe the closest you can get to that is coconut oil or butter. The butter would be the better choice I think. Using the sucanat should work fine. Enjoy!

  6. Thank you! 🙂 Just made a mini batch substituting butter and sucanat; all other ingredients were also clean other than the chocolate on top. Used Dove milk chocolate hearts for Valentine’s day, but will look for a good quality dark chocolate for future use. They were wonderful, and my kids loved them. I’m hoping that having these on hand will help keep my kids from eating all that junk candy from Valentine’s parties. Thanks so much for your help!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      My pleasure! 🙂

  7. I’d like your thoughts on expeller pressed canola oil vs. the regular heat pressed. Or what’s the best substitute for canola oil in high heat cooking.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I no longer use canola oil. It’s mostly all GMO product now. Plus, it’s really not a clean oil. Very processed.

  8. Hello!

    I am very new to clean eating and just wanted to ask a few questions… How do you feel about Morena sugar? Is that considered “clean”? Also, do you avoid bread all together, with the exception of pizza dough? Just a question I had while scrolling through your site… Thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I’ve never heard of Morena sugar, so I can’t comment on it. As for bread, as long as the ingredients are clean, you can certainly eat it.

  9. Hey what’s your take on coconut oil? I was reading that its great for cooking and a clean healthy option.. what do you think? p.s just discovered your site and i’m absolutely in love! amazing recipes!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I love coconut oil! I use it all the time.

  10. Im wondering if it is possible to make a chocolate cake “clean” AND still delicious. I tried this past week and it didn’t come out so good. I replaced the white flour with “King Arthurs” Unbleached All Purpose Flour and I replaced the white sugar with the Turbinado, I used organic eggs and organic butter. and organic milk, The cake came out a little dry and had a molasses taste to it that I did not care for, overall it was good, just not chocolate cake good 🙂 .but the frosting was really the tricky park. I took the Turbinado sugar and I made powdered sugar out of it with a coffee bean grinder, ( a tip I had found online) The taste of the frosting was great but definitely gritty…Any suggestions???

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I have two that might help you. I have this chocolate mug cake: https://www.thegraciouspantry.com/clean-eating-chocolate-mug-cake/, but that’s for 1 or 2 people. Then I have this birthday cake recipe: https://www.thegraciouspantry.com/clean-eating-birthday-cake/. But you would have to remove at least as much flour as you add with the cocoa powder. Cocoa powder soaks up more liquid than flour, so you’ll have to play around with it to get the proportions correct.

  11. Your clean eating sugar substitute link isn’t working … (or is it just me??)

    Thanks for this!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Thanks for letting me know. Should be working now. 🙂

  12. I’m wondering how to make a no bake chocolate caramel slice ‘clean.’ I know I can make the chocolate layer with coconut oil, cocoa and honey, and I’m sure i can figure out how to make the base clean, but how do I make the caramel layer clean?? Thankyou! 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Caramel is something I’ve tried a few times now with no success. But I have a new game plan and will be trying again soon. I know that doesn’t help you now though…

  13. When reading through the comments I saw a question about the Durum Wheat Semolina. When I googled it, this is what I found.

    “Semolina is the coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat used in making pasta, breakfast cereals, puddings, and couscous.[1] The term semolina is also used to designate coarse middlings from other varieties of wheat, and from other grains such as rice and corn.”

    “Semolina made from durum wheat is yellow in color.[4] Semolina is often used as the base for dried products such as couscous, which is made by mixing roughly 2 parts semolina with 1 part durum flour (finely ground semolina).[5]

    Broadly speaking, meal produced from grains other than wheat may also be referred to as semolina, e.g. rice semolina, or corn semolina (more commonly known as grits in the U.S.)

    When semolina comes from softer types of wheats it is white in color. In this case, the correct name is flour, not semolina. In the United States, coarser meal coming from softer types of wheats is known also as farina.”

    Just wanted to post. BTW: I LOVE LOVE LOVE your site and am so thankful that you take the time to help so many people get educated on what is so terribly wrong with our food!! Both of my children were recently clinically diagnosed with both ADHD and ODD (Oppostional Defiance Disorder). Needless to say we have had our fair share of struggles with this. The doctor is pushing for “trial medication” for both of them but I do not want them on medication. I’ve been making the change to clean eating instead and am pleasantly surprised with the results so far. My husband and I can both tell a big difference in when the kids have eaten something unclean! I know my post is crazy long.. but I just wanted to share and say thank you for being so committed, not only to clean eating for your family, but also to helping others in this journey.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Thanks for all that Brandi! I wish you all the best with your endeavors. Always trust your gut where your kids are concerned. You know best!

  14. Courtney Prze says:

    hey! i found a recipe that calls for 1/2 cup of butter. its for muffins. any subsitutes? i tried looking through here already but didn’t see any options yet. also, do you know about xanthan gum? the recipe also calls for it but i have no idea where to get it from or what it is.

    thanks in advance for the help!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Xanthan gum is clean. I get mine at Whole Foods, but many health food stores will have it. Amazon.com carries it too.
      For the butter, you can use 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup apple sauce. Works for me anyway. 🙂

  15. Someone may have asked already but, is there substitute for WWpastry flour? I just cannot find it….

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Becky – The only sub would be white whole wheat flour. But you will get a slightly denser texture with that.

  16. I have a question about the brown sugar substitution. You say to weigh out the brown sugar…
    and add 3/4 honey and approximately 1/16 molasses to get a flavor…

    I’m a little confused on this part. Can you please elaborate? Thanks.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ann – Sorry for the confusion. You substitute dry sugar for liquid honey by weight, not volume. 1 cup of dry sugar will be very different from 1 cup of honey. So you have to weigh them. 2 ounces of honey will be equal to 2 ounces of dry sugar. The molasses is only for flavor. That’s what they add to white sugar to make brown sugar. I hope that helps.

  17. Any suggestions for baking food coloring substitution? I’m trying to make a clean red velvet and blue velvet cupcake recipe.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ashlee – Blueberry, pomegranate or raspberry juices. Beet juice is most often used in health food store brands for red coloring.

  18. I love your clean cooking tips and substitutes.
    One that comes up a lot is what to do about butter – try a soft ripe avocado. (Substitute equal measurement.) The other day we made chocolate chip cookies with avocado instead, and no one noticed! They were as yummy as ever! I was worried it would have a nasty green or brown color, but it was fine! It’s a great natural oil. No dairy allergy issues!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kuri – Could you taste the avocado at all?

  19. I would like to add wheat bran to muffins. Do you know any substitution trucks for bran?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Clara – Depends on how much you want to use. But generally speaking, you can sub bran for flour in roughly equal amounts. Particularly if it’s only a few tablespoons or so.

  20. Hi! I’m new to clean eating and am trying to find good recipes my very picky 4 year old will also enjoy. I’m wondering if pure cane syrup is ‘clean’? My husband brought some home after watching it being ‘made’ at a friend’s house and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. TIA

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Mandy – It would depend on what it’s made with. If it’s made from just regular, white sugar, then I’d avoid it.

  21. You might want to add a comment on Stevia:
    For each cup of sugar called for in a recipe substitute 1 tsp of liquid stevia and add 1/3 cup of liquid bulk (e.g. apple sauce, yogurt, milk or milk substitute, mashed banana, fruit puree, pumpkin… whatever matches the recipe).

  22. Oh regarding the comments on whether Stevia is clean – I suggest trying NuNaturals liquid stevia (I use the vanilla kind and it’s delicious). This is true plant extract, just like vanilla extract or the like (with alcohol, but they have an alcohol free version too).
    An easy rule to remember – if it’s in the sweetener aisle, it’s not clean. If it’s in the nutritional supplement aisle, still read the ingredients, but usually it’s true extract. Try to use liquid, not powdered.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Eva – Good tips! Thanks!

  23. Thanks for this list. Quick question though… What can I use as a substitute for shortening? Thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Deanna – Depends on the recipe. What are you wanting to make?

  24. This information is fantastic! I do have a question. I am wondering what a good replacement for butter would be. I like to eat English muffins in the morning and I prefer savory over sweet. I would like something other than butter to us that is clean. Thanks for your help!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Nicole – Perhaps some coconut butter, or nut butter or even clean jam or compote?

  25. What can I substitute for margarine to make my recipe for apple blueberry crisp clean?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Eileen – Depends on how much it calls for and how dependent the recipe is on margarine. You can either sub with organic butter in equal amounts, or you can try a mix of 1/2 unsweetened apple sauce and 1/2 oil. But that’s only if it’s not needed for form or texture. I’d have to see the recipe to be sure.

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