American food and cooking substitutes

by Christina Geyer on May 31, 2007 · 109 comments

Finding product replacements for your favorite foods and snacks is always tough for new expats (and occasionally some of us more experienced expats as well)! Here’s my attempt to help out and I have to admit, I learned quite a bit in my research for this post.

Baking

  • Baking Powder – Most North American baking powder is double-acting, while German Backpulver is single-acting.  You can substitute 1 1/4 teaspoon of single-acting baking powder for 1 teaspoon of double-acting.
  • Baking Soda = Natron or Haushaltsnatron, available in the baking aisle in small packets or boxes. Unfortunately, the Kaiser Natron box (pictured below) is not filled with baking soda, it is filled with the little packets. Major packaging waste in my opinion. Sometimes you can find small Arm & Hammer boxes in the American food section of large supermarkets.
  • Brown sugar - can be found in large Asian shops, Latin American shops, Reformhäuser, Kaufhof (thanks Mausi) or make your own by mixing 1 cup of white sugar with 1-2 T molasses (I’m going to have to try this, because the recipes say that once you make your own, you’ll never go back to using store bought).
  • Cornmeal = Maisgrieß = Polenta (but Ed says neither Maisgrieß or Polenta are the right consistency for making cornbread, for that you gotta import your cornmeal – but check in the Asian market first, it’s often there).
  • Cornstarch = Speisestärke (brands: Mondamin or Maizena).
  • Cream of Tartar = Weinsäure, ask for it at your Apotheke. If you want this only for making meringue, it’s not necessary. Meringue = Baiser in German and all you need to do is look on google.de for “Baiser rezept,” to see that the Germans don’t use cream of tartar in making meringue (here’s one recipe).
  • Crisco – try Palmin Soft, near the butter.
  • Dark corn syrup – substitute Zuckersirup (e.g., Grafschafter Heller Sirup), Zuckerrübensirup (e.g., Graftschafter Goldsaft), honey or molasses, or make your own by combining 3/4 cup light corn syrup and 1/4 molasses.
  • Flour – All-purpose = Type 550, Cake flour = Type 405.  For more information on types of flours, see ExPATations excellent comment on flour types.
  • Light corn syrup – try substituting Zuckersirup (e.g., Grafschafter Heller Sirup, near honey) or honey, or make your own by combining 1-1/4 cups sugar with 1/3 cup water and boiling in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved.
  • Molasses = Melasse (available in Reformhäuser) or try using Zuckerrübensirup (e.g., Graftschafter Goldsaft, near honey) or dark honey.
  • Vanilla extract – can be bought in gourmet and American shops (expensive) and in some Latin American shops (cheap), or make your own like I do (it’s easy and the results are better than store-bought!). It’s recently (2014 update) shown up in the baking section of our Real supermarket as well.
  • Wheat germ = Weizenkeime, found in Reformhäuser

natron - baking soda

Beverages

  • Chocolate drink mix (warm/cold) – try Caotina surfin. A little pricier than other brands, but this is super yummy added to warm milk. It doesn’t have that overly sweet or artificially chocolate taste that some of the other brands do.  Caotina also comes in delicious dark and white chocolate varieties as well.
  • Cranberry Juice Cocktail = OceanSpray Cranberry Classic or other brands of Preiselbeerengetränk is showing up in more and more places. (Vailian says 100% cranberry juice is available in the Reformhäuser – but it’s expensive).

Cranberry Juice and Caotina
Breakfast foods

  • All-Bran Cereal = Kellogg’s DayVita Sticks (70% Weizenkleie/Bran), there’s also Kellogg’s DayVita Flakes (17% Weizenkleie/Bran).
  • Bagels – According to the BagelBrothers.de website, they deliver bagels throughout Germany. I’m no bagel-afficianado, but I’ve heard from several people that Bagel Brothers are the real deal. They’ve also got restaurants in Bonn, Bremen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Halle, Hannover, Leipzig, München and Oldenburg. You can get fresh home or business deliver in some of those cities.
  • Cheerios – try Weetabix Looters. They aren’t that common, so look in one of the giant supermarkets like Real or Globus.  Honey Loops are the closest thing I’ve found to Honey Nut Cheerios.

Candy

  • Cadbury Cream Eggs – They aren’t as rich, creamy, and sugary inside, the filling is more light and fluffy, but I really like Milka Löffel-Eier.  They can be a little tougher to find, I’ve only seen them in the Galeria Kaufhof and in Real here in Regensburg (and only at Easter).
  • Chocolate bars – why on Earth would you miss American chocolate??? Switch to German, or even better, Swiss or Belgian chocolate already!

Cheese

  • Cheddar cheese – Cheddar can be found in Germany.  The Biomarkt I go to has some really delicious cheddars, but if you can’t find any, Gouda can sometimes substitute for cheddar. It doesn’t always work, but I made a great cheesy beer dip substituting gouda for cheddar and it was amazing.  If you need aged Cheddar, use alt Gouda, for mild Cheddar, use jung Gouda. Gouda comes shredded too, just check the cheese section in the dairy aisle.
  • Monterey Jack Cheese – Monterey Jack can be substituted with Fontina or Bel Päse (Italian cheeses – it was originally created to substitute for them when they were off the market during WWII). If you can’t find either of these, Gruyère, Emmantaler or Edamer may do.
  • Queso Añejo – Try substituting Romano or Parmesan.
  • Queso Fresco – You can order online from LaTortilla.de or try soaking feta to remove some of the brininess.  You could also substitute dry-pressed (not creamy) farmer’s cheese, but you will need to salt it.

Condiments

  • Maple syrup = Ahornsirup (near honey, chocolate sauces, or in Bio-aisle)
  • Mayonnaise – if you don’t like the sugary German mayo, try Maille Dijon Mayonnaise. Ed calls it “a more than acceptable substitute, with the extra slight tang of mustard being a nice addition.”  If you make a trip to France, pick up some tasty Maille Mayonnaise and if you’re in Croatia, I found Hellman’s there. (2014 update: Hellman’s mayo is in the American section of our local Real now. Yippee!)
  • Peanut butter – miss American peanut butter? Try adding a squeeze of honey to the German peanut butter.

Ahornsirup - Maple syrup
Dairy products

  • Cream, heavy – American heavy cream contains at least 36% milk fat, while Schlagsahne extra contains at least 35% fat. You can also try Teesahne (at least 35% fat) or Crème double (40-45% fat) if you need something really heavy.  Since the first two options can be more difficult to find, I often just use regular Schlagsahne in place of heavy cream and find it’s no problem.
  • Cream, whipping – In the US, whipping cream contains 30-36% fat. You would most likely want to substitute this with Schlagsahne, which contains 30-33% milk fat.
  • Mexican Crema (Mexican sour cream) – Try crème fraîche, it’s a little richer and a bit nuttier tasting, but the closest you’ll get without paying a fortune in a specialty Mexican shop.
  • Sour cream – In the US, sour cream contains at least 18% milk fat. In Germany, Saure Sahne contains 10-15% milk fat, Crème légère contains 15%, Saure Sahne extra contains 18%, Schmand contains 20-29% and Crème fraîche contains 30-40%. So, you will most likely be happiest with the Saure Sahne extra or Schmand.
  • Sweetened condensed milkNestlé Milchmädchen (in supermarket near the evaporated milk) or make your own by heating 1-1/4 cup sugar with 1 cup Kondensmilch (evaporated milk) together in a saucepan until sugar is fully dissolved (yep, it’s really that much sugar). Michael says you can also find it in the Russian/Turkish section in Real.

Snacks

  • Cheez-Its – it’s not quite the same, but I find Käsestangen (cheese twists in the snack aisle) more than satisfy my Cheez-It cravings.
  • French onion dip – try Mirée Frischkäse mit französischen Kräutern. That’s my favorite, but you might also prefer a different brand.
  • Graham crackers – try Leibnitz Vollkornkekse or Landkeks (in the cookie aisle) – I find them great for making cheesecake crust. Eurotrippen suggests Lotus Original Karamelgebäck as an alternative. The Lotus are sweeter and have more of a crunchy cookie consistency. You can also make your own graham crackers with this recipe I found.
  • Honey-roasted peanuts – try Ültje Cashew-Erdnuss-Mix Honig & Salz in the snack aisle (in our Real, it’s next to the Studentenfutter). They have a honey peanut mix as well, but I find that the salt is necessary.
  • Saltines - try Wasa Crack & Taste Salted (can be either in the chips aisle or with the regular Wasa crackers). There is also a brand, Sky Flakes, available in nice reusable tins in Asian shops (thanks for checking the ingredients Martina!).

crackers
Miscellaneous

    • Clams = Venusmuscheln. Ed says, “You can get clams in glass jars. They’re very salty (not necessarily a bad thing) and very expensive: about 5 Euros for a tiny jar that’ll make one recipe of spaghetti and clam sauce. Seeing as how better clams (packed with more juice, which is necessary for the flavor of the sauce) are 79 cents in the States from Durkee or Snow’s, I ask for them as an import.” He adds to look for them in Italian delis. I’ll add that you might also be able to get frozen clams in a large Asian market, but I’ve never looked for them.
    • Hamburger/Tuna Helper – I like to take the Knorr Spaghetteria pastas and add meat to make them into more of a meal. There are recipe suggestions on the bags, but I find ground beef and the Spaghetteria Funghi go great together and I add peas and tuna to the Spaghetteria Spinaci. I’ve tried with the regular and Activ Knorr products and with the Maggi ones as well, but the Spaghetteria fit my taste best.
    • Wraps/Tortillas – There are a couple of options here. First, avoid the flour tortillas in the supermakets (Fuego is one brand), they are bland and tasteless. A tastier supermarket option is the Indian Fladen aus Weisenvollkornmehl. It is usually in the bread aisle, not by the flour tortillas. They’re much tastier. Check your local Döner vendor to see if s/he sells Türkish flatbread, which also substitutes well, or you can check your local Turkish supermarket.  LaTortilla.de also ships fresh flour and corn tortillas, and they are delicious. Or make your own, Ed says it’s easy, and here’s a flour tortilla recipe I found, and one for corn tortillas.

 

tortillas-wraps

And then there are those products that there are just no substitutes for. Below are some websites. If I’ve ordered (and been happy) once, it gets one *, twice means ** and three or more times gets ***.

  • Food from Home* – has a pretty large selection of American and British items. They also have a mobile van that makes stops in various cities in NRW, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (see schedule). You can browse the items on the van, or make an order and pick it up, to save on shipping.
  • Hello Food*- Site selling items from the US and Canada.
  • World of Sweets*** has some American chocolates and candies.  I used to order my Caotina from them (and the occasional Belgian chocolates), but now my regular supermarket carries Caotina.
  • USA Kulinarisch has a huge list of sites for ordering American products, including some USA-based shops that deliver to Germany.
  • Tacoweb.de has a great list of sites for ordering Mexican products
  • LaTortilla.de in Munich has great Mexican products. I’ve never ordered from there, but I have friends who have and I can attest that their tortillas and sauces are tasty.
  • My-Asia-Shop.de has a large selection of Asian products and light and dark brown sugar, corn meal, all kinds of dried beans, etc. It also appears that they ship fresh produce as well – but probably not a good idea in summer.

Additionally, if, like me, you love cooking and baking and often find yourself in need of ideas for substitutions, I highly recommend the book The Food Substitutions Bible.  It’s over 600 pages of ideas for substitutions for everything from Abalone and Absinthe to Zungenwurst and Zwieback.  There are also great sections comparing types of apples, beans, chilies, olives, vinegars, salts and more.

What do you think? Have I missed anything? Do you have any hot tips or substitution suggestions to pass along?

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