If you’re looking for the best butter substitute, better manage your expectations, and know that it really depends on how exactly you want to use it.
There is no real perfect substitute for the flavor and function of butter. This popular dairy product, high in calories and fat, lends moisture, creaminess, and tender texture to baked goods, mains, and sides. But sometimes, butter isn’t the right choice.
You might have health concerns about the saturated fat in butter, a dairy intolerance, or want to cut out animal fats as part of a plant-based diet. Or, particularly right now amid grocery shortages, you might just not be able to find butter at the store.
Related Reading: How to Make Your Own Butter
Whatever the reason you’re looking to swap out butter in your cooking or baking, you have several options. Some common ones are:
What Is Butter Used For? And How Can You Replace Butter in Recipes?
Butter serves many functions in the kitchen, adding flavor, moisture, and helping to hold everything together. When using butter as a medium to saute food (like seared chicken breasts or pork chops), the replacement options are obvious: olive oil or other cooking oils, ghee, or margarine all work well. But beyond that, butter replacements get a bit trickier.
So let’s look at butter substitutes on a case by case basis—and find more butter-free recipes below:
Flavor and Texture
A buttery flavor adds richness to a lot of foods both sweet and savory, and butter contributes a creamy texture too. You can try swapping in ghee (with a pinch of salt for salted butter), but generally, you’re not going to achieve real butter flavor without actual butter. You can, however, get the creamy texture with shortening, margarine, ripe avocado, and solid oils such as coconut oil (a great vegan butter substitute).
Emulsifying and Fat Coating
Butter can also be used for emulsifying, which keeps ingredients suspended together. In baking, it coats flour in fat, which interferes with gluten formation. An overdevelopment of gluten can result in toughness, so you don’t want to miss out on this function. Oils can be used to replace the emulsification function of butter (this also works for roux and bechamel); egg yolks or cream cheese can also work in some cases.
Related Reading: The Best Flour Substitutes for Cooking and Baking
Butter helps hold air in baked goods to make them light and fluffy. Butter is solid at room temperature, so it’s good for creating layers and trapping air in light, flaky, buttery pastries (like croissants or puff pastry), or cakes with pockets of air. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature just like butter, so it can be a good alternative.
The fat in butter makes foods softer and makes it easier to work with, which is why it’s helpful for greasing pans and adding tender, buttery softness to baked goods. With a melting point just below body temperature, butter can impart a melt in your mouth factor and keep pastries fresh with lots of moisture and tenderness for days after baking. Moisture is the easiest butter function to replace.
Yogurt, nut butters (like almond butter or peanut butter), oils (like canola oil or avocado oil), ripe avocados, pumpkin puree, applesauce, and other similar ingredients can add fat and moisture instead of butter.
See how several butter substitutes work in these recipes that replace butter with another ingredient:
Fudgy brownies swap in olive oil for butter for a dairy-free treat. The oil keeps brownies moist and adds fat. The secret to great flavor? Add a little more vanilla extract than you would with a butter-based brownie recipe. Get the Olive Oil Brownies recipe. (Our Vegan Brownie recipe uses vegetable oil and applesauce to similar effect.)
Butter chicken without butter: yes, it can happen. This recipe uses coconut oil in place of butter with full-fat coconut milk and all the spices necessary to make this classic Indian main dish as good as you’re used to. Get the Slow-Cooker Dairy-Free Butter Chicken recipe.
So-called crazy cakes became popular during the Great Depression, a time when butter, eggs, and other dairy products were hard to come by due to cost or availability. But this cake stays moist and holds it all together even without butter and eggs, using vegetable oil instead of butter (vinegar and baking soda take the place of eggs). Try this Vanilla Crazy Cake recipe, or this Chocolate Crazy Cake recipe.
What’s a cake without frosting? You can still have buttercream-style frosting even without butter. This avocado frosting has all of the richness of classic buttercream, plus a dose of good fats for a sweet, chocolatey, and healthier twist on your favorite frosting. Get the Dairy-Free Chocolate Avocado Buttercream recipe.
Related Reading: How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting without Butter
Brioche is a rich bread traditionally made with eggs, milk, and butter. But you can achieve the light, feathery essence of brioche with a golden crust even if you’re not using butter. The secret to this recipe? Swapping in extra virgin olive oil for butter and aquafaba (the liquid left over from cooking dried chickpeas, or found in the can) for eggs keeps this recipe close to the French standard for buttery brioche—without a speck of dairy. Get the Vegan Olive Oil Brioche with Aquafaba recipe, or try Butterless Avocado Brioche recipe.
Some bakers prefer a butter-based pie crust, but shortening or lard can do the trick. This recipe uses vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk for a vegan pie crust that still comes out light and flaky. Get the Easy Vegan Pie Crust recipe.
Sugar cookies seem like a vehicle for butter just as much as their namesake ingredient, but this recipe uses oil instead of butter—and still keeps the chewiness of a classic sugar cookie. Get the Dairy Free Chewy Sugar Cookie recipe.
Using olive oil in mashed potatoes lends a light, fluffy texture rather than a rich, buttery creaminess. This recipe not only lightens up the dish, it adds garlic, rosemary, and black pepper for extra flavor too. Get the Olive Oil Mashed Potato recipe.
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