What’s the Difference? Learn the Truth About These 21 Common Ingredients

published Dec 22, 2015
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

There is a raft of common ingredient pairings that not only seem to be similar, but practically beg to be substituted for one another in a pinch. But when is this safe, and when will it produce unintended results? Can sweetened condensed milk be swapped out for evaporated? What about bleached and unbleached flour, or active vs. instant yeast?

In the interest of being a better-informed home cook, we tackled some of these common ingredients and finally answered the question: What’s the difference? Here are our top 10 ingredient intelligence explanations from 2015.

  1. Mozzarella vs. burrata: They are related, but burrata is made from mozzarella and then taken one step further.
  2. Bleached vs. unbleached flour: Technically they are both bleached — it’s just a matter of how.
  3. Butter vs. margarine: Unlike butter, margarine doesn’t have milk fat. And while they can be used interchangeably in many things, you’ll notice a difference in your baked goods.
  4. Peaches vs. nectarines: While they are very similar, the easiest way to tell them apart is by the fuzz that peaches have.
  5. Steel-cut vs. rolled vs. instant oats: All oats start out as unprocessed groats. The differences then come from how much they are processed.
  6. Active dry vs. instant yeast: Active dry yeast has a larger granule, meaning it needs to be dissolved, while instant yeast can mix right into your dry ingredients.
  7. Raisins vs. sultanas vs. currants: Raisins and sultanas are both dried grapes, while currants are another fruit entirely. But things get complicated when you start talking about Zante currants.
  8. Evaporated vs. condensed milk: Both of these are concentrated milk products, but what separates them is how much sugar is added in.
  9. Stock vs. broth: Did you make it with just bones? Then it’s stock. If you just used the meat (or vegetables for a vegetarian version), then it’s broth.
  10. Split peas vs. lentils: Split peas are actually a variety of pea, while lentils are legumes.

BONUS: We also demystified a couple of cooking terms this year.

  • Dutch oven vs. French oven: One has an enamel coating and one is raw cast iron.
  • Stew vs. braise: The difference all boils down to the liquid. Stews have more liquid, while braises use the minimum amount possible.