Substitutions For Exotic Ingredients That Are, Ugh, Fine

August 11, 2022 by , featured in Food and Recipes
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Exotic ingredients can make fine cooking seem like a daunting task. Truffles might be hard to find at your local American grocery store, but as long as you don’t care about doing it right, you can get by with substitutions. Sure, you can use sour cream instead of creme fraiche. Whatever you’re making isn’t going to be authentic, but yeah, go for it. I get that not everyone has access to an upscale world market, in theory, although I don’t approve of it. Here’s a helpful substitution guide for hard-to-find items, if that’s how you’re gonna do it, I guess.

Ras el Hanout

Most authentic North African dishes will call for a dash of ras el hanout, a popular blend of high-end spices, but I guess you can just Google what’s in ras el hanout and blend together whatever shit you have in your spice rack. It’s going to taste off, but go ahead. It’ll be, ugh, fine if you’re serving your dish to unrefined palates. Personally, I shudder to think that there are tongues in the world that are satisfied with a mix of nutmeg and paprika instead of real exotic ingredients like ras el hanout handmade by the same peasant family for 17 generations, but that’s just me, I guess.

12-Inch Japanese Cooking Swords

You really ought to purchase a set of 12-inch Japanese cooking swords. They’re worth the investment. I use mine all the time and can’t imagine cooking without them, but if you can’t get your hands on antique weapons turned culinary tools that are exactly 12 inches … I don’t know. Do your best? Eleven-inch Japanese cooking swords are, sigh, fine. Ish. Fine-ish. You can use them if you must, but just know that you’re never going to fit that extra onion on there, and your meal is going to taste like exactly no one’s childhood.


This citrus fruit is a common ingredient in many Asian dishes, so if you’ve never cooked with it, you have no right to call yourself a chef, but that’s just my opinion. If you don’t have yuzu, you can use a regular manderinquat. If you don’t have a regular manderinquat, you can use a pomelo. If you don’t have a pomelo, you can use a finger lime. If you don’t have a finger lime, then just fuck off because I don’t know what to tell you. This is cooking. You can’t just mess around with it and expect everything to be fine. There are standards.

exotic ingredient

Corn Smut

If you don’t know what corn smut is (and if you’re reading an article about exotic ingredient substitution, you probably don’t), it’s an edible fungus that grows on maize. Whether you were inspired by something you saw on Chef’s Table or you just want to jazz up Taco Tuesday, corn smut is a must. I grow smutty corn in my backyard because I like food to taste, you know, good, but since some of us are just not as dedicated to food and that’s … sigh … fine, you can use a substitution. It’s been described as a Mexican truffle, so you can just use truffles. If you can’t find truffles, use mushrooms, then throw your food in the trash and order take-out.

Ostrich Egg

If you’ve never had a freshly laid ostrich egg, then you’ve never really eaten anything in your meaningless life. Not everyone has access to ostrich eggs still warm from its mother’s body, which is beyond me, but that’s a different article entirely. You can just use your imagination. That’s the only thing that could ever come close.

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