1. Evaporated Milk vs. Sweetened Condensed Milk
2. Radish vs. Beet
Radishes and beets look similar, with red bulbs roughly the size of golf balls (though sometimes much bigger), but have totally different tastes and culinary uses.
Radishes (pictured left) have bright red skin and white flesh. They have a spicy flavor and are usually sliced thin and served raw, with the skins still on.
Beets (pictured right) have dark, reddish-purple skin with flesh the same color. They have a sweet, earthy, and slightly metallic flavor. Some people think they taste like dirt. Usually they're served roasted, as that brings out their intense sweetness, but sometimes they're served raw (shaved super thin). Either way, beets are always eaten without the skin.
IN A NUTSHELL: Radishes are raw salad veggies, beets are something you cook.
Can I substitute one for the other? No. Radishes are spicy and usually eaten raw, beets are sweet and usually eaten cooked.
3. Pure Cranberry Juice vs. Cranberry 100% Juice vs. Cranberry Juice Cocktail
4. Parsley vs. Cilantro
Here's a really good way to remember the difference:
5. Lemon vs. Meyer Lemon
6. Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder
Baking soda, also called bicarbonate of soda, is a pure alkaline, so it needs to be mixed with an acid (buttermilk, citrus juice, vinegar, etc.) in order to work. When it's mixed with an acid, gas is released, which causes baked goods to rise. But, baking soda has a strong, metallic flavor that can ruin a recipe if you use too much.
Baking powder is a mix of baking soda, acid, and corn starch. Because it already has acid mixed in, it only needs to be mixed with liquid and heat for gas to be released and rising to happen. Baking powder has a much milder flavor than baking soda too.
IN A NUTSHELL: They're different so you should always have both in your pantry if you want to bake.
Can I substitute one for the other? No, because they react differently to the other ingredients in the recipe.
7. Scallion vs. Shallot
8. Red Cabbage vs. Radicchio
9. All-Purpose Flour vs. Self-Rising Flour
All-purpose flour is plain flour and when a recipe calls for flour this is what they mean.
Self-rising flour is AP flour with baking powder and salt added to act as a leavening agent (meaning, to help your baked goods rise). To make your own, the recipe is as follows:
1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1/4 teaspoon salt = 1 cup self-rising flour.
Can I substitute one for the other? No. Just buy AP flour and add baking powder if a recipe ever calls for self-rising flour and you can't find it.
10. Corn Starch vs. Corn Meal
Corn starch is a thickener you'd add in small amounts to sauces or gravies to give them body. It's made from just the endosperm of a corn kernal, which contains all of the starch but none of the gritty fiber (found in the germ and the hull), ground into a super-fine, bright white powder. It's never used as the base starch in a recipe the way flour or cornmeal are.
Corn meal is more like flour because it's used as a base for baked goods like cornbreads and cakes. Cornmeal is made by grinding corn kernels into a coarse powder, and unlike corn starch, corn meal contains some of the corn's husk and germ (the fiber) as well as the endosperm (the starch), making it grittier but less chalky.
IN A NUTSHELL: Corn starch thickens sauces; corn meal makes tortillas and cornbread.
Can I substitute one for the other? No. Corn starch is a thickener, and cornmeal is used as the base for baked goods.
11. Plain Yogurt vs. Vanilla Yogurt
Plain yogurt has no added flavorings or sweeteners. It is white in color and has a tangy flavor.
Vanilla yogurt, though it's often the same, yogurt-y white color as plain yogurt, has added sweetener and vanilla flavor. It's sweet, which masks most of the tang of plain yogurt.
IN A NUTSHELL: Vanilla yogurt isn't plain yogurt.
(Maybe this one seems self-explanatory, but the number of people I've heard complain about their significant other/roommate coming home with vanilla yogurt when then grocery list clearly stated "PLAIN YOGURT" is truly astounding).
Can I substitute one for the other? I mean, you're probably just eating it for breakfast, so do what you want. But in a recipe don't substitute because one is sweet and the other isn't so it will definitely change the flavor.
12. Old Fashioned Oats vs. Quick-Cooking (or Instant) Oats
Old-fashioned oats, also called rolled oats, are oats that have been husked (their outer, fibrous husks are removed), steamed, then flattened. This makes them softer and speeds up the cooking process without compromising texture too much. On the stovetop with boiling water, old fashioned oats take about 5 minutes to cook into a creamy, slightly chewy oatmeal with lots of texture.
Quick-cooking/instant oats are rolled oats that have been pressed much thinner, creating broken-up pieces of oats that are almost powdery. In boiling liquid on the stovetop, instant oats take less than a minute to cook. However, they don't have much texture, since they've been broken into such tiny pieces, and they make for slightly mushy oatmeal.
IN A NUTSHELL: Quick cooking oats are old fashioned oats pressed even thinner that cook even faster.
Can I substitute one for the other? No. If a recipe calls for rolled oats, substituting instant oats won't work because the texture is far more powdery and will make your batter gummy.
13. Turnip vs. Parsnip
14. Tomato Sauce vs. Tomato Paste
Tomato sauce is made of tomatoes puréed with a little bit of water, plus spices and salt for flavor. It's the same thickness as jarred tomato sauce (like Prego or Ragu), or the kind you might make yourself, but without any lumps. Canned tomato sauce is often called for in large quantities (think, one or two whole 15-ounce cans) as the base for chili recipes, stews, or tomato-based soups.
Tomato paste is also made with tomatoes, spices, and salt, but the tomatoes are concentrated first, then puréed into a super thick paste that's intensely sweet and a little bit tangy. It's used in small quantities to add flavor, not as a base for recipes.
IN A NUTSHELL: Tomato paste has a way stronger flavor so it's used in smaller amounts.
Can I substitute one for the other? No. Tomato paste adds flavor, and tomato sauce adds volume.
15. Light Cream vs. Whipping Cream vs. Heavy Cream
Light cream has a fat content of 18–30% (for comparison, whole milk is about 3.25%) and is used mostly as coffee creamer. Light cream won't whip, because it doesn't have enough fat, and it isn't really used as a base for cream sauces, because it's too thin.
Whipping cream, also sometimes called light whipping cream, has a fat content of 30–36%, plus added stabilizers — usually carrageenan, a substance derived from seaweed — that help it hold its form once it's whipped (otherwise the air bubbles will escape and the whipped cream will essentially deflate over time and turn back to liquid).
Heavy cream, also sometimes called heavy whipping cream has a fat content of 36–40% and is great for whipping, or as a base for cream sauces. Look for heavy cream without stabilizers (carrageenan), since its high fat content is enough to help heavy cream hold its shape when whipped. And, if you're just using it to thicken a sauce, there's no need for a stabilizer.
IN A NUTSHELL: Only ever use light cream for coffee. Opt for heavy cream over whipping cream unless you're on a diet.
Can I substitute one for the other? Sort of. Heavy cream and whipping cream are pretty much interchangeable. But, light cream won't whip and won't really thicken a sauce.