Need a butter substitute for your recipe? No problem! Here’s a list of alternatives. It may be surprising to see beans, avocados, and applesauce as replacements, but they work!
These days, baking creativity abounds for many reasons: health concerns, not enough butter on hand, allergies, and taste variations, to name a handful. Many home bakers might think that all is lost without their favorite types of butter, but that’s far from true.
Depending on the type of recipe and your dietary restrictions, various healthier dairy, and plant-based alternatives can be used in your favorite baking recipes.
Best butter substitutes
When a recipe calls for butter, here are some common substitutes and things to know about each that can help achieve the creamy taste and texture you enjoy.
Margarine is a good plant-based fat to swap for butter or use together. It’s typically made from hydrogenated palm oil, which gives it a higher melting point, making cookies spread less than all butter, but it’s not as flavorful. I use equal parts of butter and margarine in my Soft sugar cookies.
The moisture in the butter creates steam, giving a nice dome shape and sweet flavor. Margarine is also great for savory applications like mashed potatoes, paired with plant-based milk to make it dairy-free but still have a rich flavor.
When substituting: Use as a 1:1 replacement for butter. This will give thicker cookies with less spread. It can be used in a pie crust for a super flaky texture.
Bakers often grab shortening as a butter substitute for cookies. The difference between butter vs. shortening is simple. Shortening is made from plant-based fats. typically soybean, cottonseed oil, and palm oil to make it solid at room temperature. This gives a higher melting point, so cookies don’t spread as much.
Shortening works well for soft and thick snickerdoodle cookies that use equal parts butter and shortening. Shortening is 100 percent fat, compared to butter, around 80%. This means less water for gluten-formation, for more tender and crumbly cookies.
When substituting: Use as a 1:1 replacement for butter. This will give taller cookies with less spread. In cookies and pie crust, you can substitute 50% of the butter with shortening for a more balanced flavor and texture.
Greek yogurt is a dairy-based nutritional powerhouse that is excellent for eating as is, yet even better adding to baked recipes, like lemon yogurt cake or even homemade pancakes. In 8 ounces of whole milk Greek yogurt, there are 20 grams of protein, 190 calories, and 9 grams of fat (6 grams saturated).
There are even nonfat options so that you only get a dose of protein. However, the whole milk version will give the softest baked goods since fat is still added. It works well to add moisture and structure for quick bread and cakes.
When substituting: For every 8 ounces (1 cup) of butter, replace with ½ cup of Greek yogurt.
Nuts are tiny but mighty in that they naturally pack protein and fat. Skip the hydrogenated fat versions loaded with sugar, and look at the label for simply peanuts and salt as the ingredients. It works well in more dense products like cookies and bars.
Nut butter, like homemade peanut butter, is typically 50% fat compared to butter at 80%, so it needs some additional fat incorporated. Different types of nuts like peanuts, almonds, cashew, and macadamia will add their characteristic flavor, which is best for cookies, bars, cakes, brownies, muffins, and quick bread.
When substituting: A 1:1 replacement for butter can be used. Combine equal parts nut butter with oil before adding to a recipe. For example, mix ½ cup nut butter with ½ cup melted coconut oil until smooth.
There are so many types of cooking oils, but olive oil is a favorite because of its naturally rich taste and healthy unsaturated fat profile. Due to its savory and sometimes spicy flavor, olive oil isn’t always the best option for sweeter baked goods, so it’s best used in focaccia bread, certain muffins, pot pies, or pie crusts and biscuits.
When substituting: Choose a light olive oil for a more neutral taste or extra-virgin olive oil for a more robust flavor. For every 1 cup of butter, ¾ cup of oil should be used.
Mashed banana is a great substitute for butter and even oil for quick bread like muffins, loaves, cakes, and cupcakes. It’s also sweet, so you can reduce some added sugar. I like to add them to banana chocolate chip muffins and, of course, banana bread. The only con is it will have a strong flavor.
When substituting: Use equal parts of mashed banana for butter. Use ¾ cup of mashed banana for 1 cup of oil. Keep an eye on bake time, the extra sugar may brown the baked goods quicker.
Adding a bean puree to cut fat in baked goods provides fiber, protein, and other vitamins and minerals. Most types of beans can be used, like cannellini beans for a yellow cake and black beans are great for chocolate cakes and brownies.
The beans should be blended first to create a smooth puree. If needed, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time to make it easier to process. You can add oil (1 to 4 tablespoons) like melted coconut oil or vegetable oil to 15.5-ounces of beans and process for a creamier fat replacer.
When substituting: Bean puree can be replaced 100% for butter and yield a more cake-like texture, which is suitable for cakes, muffins, and quick bread.
Avocados or avocado oil works well as a butter substitute for baking. After pureeing, use the exact ratio you would use with butter–It offers more vitamins and fiber, with health benefits, too. One Hass avocado tends to yield ¾ of a cup.
With avocado oil containing omega-3s and vitamin E, you must be a little more careful of the liquid-to-solid ratio. Avocados’ neutral flavor and creamy texture work well for darker-colored muffins, quick bread, brownie, and cookies.
When substituting: I use the same amount of avocado compared with the amount of butter called for in a recipe. With avocado oil, I use ⅞ cup to equal 1 cup of butter.
Coconut oil is a popular choice, mainly because it cools as a solid, turns to liquid when warm, as butter does, and will help maintain thickness and viscosity in recipes like gluten-free cornbread muffins. Something to note with coconut oil is the taste. There isn’t too much difference (if any) in small amounts, but in recipes that require a lot of butter, more significant amounts of coconut oil may change the taste.
When substituting: Choosing refined coconut oil will yield a more neutral-tasting product than unrefined. I generally use the same amount of oil as the amount of butter called for in any one recipe.
Applesauce replaces butter in recipes and adds additional natural sweetness if you want to reduce refined sugar when making zucchini bread. The cooked and pureed apples add structure and moisture to baked goods, plus extra fiber that helps bind water, keeping it in the baked product. Choose the unsweetened version to keep the calorie load at a minimum.
When substituting: You can replace 100% of the butter with applesauce. However, using fat from yogurt, nutter butter, or alternative oil can help prevent cakes, muffins, and quick bread from tasting too dry.
It couldn’t be a more perfect match than using pumpkin puree to replace butter, especially for those seasonal fall and winter baking recipes like pumpkin bread. Each serving will pack more fiber and nutrients like beta-carotene, potassium, and vitamin K in each muffin, quick bread, or coffee cake slice.
When substituting: Homemade pumpkin puree can replace butter by 100%, as well as any oil, adding its orange color and sweet, earthy, and creamy flavor to the baked good.
Alternatively, you can also use the following as a replacement for butter:
- Prune Puree – This substitute is best used when making brownies and cakes. Use ¾ cup puree for every 1 cup of butter.
- A mixture of Applesauce and Buttermilk – The mixture, consisting of homemade buttermilk, tastes similar to butter in baked goods, and it works well with most recipes except pie crust.
- Mayonnaise – Homemade mayonnaise consists of oil and egg yolks. This ingredient adds moisture and richness to the baking good.
The role of butter in baking
Of course, I love cooking with butter. Its high-fat content (around 80%, the rest mainly water and milk solids) makes it the near-unparalleled darling of baked goods–for dense, flaky, spongy cookies, cakes, pastries, and other things. Overall, certain items are best with butter, like pie crust, shortbread cookies, and puff pastries, as butter makes up the main ingredients, meaning fat content could be crucial for the recipe’s success.
Overall, butter is a leavening agent. When sugar combines with butter (and its fat), the granules beat into the fat and aerate it, giving baked goods texture and flavor. However, animal fat is also high in calories, cholesterol, and saturated fats (7 grams per tablespoon). It is a dairy product, so it may have to be avoided for people with specific diets or health concerns like lactose intolerance or milk allergy.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can melt the butter and use it in a 1:1 substitution, especially for cooking. However, it contains between 13 to 19% water, which can impact baked goods. Don’t overmix; it can increase gluten formation for a tougher product. Alternatively, you can add ¾ of the amount of butter for oil to reduce the amount of water, but the tenderness may be reduced with less fat.
Yes! Because oil has no water, it will make the turkey skin crispy. It won’t be as deep golden brown without milk solids.
Nothing tastes exactly like butter. However, olive oil makes a good swap, it’s slightly fruit and mild. Avocado oil will have the most neutral flavor with a high smoke point. Macadamia nut oil or coconut oil will have a rich taste and hint of sweetness.