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