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Evidence Based

What Are the Best Substitutes for Butter?

Butter is a common spread and baking ingredient.

Yet despite its popularity, some people avoid butter for various reasons.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to enjoy foods without it.

This article explores the various ingredients that can be used as butter alternatives.

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Reasons Why You Might Need to Replace Butter

There are a few reasons why you may need to find a substitute for butter in your diet.

Milk Allergy

While butter is very low in protein, it still contains a small amount of casein, which is a protein in milk that can be allergenic ().

If you have a milk allergy, it's important to be cautious of your butter intake. You may need to avoid it completely if your allergy is severe.

Lactose Intolerance

People with lactose intolerance tend to tolerate the small amounts of lactose in butter without adverse reactions ().

However, some are more sensitive to lactose than others and may have to avoid butter for this reason.

Health Reasons

Some individuals avoid butter because it's high in saturated fat, which was previously believed to cause heart disease. However, new studies have shown that this isn't the case (, , ).

That being said, some studies suggest that the saturated fats in butter may raise cholesterol more than the saturated fats in other dairy products, such as cream ().

Also, butter is high in fat and therefore high in calories. People who are trying to reduce calories may want to cut back on butter for this reason.

Others choose to limit their butter intake because it isn't very nutritious when compared to its high number of calories per serving ().

Bottom Line: Some people may need to avoid butter due to milk allergies or lactose intolerance, while others avoid it for personal health reasons.

Butter's Purpose in Baking

Butter is used in baking as a leavening agent, meaning it introduces air into baked goods and makes them light and fluffy.

Additionally, butter contributes to the flaky, moist texture of baked goods, as well as their rich and tasty flavors.

Without these properties, baked goods might be flat, dry and flavorless.

The good news is that there are plenty of delicious butter alternatives that can serve the same purposes in baking.

Bottom Line: Butter functions as a leavening agent in baked goods, and it also provides texture and flavor.
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Fats and Oils That Can Replace Butter in Baking

The following fats and oils have properties that are comparable to butter, making them great substitutes.

Ghee

Ghee is a type of clarified butter with an aromatic and nutty taste.

In baked goods where a strong, buttery flavor is desirable, it can replace butter at a 1-to-1 ratio.

Substituting ghee for butter works best with items that are baked at high temperatures and served warm, such as breads and cookies.

However, it provides more moisture than butter does, so you may need to alter the amount of liquid and flour added to recipes when using ghee.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil can also replace butter in baking at a 1-to-1 ratio.

The one downfall is that it may slightly change the flavor, with some types of coconut oil affecting taste more than others.

Unrefined coconut oil tends to taste more "coconut-like" than refined coconut oil. It works great for recipes that require tropical or rich chocolate flavors.

If coconut is not the flavor you're looking for, you can use a more refined brand of coconut oil or a different substitute.

Olive Oil

In most recipes, olive oil can be substituted for butter at a 3-to-4 ratio.

For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, you will replace it with 3/4 cups of olive oil.

Since olive oil is a liquid, it's not a proper butter substitute in recipes that need the fat to remain solid or that require a lot of creaming, such as frosting and angel food cake.

Olive oil's strong flavor works well in recipes that have a fruity, nutty or savory quality, such as pumpkin bread or muffins.

Bottom Line: Ghee, coconut oil and olive oil have properties that are comparable to butter, which make them appropriate baking substitutes.

Other Substitutes for Butter in Baking

Most of the foods listed below can function as butter in recipes at a 1-to-1 ratio.

However, many of them have a higher water content than butter does, which may increase the moistness of baked goods.

To maintain the texture and mouthfeel of the original recipe, you may want to reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe. Adding extra flour can also help.

Replacing butter with foods is often a matter of trial and error. It may work well in some recipes, but not others.

This is especially true when it comes to taste. Many butter substitutes have unique flavors, which may or may not work depending on what flavor you are looking for.

In general, the following foods work best as butter replacements in cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies and quick breads:

  • Applesauce: Applesauce significantly reduces the amount of calories and fat in baked goods. Yet it does add sweetness, so you may want to reduce the amount of sugar added to recipes when using applesauce.
  • Avocados: Avocados add nutrients and healthy fats to recipes. Use dark-colored ingredients like chocolate to cover up the green tint that may result from using avocados.
  • Mashed bananas: Using mashed bananas provides extra nutrients and decreases the calorie and fat content. Add banana to batters slowly, until the desired consistency is reached.
  • Greek yogurt: Using Greek yogurt increases the protein in recipes and replaces sweetness with a tangy flavor. Full-fat yogurt is best for keeping baked goods creamy and tender.
  • Nut butters: Nut butters infuse baked goods with a nutty taste and tend to make them more dense and heavy.
  • Pumpkin puree: This is a nutrient-rich butter replacement. Use 3/4 the amount of pumpkin puree when substituting for butter.
Bottom Line: Several foods make great butter substitutes. Some of them may change the flavor and consistency of baked goods, which is important to keep in mind when making changes to recipes.
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Substitutes for Butter as Spread

Butter is widely used as a spread for bread, crackers and other food items.

If you don't eat butter, you can still enjoy spreads on your foods.

The following foods have consistencies that are ideal for spreads, in addition to being tasty and nutritious:

  • Olive oil: Combine some olive oil with basil and pepper for a zesty spread
  • Nut butter: Peanut and almond butter can easily be spread on toast or crackers
  • Cheese: Try cottage cheese, cream cheese or ricotta
  • Avocado: Lightly spread a tablespoon or two of ripe avocado over toast
  • Hummus: Hummus works great for spreading and dipping
Bottom Line: There are a variety of healthy foods that can replace butter's function as a spread for bread, crackers and other food items.
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What NOT to Replace Butter With

The two most important ingredients to avoid when finding a butter substitute are margarine and vegetable oil.

Both of these products are highly processed and often include inflammatory trans fats (, , ).

Baked goods aren't that healthy in the first place, but it's still important to keep the quality of the ingredients in mind when you treat yourself.

Additionally, vegetable oil doesn't provide much when it comes to flavor and texture.

Bottom Line: To maintain the quality and flavor of baked goods, you should never use margarine or vegetable oil as a butter alternative.
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Take Home Message

There are plenty of delicious and healthy foods that can replace butter in baking and as a spread.

When baking, experiment with various alternatives to see which provide the desired consistency and flavor for your recipes.

An evidence-based article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.
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