Ingredient substitutes to keep costs low

Costs are continuing to soar in the UK as the cost of living crisis continues on well into the summer, with no sign of additional help or schemes coming from the government. Hospitality businesses will be feeling the impact as they struggle to keep prices low in order to draw customers in. A recent report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that nearly 70% of businesses have seen prices for goods and ingredients rise again during April, whilst only a third of them responded by hiking their own prices, meaning that the majority of businesses are absorbing these extra costs. 

Clearly, businesses cannot afford to keep absorbing costs for much longer, especially when budgets and margins are already so tight. However, it is also essential to keep menu prices down in order to keep people coming through the door and to keep food accessible to all types of people, not just high-income earners. 

We at Brigad have put together a helpful guide to help you save money and substitute cheaper ingredients to keep costs down so that you can have more fun in the kitchen. 

Substitute expensive ingredients

One effective strategy for reducing menu prices is to find ingredient substitutes for expensive produce items. By exploring alternative options, businesses can keep their prices down, and keep their restaurant accessible to more people, whilst still providing flavorful and satisfying meals. These ingredient swaps can also be valuable for home cooks too, especially those looking to create delicious dishes without breaking the bank. 

Let's start with everyday ingredients. Butter is one of the ingredients that has made headlines for its steep price hike in the past year, with the average price of a block up by 30% compared to last year. Many news outlets wrote about the huge hike in prices of Lurpak butter, with their butter bars reaching a staggering £7. Whilst butter is undoubtedly a great addition to most meals, and an easy way to create rich and creamy flavours, its cost means it should be one of the first ingredients to go. You can use cheap vegetable oils and margarine to a similar effect, and if you wanted to get really creative you could even try using bananas.  

Other pantry staples that can be easily substituted are fresh lemons and limes (opt-in for bottled juice) and mayonnaise (try blending soy milk and vinegar). With sugars soon to be taxed, you should also consider phasing out foods and menu items that use large amounts of sugar, and try opting for fruit-based and naturally sweet desserts instead.   

Substitute superfoods 

Superfoods have been popular among cooks for decades due to their health benefits. However, many superfoods come with a hefty price tag, especially the more niche ingredients like semolina flour and kefir, but even the most broadly eaten superfoods like avocados and varieties of nuts can quickly become expensive. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable alternatives that are equally nutritious. For instance, instead of expensive acai berries, you can try using frozen mixed berries in your morning smoothies. Kale can be swapped out for spinach, offering a similar nutritional profile at a lower cost. Avocados can even be swapped out for blended garden peas if you’re making a classic smashed-avo brunch.  Exploring these options can help businesses and home cooks prioritize health without compromising their budgets.

Substitute luxury items 

Luxury ingredients, such as wine, truffles, and saffron, can significantly drive up the cost of a dish. However, there are clever substitutes that can mimic the flavours and textures of these expensive ingredients whilst retaining that flavoursome and luxurious taste. If you are a wine lover, the first thing you should do is stop using expensive wines in your cooking. Cooking wines are much, much cheaper and can achieve the same flavour profile. At the end of the day, the complex and expensive flavour of a top-quality wine is much better used for drinking than a cooking place of wine. Instead you can use broth, soy sauce, or fruit juice to add depth and complexity to your sauces. 

Truffle is another high-end ingredient that people will pay thousands for in esteemed restaurants - however, the flavour of truffles can be replicated at a fraction of the price. In place of truffles, you can use cheaper mushroom alternatives like porcini (pricey, but much cheaper than truffles) - mushroom alternatives can lend a subtle earthy flavour reminiscent of truffles. 

Saffron is another high-end item with a hefty price tag here in the UK. If you’`re wanting to try making Spanish paella, curries, risottos, and stews, you can find a much cheaper alternative by mixing turmeric and paprika together. This can provide vibrant colour and a hint of exotic flair in lieu of expensive saffron. These alternatives allow you to create impressive dishes without the extravagant price tag.

Reducing costs - better for everyone 

It is crucial for both hospitality businesses and home cooks to keep costs down. The current cost of living crisis has made it increasingly difficult for businesses to keep their menus affordable, and as a result, many menus are now becoming too expensive for people to eat out at the rate that they had previously, if they manage to eat out at all. It is especially challenging for those with the lowest income to dine out, making access to healthy and good-quality food now harder and more exclusive than ever before. This situation is not only unfair for low-income earners but also a real shame, as eating out offers numerous benefits, including socialising, trying new dishes, and relieving the pressure of home cooking.

A recent survey revealed that only a third of hospitality firms are optimistic about their future, with rising energy prices adding to their concerns. It's crucial for these businesses to find ways to reduce costs and maintain their viability in the industry. By finding ingredient substitutes, they can offer affordable menus and make food more accessible to everyone. Budgeting is essential for businesses, but it's equally important to ensure that people can enjoy dining out without financial burdens. By embracing ingredient substitutions, we can foster a more inclusive and thriving culinary landscape.

Remember, affordable ingredients can be just as delicious and satisfying as their gourmet counterparts. So, let's get creative in the kitchen, explore alternative options, and savor the flavours without the hefty price tag. Bon appétit!

If you’re in the hospitality industry and looking for self-employed and experienced hospitality professionals, contact the Brigad team today and join our network.

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