10 American Substitutes for British Grocery Staples

Brits are used to HP Sauce, but A1 can be a more than decent stand-in. (Better than slathering on ketchup.) (Photo via Mr. Breakfast)

Brits are used to HP Sauce, but A1 can be a more than decent stand-in. (Better than slathering on ketchup.) (Photo via Mr. Breakfast)

So, you’re craving various foodstuffs from home but can’t track them down in the U.S. or bring yourself to pay five times what the product is worth in international shipping. What do you do? Why, find an American substitute, of course! Here are ten of the most convincing.

Angel Delight = instant pudding mix
British children lived on this stuff in the 1980s so it’s now the secret vice of many a thirty-something. The delicious chemically powder costs pennies and, when whisked with milk, obligingly foams up to form a glistening dessert. Classier parents served it with spray cream and chopped banana. In the U.S., one of the major instant pudding brands, like Jell-O, is a great alternative.

Salad Cream = Miracle Whip
Before Brits had heard of French dressing, there was Heinz salad cream. It’s about as sophisticated as wearing your pants on your head, but no substance on the market tastes quite as good squirted on the underside of a celery stick. Luckily for Brits living in the U.S., there’s Miracle Whip—a virtually identical product. For ages the name put me off: “whip” to a Brit sounds like something desserty. Even in a land where sweet and savory mesh seamlessly, I wasn’t prepared to spread pudding on a sandwich.

Digestive biscuits = Graham crackers
Before you pen angry letters disputing the ridiculousness of my comparison, hear me out. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Graham (pronounced “gram”) crackers are as nice as Digestives. That would be absurd. Graham crackers are at best an embarrassing cousin born from a one night stand between a Digestive and a Rivita. If it’s great tea dunking biscuits you’re after, make your own or buy something hideously overpriced and homemade from a specialist food shop. Graham Crackers are, however, what Americans crumble up and put on the bottom of a cheesecake, just like we do with Digestives.

Pie = chicken pot pie
Mention “pie” to an American and they’ll assume you mean a pastry and fruit-based dessert. Sweet pies are great, and Americans make them better than anyone else. But finding ready-made steak and ale or even mince beef pie here is virtually impossible. The only variety you ever see on supermarket shelves is chicken. In a pinch, that’ll do nicely.

Golden syrup = corn syrup
It’s an essential ingredient in many British baked good, from biscuits and flapjacks to sponge pudding and treacle tart. Corn syrup is the obvious stand-in. For best results (though nothing quite matches the buttery deliciousness of Lyle’s), try mixing light and dark Karo syrup.

Sultanas = white or golden raisins
Although they’re both shriveled white grapes, sultanas are not the same as raisins, or so says The Internet. Sultanas are dried in a way that makes them lighter colored and juicier than raisins, and they’re a vital baking staple for any Brit. But ask for sultanas in an American supermarket, and they’ll think you’ve gone insane and made up a silly word. What you’re after is white or golden raisins.

Coco Pops = Cocoa Krispies/Coco Pebbles
These brown, vaguely chocolately rice puffs are the go-to morning treat for any British child, or adult who thinks no one’s watching. But they don’t exist in America—at least not under the same name. Instead, they’re Cocoa Krispies. But you don’t see them as often as you see “Coco Pebbles.” They’ve got the Flintstones on the box, and the pieces are flatter, but essentially they’re the same wonderfully vile excuse for a breakfast cereal.

Gammon = Virginia ham
Put simply, gammon is a ham joint that has been cured like bacon. It’s delicious and very very British. Full disclosure: I haven’t exactly tried the thing I’m comparing it to yet, but I’m including it because Christmas is nearly here and gammon is a popular meat at this time of year. I’ve been assured (by a pair of Americans who’ve tried both) that Virginia ham is a similar cut to gammon and also salt cured.

Fish Fingers = fish sticks
Our beloved bread-crumbed oblongs of white fish are a British institution. Trendy pubs back home have even started serving them in sandwiches—with aioli to make sure they’re pretentious enough to merit the £10 price tag. Anyway, it turns out Americans like Fish Fingers too, only they usually call them “sticks.”

Brown sauce = America’s A1 Original steak sauce
This essential British condiment is spicy, tangy wonderfulness. I had been ordering it online at rip off prices until someone pointed me at steak sauce. It’s the same! Kind of. Maybe.

What other substitutes for British food items have you discovered, expats in America? Tell us below:

See more:
Food and Drink: 10 Things That Taste Different in the U.S.
A British Expat’s Guide to Cooking in the U.S.
Food Memories: What Do You Miss From Britain?

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

    Pies – Don’t forget you can buy ready made pie shells and make your own pies.

    • Cheryl Krin

      No, they’re not the same. American pre made pie shells are way to flaky and delicate.

      • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

        Erm, I don’t see anything in the above sentence that says they are the “same”, just that you can buy them. For the party-challenged among us however, we make do.

      • Jwb52z

        The kind of pastry you probably are looking for is closer to something used on a food product which is called a “hot pocket” in the US, but I’m only guessing as far as a comparison goes.

  • Karen Frenchy

    pie… I had to watch Mrs. Lovett making her pies to realise that they had meat ^_^

  • kasey413

    Just to let you know, Lea and Perrin’s steak sauce is closer to HP sauce than A1. Heinz 57 is also a good substitute.

  • Geraldine Jackson Valdez

    Anyone know how to find a good substitute for suet which doesn’t involve having to deal with a great big lump of white fat that you got from the butcher?

  • antoyt

    You can find Atoria suet @ goodwoods.com along with other British groceries. Coleslaw dressing will be much closer to salad cream the one with the Italian name that escapes me right now.

    • Strongbow

      Marie’s?

      • Jane

        I think the brand you mean is called Marzetti. Comes in jars and is usually in the refrigerated produce section.

  • Strongbow

    Mars Bars = American Milky Way Bars

    • Karen Frenchy

      Really? Because I don’t think so…

      • Trisha Ann Snyder

        We used to sell them here in the US all the time. I’m sure they are around here somewhere depending on the area. But Milky Way bars are a lot more common in any store here now. However I grew up on Mars Bars in TN for many years before they just “went away”. Most stores had both. I suspect they are like Dr Pepper and Mr Pibb. Two companies who make very similar drinks, yet (at least in the south) Mr Pibb is a rarity. And that’s a shame because if I had the choice I’d choose Pibb.

        • Don Cole

          In the South, at least, you see more Dr. Pepper because of Texas. It was originally created there (Waco). Same reason people in the South will ask you want kind of Coke you want, instead of what kind of soda, which is what they mean.

          • Trisha Ann Snyder

            Yep, we southerners always say “coke” and THEN specify what kind – Sprite, Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper… It could be anything! I grew up in the south most of my life and it’s funny when I ask a northerner if they want a coke and they say yes, then I ask what kind and they look at me like (what do you mean – what kind? You just told me you were giving me a Coke!) LOL

    • Don Cole

      Huh? I see Mars Bars and Milky Ways all over the U.S….

      • Trisha Ann Snyder

        I haven’t seen them around TN for years, but you are right… They are sold here in the US.

        • Don Cole

          After using The Google, it appears that U.S. Mars bars are completely different from the what the rest of the world buys. They’re also only sold at Walmart now, apparently.

  • wightfox

    Myers of Keswick in NYC makes the best pies, sausages and they ship. They also have suet..

    I would disagree with most of those substitutes but have no alternative suggestions.

  • maggie

    A1 is nothing like HP and as for corn syrup as a substitute for golden syrup NO WAY. At The English Pork Pie Company you can get steak and kidney pies, ‘Oggies’ as well as pork pies and English sausages. The English Tea Store sells golden syrup and black treacle.

    • Jessica

      As an American who stalks this site mostly out of curiosity I agree that Golden Syrup can’t be duplicated and A1 is nothing like HP–I can’t even stand A1 but I love HP. I find both of these in International aisles at regular groceries–Krogers, Whole Foods, and Harps in particular. I’ve also seen Digestives but haven’t talked myself into the extra espense–poor college student and all…

      • maggie

        We have three grocery stores in our town and only one sells British stuff in their International aisle but only a very small amount and not cheap. When we first moved here one store was owned by Sainsbury’s and we had a lot of British foods then including LOTS of imported British cheese.

    • oeb25

      Agree re: Golden syrup. Lyle’s really should work on importing more of it to America — it is FABULOUS on ice cream, for instance. I have the opposite problem in the UK trying to find Karo Syrup when I need it. Don’t use often, but for Holiday treats it’s a necessity. Ditto Nestles semi-sweet chocolate chips for cookies. I notice the British seem to eat CC Cookies,as they have them in the baked goods section of the store, but they sure as heck don’t seem to make them from scratch often to judge by the piss poor selection of Chocolate chips in the “baking” aisle. you’re lucky to see a few measly TINY bags of TINY sweet chips that cost a fortune. Feh. And don’t get me started on not being able to find graham crackers, or Vanilla Wafers.

      • maggie

        I’d not heard about problems with CC’s back home. Our daughter lives over thereand I know she has made them. She has not complained about not finding items but then again she probably doesn’t have recipes that need corn syrup, vanilla wafers or graham crackers

      • soxlade

        I make chocolate chip cookies here in the UK by smashing up a bar of Cadbury’s Bournville Dark chocolate. Big bitter chunks going gooey set off a cookie perfectly :)

  • Delboy

    You should see if you have a “world market” in your area, I am an Expat in California, and I find loads of British goodies at reasonable prices, they also send me frequent coupons to my e-mail which helps, Salad Cream, Branston’s Pickle, Marmite, HP sauce, Cadbury’s Crunchie, Penguins, Bisto’s Gravy, custard…digestives, hobnobs the list goes on.
    They have a very good website as well with a store locator…

    I have also been finding Heinz baked beans in Safeway’s, a little pricey but worth it and surprisingly British sausages as well, again in Safeway…

    Most of the substitutions just don’t cut it for me, nothing like the real thing, and when it comes to Pie, that’s something you just got to make from scratch, fortunately I have a lovely wife who has learnt everything from toad in the hole to shepherds/cottage pie and the occasional minced beef and onion pie from scratch.

    I also get a sausage rolls around Christmas if I’m a good guy, but with those we cheat, Brown and serve sausages from the store in a home-made pastry!

    • Jwb52z

      I miss Safeway, it hasn’t been in most of Texas for probably 25 or 30 years.

      • Karen Frenchy

        HEB in Texas has a pretty good selection = they have an international aisle with a British section ;)

      • Mylittlepeony

        Randall’s supermarkets are owned and run by Safeway.

  • Elaine

    HP can be ordered from Amazon, and if you pay attention to the seller, you can get it shipped by Amazon and avoid having to pay International shipping.

  • Penny

    Graham is not pronounced ‘gram’ by every American. I, myself, pronounce it ‘grayum’. And if anyone lives near a Wegman’s (at least in Pennsylvania), they carry a lot of Brit foods including Heinz beans, salad cream, and digestive biscuits… :)

    • Brittany

      My Wegman’s (also in Pennsylvania) has a lot of British food, too.

    • Me

      Well, you can always work on correcting your accent.

    • Sybil Strawser

      here in VA the Wegman’s carry those Brit foods also!

    • maggie

      I’m from New York, and I pronounce it “grayum” not “gram.” I’ve never heard it pronounced as “gram.”

      • Becky Shipman Minyard

        Come to the west coast, we all pronounce it “gram”.

  • Christina Conte

    Except for substituting golden raisins for Sultanas, none of the others are acceptable substitutes! Not even close! A1 for brown sauce is like putting milk in your car instead of gasoline-it’s NOT going to work!

    • tdavis00

      Exactly! Just like substituting British “food” for nutrition – it’s NOT going to work! Virtually all of these things are nasty: full of sugar and fat. But go ahead and die of a coronary or diabetes!

      • Christina Conte

        Most of us hardly ever eat these foods, but let’s talk about the average US daily diet, shall we?

  • Jwb52z

    If it weren’t for British TV, I would have never heard of a “digestive biscuit”. Also, as far as I know, the “brown” form of ketchup isn’t seen much in the US, if at all.

  • getyourownshoe

    Almond Joy bars are almost exactly the same as Bounty bars. Still trying to find a Crunchie replacement :(

  • Joanna

    The English Pork Pie company make sausage rolls, pork pies and pasties that are fabulous. I think they ship anywhere (luckily they are only a short drive from me). http://www.englishporkpiecompany.com

  • neil m

    Bottom line is that American groceries are all pretty dire. Almost everything is a poor substitute for British products. Even a simple sliced white loaf can’t compare to British bread. The only thing I genuinely like here is Baileys Coffee Creamer. Makes even Nescafe taste like something from Starbucks! Apart from that, grocery shopping in the USA is a miserable experience. Amazing that there’s no decent British store in NYC. Overpriced old-fashioned stores like Myers of Keswick really don’t do it for me. PLEASE can somebody open a modern British store in NYC???! I’m sure it would do an incredible amount of business!

  • Wendy Eames

    I’m an American who has only been to England once, but I’m crazy for clotted cream. I haven’t found anything even close here (Texas). We have such a rich dairy tradition in the U.S. & the British have had such a big influence on our culture, I can’t imagine why it hasn’t caught on.

    • Trisha Ann Snyder

      Well, honestly, the word “clotted” in the name isn’t exactly appealing! But I’m curious as to what it is… Is it like cottage cheese?

      • Wendy Eames

        It’s hard for me to describe. Kind of like really thick, sweet cream mixed with butter. That’s not how it’s made though. It’s cream that’s warmed for hours then the top crust is scooped up. I’ve heard you can’t make it here with pasteurized, homogenized cream, it’d have to be done at the creamery..

    • Terisa Chevreaux-Pittaway

      I was addicted to clotted cream way before I met my British husband.Try looking for Devonshire Cream. It’s very close to or the same (depending on brand) clotted cream. I have found a pasteurized version in jars on the shelves and harder to find fresh version in the refgerated or deli section of stores.

  • Lesley

    for treacle I use molasses in my christmas cakes.

  • Bree

    Savory Pies are starting to catch on in the US. Washington DC is home to ‘Dangerously Delicious Pies’ with a few locations around the city in addition to a food truck. I know I saw some other similar pie shops in NYC last time I visited, but I don’t remember the name.

  • Don Cole

    “Virginia ham” is basically just what’s called “country ham” throughout the South, and, presumably, elsewhere in the country. It is miles and away better than that honey-cured crap most places sell around the holidays. And it does taste, basically, like a giant chunk of juicy bacon.

    • Oracle

      Very SALTY bacon

    • bk

      Actually, here in Virginia, we call it Smithfield ham.

  • Pamela

    What I want here is Jaffa cakes. You can buy them at some supermarkets in the Briitish section and specialty stores,but they’re always stale. I don’t get why they don’t seek jaffa cakes alongside oreo and chips ahoy! I think Americans would go bonkers for them! I buy the orange jelly sticks at Trader Joe’s and they’re like carb-free jaffa cakes so better than nothing.

    • Don Cole

      Some big-box grocery stores sell them now – look for an “International” section. Our local Meijer stocks them, along with a few other European goodies. No Firklover, though…

      • Pamela

        They do- but they’re almost always stale! Bought some at Wegmans last week and Safeway a few months ago.

    • Alexandra Weitershausen

      I’ve had Jaffa cakes from Aldi. They’re okay.

    • Dixie_Amazon

      Not an expat but I love Jaffa Cakes. I cannot find them, stale or otherwise in Baton Rouge and Pim’s are just not the same. I will stock up next time I am in Houston.

    • David

      Jaffa cakes, I love those things!!!

  • Trisha Ann Snyder

    Some of the things you Britts say is so good sounds horrible to me, but I’d be willing to try them because European foods are some of my favorites! Like “digestive biscuits”. Sounds like something my great grandmother might need to help her with constipation! When you compare them to graham cracker though, sounds a bit more appealing! Someone in the forum mentioned “clotted cream”. Anytime an American heard the word “clotted”, they think of blood clotting! So, a creamy blood clot? Not so appetizing! (Shutter). However, we do have cottage cheese (which is a type of yummy “curdled” dairy product. I’m wondering if they are similar? Though yours sounds like it may be a sweet thing, where as ours is not. “Fish Fingers” is a name I learned to have a fondness for because of watching Dr Who! But since fish don’t have fingers, and most of the time the “fingers” are shaped like sticks… Fish “sticks” seem the better name. However, I’m in love with Dr Who and Matt Smith, so fish fingers and custard always makes me smile! Though I’ll never try it… Ewww! One last thing, a direct substitute of something else I learned about watching Dr Who is “Jammy Dodgers”. We have something very similar here made by Knott’s Berry Farm. They are small shortbread cookies with raspberry jam in a circle in a small indentation on top. Very similar, but I’m sure your Jammy Dodgers are better! More jam AND more cookie!

    • Alexandra Weitershausen

      Clotted cream is quite different from cottage cheese. I don’t know how to describe it…it’s not exactly sweet, but it doesn’t have the slight salty flavor of cottage cheese. It’s also not actually “clotted” in the way you’re thinking – it’s more the consistency of soft cream cheese.

      I’ve had digestive biscuits (McVitie’s), and there’s nothing in the US quite like them. Frankly, I thought they were kind of bland. Yes, even the chocolate ones. Graham crackers are close-ish, but think less sweet and more dense.

      Jammy Dodgers are two thin shortbread type cookies with jam in between, and a cutout in the top cookie. In the US they’re often called jam or Linzer sandwich cookies, since the recipe came to the US through German and Austrian immigrants. Knott’s cookies are pretty much the same thing, taste-wise.

      • soxlade

        Clotted cream is, as Alexandra says, really hard to describe. Basically the raw milk is allowed to turn to cream open to the air so it ‘clots’ on the top – turns into a hard, crumbly surface. The cream beneath sets into this gorgeous, smooth, thick substance unlike anything else. In my home county (Dorset, on the South Coast) we have the wonderful tradition of a cream tea, where you will have two scones (a firm breaded roll that is close to a bagel in consistency), some home-made strawberry jam and some clotted cream. Be generous with both jam and cream and enjoy a delicious (and bad for you) treat.

        If the word clotting when linked to a foodstuff makes an American go “ewww” then may I suggest you stay away from the British delicacy of Black Pudding which is a sausage made up of oatmeal and pig’s blood. Essentially, it’s a blood clot and I, personally, am not a fan.

        A slice of Black Pudding is deemed essential to the curious ‘Great British breakfast’ which is essentially six different foodstuffs (including bread), all fried in lard, a couple of slices of toast and a pot of tea. Sounds wrong, tastes great!

        In the UK we have cottage cheese too – exactly the same as in the US. Sometimes we combine it with pineapple, but I think the proponents of this distressing exercise have all been arrested now.

        Digestive biscuits are oddly named for sure, but the dark chocolate digestive is a thing of wonder. The biscuit itself is a sweet, honey flavour and, on it’s own I find them rather bland. Add a rippled layer of dark chocolate, a nice cup of coffee in which to dunk your biscuit and, well, bliss.

    • Lindy

      Clotted cream is what I imagine happens when butter and whipped cream fall in love and have a delicious baby. Not sweetened so not strictly sweet, but it does tend to seem a bit deserty, It is glorious!

      • Lindy

        Oh, and yes, it goes best with jam and scones, but I would not compare scones with a bagel, to an American palate a scone is closest to what we would call a biscuit, but very slightly sweet rather than savory.

  • Tina Hampton

    Here in Tennessee, both Kroger and Publix carry some UK grocery items including Heinz baked beans and HP Sauce. Not cheap but less expensive than driving to the International Store in Nashville from where I am. I totally agree with Christina about A1 sauce. Does anyone know where I can get Danish cut bacon, as in good old back bacon??

    • http://www.ghookermls.info/ Geoffrey Hooker

      Canadian Bacon is similar to back bacon but more often made with hip meat.

    • Lindsey

      Heinz is an American brand, no? Pennsylvania, hence the keystone logo? So of course they sell it in the US.

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  • Lindsey

    Having things like Coco Pops on this list is kind of silly. I’m from the US, moved to Edinburgh and I laugh at all the silly names you guys have for American cereals. For example, “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” is “Dangerously Cinnamon.” haha

  • Mary Anne

    You can find Lyle’s online at http://www.kingarthurflour.com. I like to get it there because it’s not in the can (like I find in the stores), but rather a squeeze-type flip-top bottle. I use it a lot in baking recipes and corn syrup is no where close – not even if it was mixed with molasses… but *almost*! A lot of times when you order you can get a coupon for a % off your next order or free shipping, so it all works out for me.

  • Sue McG

    I’m and Aussie living in California and have two secret weapons for affordable imported foods – Fresh and Easy, which was owned by Tesco’s and has now unfortunately been sold to a US based company, but will hopefully continue to carry real HP Sauce (no substitutes accepted), Golden Syrup (yep, no substitutes accepted), Bird’s Custard Mix, PG Tips tea, and decent mince pies in the ‘holiday’ season, and Cost Plus World Market for British and Australian foods, including Tim Tams – the world’s best chocolate biscuit (they also carry Brit tea, biccies etc.)

  • Sue McG

    Oh, I forgot to mention ‘Vons’ grocery store, they are a chain and carry ‘Piccadilly Bangers’, a very passable locally made English style sausage! (California)

  • Sue McG

    Oh dear, I have to post again – I often go to local Indian grocery stores for Aussie and British supplies – Milo, tea, Ribena, golden syrup, HP sauce, biscuits and general Colonial nonsense, and lots of great Indian food too :)

  • Shaylee Bell

    fortunately there is a growing amount of british food in the grocery stores, Metoropolitan market, QFC Fred Meyer to name a few, even good old Cost plus world market has some good sweets, (still cant find any decent jelly babies) i live in seattle, with no problem in getting a lot of my faves apart from Black pudding.

    • vivian Sawicki

      Kishka for black pudding.

  • Nicci Hartland

    They are not even close to the real thing.

  • Molly

    They sell brown sauce at Fred Meyer’s (a PNW grocery store). YUM!

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  • NancyNurse

    Being the mother of teenagers, pot pies here are in more varieties than chicken..unless the author shops at 7-11…Marie Callenders or Banquet, chicken, turkey, beef, mushroom, vegetable, seafood..but I am in California. Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons- and Marie Callenders restaurants sell them, too.

  • TravelingCook

    HP Sauce is far closer to Heinz 57 sauce than A-1. FAR closer. And most large grocery stores in the states now carry a decent number of specifically British foodstuffs, just in an odd location…the “Ethnic Foods” aisle. Even here in the bustling metropolis of Duluth, MN, I can get HP sauce, Marmite, and a decent selection of teas, biscuits, and sundries.

  • David

    One thing I cannot find any longer, anywhere is Nando’s Marinade. Publix sells the sauce but not the Marinade. Currently I can’t even find it on the internet.

  • Simon Says

    *lol* We can buy all these things in the South U.S.

  • barc777

    Personally, I pronounce ‘Graham’ the correct way: GRAY-um….

  • Erica Nugent

    I’ve tasted Golden syrup in GB, and grew up in the states with something very similar called Blackburn-Made Syrup. Here is the link for anyone interested. It is marvelous, as are their jams and jellys. http://jeffersonimages.com/BlackburnsProducts/tabid/56/Default.aspx