The Best Substitutes for Butter

Butter Substitutes in baking Pinterest image

Find yourself in need of a butter substitute when baking? Whatever your reason for needing a replacement, discover the best Substitutes for Butter that taste great while bringing all the benefits of butter to your baked goods!

items on a counter that you can use in place of butter in baking

Table of Contents

Baking with Butter Substitutes

Butter brings all kinds of goodness to the taste and texture of baked goods. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular ingredients in baking! Butter has a rich, creamy flavor and necessary fatty oils that play a big role in how many recipes turn out.

For this reason, if you’re unable to consume butter, or if you don’t have any on hand, it can be super disappointing to find butter on an ingredient list. Luckily, there are so many alternatives to butter these days that bakers no longer need to despair over substituting it in recipes!

Below I’ve put together a handy guide on different butter substitutes, and how to best use them in all your favorite baking!

butter in a dish with a butter knife

What is the Role of Butter in Baking?

Depending on the recipe, butter can serve several roles in baking. Some recipes depend on the rich, creamy flavor, while in others butter contributes to the overall texture and moisture of the finished goods.

In cakes and muffins, for example, butter lends leavening and moisture to the crumb, resulting in the light and fluffy texture we all love.

In pie crusts and pastries, butter is what results in the flaky layers and distinctly buttery flavor.

Without butter, many baked goods would fall flat in both texture and taste! However, there are also many worthy butter substitutes that you can use in recipes, which we’ll go over in this post.

What Kinds of Butter Are There?

  • Sweet Cream Butter: The most popular type of butter in the US. Pasteurized sweet cream butter is found in most grocery stores and can be salted or unsalted. 
  • Cultured Butter: Made from milk that’s fermented and then churned, with a tangy flavor. This was the only kind of butter available back in the days before pasteurization and fridges! European-style butter is a type of high fat, naturally cultured butter you may have seen in stores. 
  • Raw Butter: Similar to sweet cream butter, only unpasteurized. For this reason raw butter has a very short shelf life and falls under pretty strict food and safety regulations. 
  • Spreadable/Whipped Butter: This type of butter is made with the addition of vegetable oils or air, that keeps soft and fluffy even when chilled! Especially handy to spread over soft bread, unlike regular chilled butter that tends to crumble and stick.
  • Clarified Butter: Pure butterfat, made by skimming away the milk solids and evaporating the water while butter simmers. Clarified butter is liquid and can be stored at room temperature, and is used in cooking similar to oil. Ghee is also a variation of clarified butter, often used in Indian cuisine, with a nuttier taste.

Why Would I Need a Replacement for Butter?

There are many reasons why someone might need to omit butter from their baking. Maybe it’s an allergy or intolerance towards dairy, maybe it’s a dietary or lifestyle decision. Or maybe you just ran out of butter sticks with your heart set on baking up something delicious! 

Whatever your reason for not consuming butter, one thing is for certain – butter in baking must be replaced with something. Leaving butter out altogether, without substituting the loss of fatty oils, is rarely an option. The substitutes in the next section are here to help!

The Best Butter Alternatives and How to Use Them

Replacing butter in cooking and baking is all about alternatives that contribute to the recipe much the same way butter would (leavening, moisture, and texture). Here are 8 butter substitutes and the best ways to use them:  

Coconut Oil

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Coconut oil is probably the most versatile, all-around butter substitute! Refined coconut oil is neutral in flavor, making it ideal for cooking and baking. Unrefined coconut oil has a subtle coconut taste, which works best with desserts and sweet recipes. You’ll likely notice a difference in texture when using coconut oil in recipes like cookies and pie crusts – these generally turn out crunchier and more crumbly. However, other recipes for breads, cakes, and muffins made with coconut oil turn out more or less the same as they would with butter!

Vegan Butter

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Depending on the one you use, vegan butters can taste super similar to the real deal! Popular brands like Earth Balance Butter are available in many supermarkets these days. However, they can be on the pricey side. Plant based butter is the best substitute to use in recipes (baking or otherwise) that wouldn’t be the same without the flavor and texture of butter.

Shortening

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Vegetable shortening (Crisco, for example) is a tasteless butter alternative that’s best for baking. The consistency of shortening makes it great for recipes that call for cold or room temperature butter, like pie crusts. Even though it lacks the flavor of butter, it behaves much in the same way.

Olive Oil

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, making it one of the healthier alternatives to butter. Due to its distinct flavor, it’s best to use in cooking. As olive oil ranges from peppery and a bit bitter to floral and earthy in taste, it can be tricky to use as a substitute when baking (unless the recipe calls for it specifically, like in these Fudgy Olive Oil Brownies!). In a pinch however, olive oil can replace melted butter in most recipes.

Greek Yogurt

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

A more unconventional substitute on this list! Plain Greek yogurt can replace butter in many baking recipes. It has a creamier texture that actually enhances the moisture and texture of baked goods! Due to its tangy flavor, I recommend using it only in recipes that call for a smallish amount of butter (usually less than one cup). Recipes that require larger amounts will turn out way, way too dense if all the butter is replaced with Greek yogurt! 

Unsweetened Applesauce

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Unsweetened applesauce has a neutral taste and makes a great low carb sub for butter in baked goods. Since it isn’t fatty like butter is, applesauce is best used in cakes, breads, cupcakes and muffins, though the end result might be a bit denser. It’s a good idea to supplement it with a bit of fat like olive oil or yogurt.

Pumpkin Puree

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Pumpkin puree is a good alternative for butter when used in baked goods with strong flavors (think: recipes with chocolate or spices like cinnamon). Like applesauce, pumpkin puree can substitute butter in recipes for cakes, muffins, and quick breads, where the resulting texture may be more dense. 

Avocado 

Substitution Ratio: 1-to-1

Ripe avocado is soft, creamy and fatty, and makes a great replacement for butter in many baking recipes. Especially quick breads and cakes! The resulting recipes may end up softer and chewier (and greener!), but the flavor is pretty neutral. I recommend that you puree the avocado first, to get rid of any clumps. It’s also best to lower the oven temperature and increase the baking time to prevent over-browning. 

olive oil, vegan butter, applesauce, shortening, greek yogurt, and coconut oil on a counter

Tips for Substituting Butter

Now that you’re up to speed with butter substitutes and their benefits, here are some handy tips when it comes to swapping out butter:

  • Use Refined Coconut Oil Where Possible: Refined coconut oil is odorless with a high smoking point, making it arguably the best alternative to butter in most scenarios. 
  • Enhance the Flavors: Spices and extracts can amp up the overall flavor of your butter-free baked goods (i.e. vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon, and ginger). These can also help to conceal subtle flavors that come with some substitutes, such as avocado and pumpkin puree. 
  • Adjust the Amount If Using Oil: In some recipes that call for oil as a substitute, use 25% less oil than you would butter. For example, if a dough recipe called for 100g of butter, use 75g of oil instead. 

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