When in doubt, keep calm and add butter. Good quality butter has the power to turn any average item into something deliciously scrumptious since it adds a luxurious richness, improves texture, and color.
Butter is very high in fat and calories and has also become an expensive pantry item. If you’re looking to replicate its cooking and baking properties with a vegan, low fat, or less costly alternative, we’ve got an expansive list to help you out.
The great thing about the best substitutes for butter is that you are very likely to already have at least one or two of these in the pantry, so no need to go out and purchase any special ingredients. Let’s get started.
How to Choose the Best Substitute for Butter
At room temperature, butter is solid, yet spreadable. The dairy product consists of approximately 80% butterfat and melts when heated. It is available in salted and unsalted versions and can be used as a spread for bread and crackers, for baking, sauces, basting, and sautéing. Although it is usually made from cow milk, you also get versions that are manufactured from goat, sheep, and yak milk.
Clarified butter undergoes a process where water and milk solids are removed, leaving pure butterfat. It, therefore, has a richer and heavier profile with improved ability to withstand high heat. This makes it suitable for shallow and medium frying and sautés.
The substitute you choose will depend on what you are using it for. Not all replacement options can be used for the same purposes.
How Butter is Used in Cooking
Baking Pie Crusts and Pastry
Butter is used in flaky pie crusts and cookies. The fat coats the flour mixture which keeps liquids from activating gluten components that form large air bubbles. This results in crumbly, golden pie crusts, pastries, and cookies.
Since it is solid at room temperature it does not mix with dry ingredients in the same way that liquid cooking or vegetable oil does. The pockets of solid fat left in the dough will therefore melt during baking, producing a light and flaky product.
Butter is combined at the right time with the right ingredients in cakes to help with the rise, but the thing that really differentiates it from other types of fats in baking is the flavor. Cakes made with butter have a richer and undoubtedly preferable taste over those made with oil.
Sauteing and Sauces
Melted butter is used in stovetop cooking for sauteing and making sauces. It splatters less than oil and adds a unique richness to sauces, meats, and vegetables. It is also a great addition to mashed potatoes.
Buttercream frosting brings a rich, fluffy, and creamy consistency to cake and cupcake toppings. It is spreadable and pipeable which makes it versatile for decorating in different ways as well as for fillings.
Butter is also ideal for greasing cooking or baking pans to prevent cakes from sticking. It also gives a lovely golden color around the sides.
Best Butter Substitutes
Shortening has a very neutral taste and is 100% fat. This makes it ideal to use in almost any dish as a replacement since it won’t affect the flavor profile. It is composed of hydrogenated oils, mostly palm, soybean, and vegetable oils, that are solid at room temperature.
The semi-solid fat has a high smoke point and low water content. This means that it can make a difference in the texture of baked items, making them less (or more) crispy and affecting the density and flakiness. The difference, however, won’t be extreme.
Butter provides a rich taste that you don’t get with shortening, especially when used in sauces, cookies, and cake frosting. When used for frosting, shortening yields a white, rather than yellow color, fluffy texture, and handles warm temperatures better. This means your cupcake topping won’t melt as quickly into a squishy gloop when exposed to warm temperatures.
Shortening is generally vegan-friendly but not any healthier in terms of reducing fat and calories.
Substitute quantity: Use measure for measure when replacing regular butter.
Best for: Baked items including cake, muffins, cookies, pastry, pie crust, and fillings or frosting. It is also suitable for greasing baking trays, sauces, and sautéing.
See more: Shortening replacement
Coconut oil has a solid consistency at room temperature but softens easily when heated or even just holding it in your hands at body temperature. Coconut oil has become well-known for its health benefits and beneficial fat content which is good for hair and skin.
Despite this, it is still a high saturated fat product and is by no means a better choice in terms of reducing calories or fat in your diet if you’re following a low-fat diet. If this is not a concern, it is a superb vegan butter alternative and it’s also great for low-carb and keto diets.
It does have a coconut taste which means that when using it in baking or cooking you will get hints of coconut that you would otherwise not get with butter. Unrefined coconut oil generally has a stronger coconut flavor than refined coconut oil.
Coconut oil to butter ratio: Coconut oil can be used to replace butter in equal measures.
Best for: Baking recipes, sauteing, and greasing baking tins.
Contrary to popular belief, vegetable shortening and margarine are not the same. While vegetable shortening is 100% fat and very neutral in taste, margarine, although also made from hydrogenated vegetable oil, contains water, milk solids, and sometimes light flavoring.
Margarine generally contains 80% fat with a slightly buttery flavor but does not match the richness of butter in baked items. Check the ingredients to determine whether the margarine is vegan as many types are not. However, you do get lower-fat options that, although they still contain a large amount of fat, will reduce the fat and calories quite significantly compared to butter.
You can use margarine as a substitute for butter in cookies, doughnuts and other baked goods.
Substitute quantity: Replace margarine in equal quantities.
Best for: Spreading on toast and garlic bread, baking, greasing, sauteing, and making frosting.
If the rich flavor of butter is what you’re after, ghee is the ideal replacement for butter since it is a type of clarified butter. It has a nutty, aromatic taste and contains hardly any casein or lactose which makes it a safer choice for those with milk allergies.
Substitute quantity: Use ghee as a replacement in equal measures.
Best for: Sauteing, baking, and greasing baking tins.
You can conveniently use cooking oil, including olive oil, in most recipes as a butter replacement but you need to consider a few things before making the swap. Oils are liquid as opposed to solid so may affect the texture slightly in baked goods and the ratio needs to be adjusted.
Some oils, like olive oil, have a strong flavor quite different from that of butter which may influence the flavor of your dish. Vegetable oil, safflower, and canola all have a very neutral taste.
Avocado oil and olive oil can be used as a healthy butter substitute for general cooking.
Oil is not suitable as an alternative to butter in recipes such as flaky pastries, certain cookies, and frosting.
Substitute quantity: Use only ¾ of the original amount required in the recipe. If the recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use only ¾ cup oil.
Best for: Sautéing vegetables, frying, baking muffins, bread, cake, crumpets, and greasing baking tins. Olive oil can also be drizzled on bread.
Although not suitable as an ingredient, cooking spray is an ideal way to grease baking tins and frying pans for making pancakes, omelets, scrambled eggs, and sauteing onions or vegetables.
Since it only requires a thin coating it is also a good way to reduce calories.
Substitute quantity: Spray just enough to evenly coat the baking tin or frying pan.
Best for: Greasing baking tins and frying pans.
This may come as a surprise, but Greek yogurt can be used successfully in moist baked items such as cakes and muffins. Full-fat yogurt is best, and despite being full fat it still has fewer calories and fat than butter so is a healthier alternative. Keep in mind that it won’t be suitable for people with a dairy allergy.
Substitute quantity: Replace the yogurt in equal quantities
Best for: Baking muffins and cakes.
Nut butter such as peanut butter, almond butter, coconut butter, macadamia butter, etc… have high fat percentage and can be used as butter alternatives for baking recipes.
Keep in mind that these nut butters will increase the density and taste of the baked goods, so depending on the recipes you follow, you might choose and test the nut butter type and amount that is suitable for your dishes.
Vegan Substitutes for Butter in Baking
The below butter substitutes are low fat, low calorie, dairy-free, and vegan. They are suitable as a substitute in moist bakes but not for crisp cookies or pastry due to their high moisture content. Although you can replace these fruit and veg purees in equal quantities, you may find your batter slightly softer or runnier than usual. If this is the case, reduce some of the other liquid in the recipe or add a little more flour to balance the consistency.
Unsweetened applesauce is a great option to reduce the calorie and fat content of your baked items. Keep in mind that it may slightly alter the flavor and will add some sweetness compared to butter. This is a great alternative in muffins, brownies, cakes, vegan desserts, and quick breads.
You can use blended or mashed banana as a replacement in equal quantities in brownies, cakes, and muffins. You may want to add it slowly until the desired consistency is reached as opposed to adding the entire amount at once to prevent your batter from having too much moisture.
Although it brings more nutrients and fewer calories to your baked goods it also brings sweetness and a distinct flavor. Make sure the banana taste will pair well with other flavors in your recipe. It generally works well as a replacement in cakes, muffins, and brownies.
Kids not eating their veggies? This is a great way to sneak some veggies into their diet. Make sure the flavors pair well in your recipe as the pumpkin flavor may slightly change the profile. In rich chocolate recipes, you might not notice too much of a flavor difference.
For every cup of butter required use only ¾ of a cup pumpkin puree to prevent the batter from becoming too wet and dense. As with other purees, this is ideal for cakes, quick bread, muffins, and even cupcakes.
Butter generally lasts around 30 days in the refrigerator if kept in an airtight container, however, have a look at the printed expiry date on the packaging to be sure.
Butter can be frozen to extend its shelf life. It is important to keep it in an airtight container or freezer bag as contact with air or moisture can cause freezer burn and the absorption of odors of surrounding foods. Fishy-tasting butter really isn’t pleasant in cakes. Unsalted butter can last up to six months frozen while salted butter can last up to 12 months providing it is properly packed.
Butter will develop a slightly sour or tangy taste, and change in color. It will also develop a rancid smell and sometimes moldy growth may appear.
When choosing a great butter substitute is it important to take the flavor, consistency, fat, and moisture content into consideration. If the rich buttery flavor is what you are after, ghee is your best option. On the other hand, if you don’t mind a change in flavor but the calorie and fat content are important, then a fruit or vegetable puree can make a significant difference.
For cake frosting, shortening and margarine are your best alternatives while cooking oils such as canola and sunflower oil have a fairly neutral taste for stovetop frying and sautéing. Alternatives used for stovetop cooking generally need a high fat content, while soft bakes will still work with lower fat alternatives.
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