What can I substitute for butter in mac n cheese?

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “What can I substitute for butter in mac n cheese?” with an in-depth analysis of the possible substitutes for butter in mac n cheese, how we can use these substitutes in mac n cheese along with their nutritional contents and quantity to use.

What can I substitute for butter in mac n cheese?

We can have many different substitutes for butter in mac n cheese which include margarine, oil, ghee, cream, cheese, and heavy cream. These substitutes are necessary when we are out of the hand for butter in mac n cheese or any other recipe.

According to FAO, the annual values of global dairy and butter trade are 161.35 billion U.S. dollars and 16.22 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, respectively, and their shares of the world GDP are 0.184% and 0.0185%, respectively (1). 

Substitutes of butter in mac n cheese

Following are some of the substitutes for butter in mac n cheese:


Margarine is the alternative product for butter in mac n cheese. It has an almost similar flavour and taste to butter and also resembles butter in texture. Margarine is a good substitute for those people who want a creamy texture in mac n cheese. 

It is synthesized by using water and oil, it does not use any content of milk. Margarine is a plant-based product. It is also a good choice for vegans. It also suits those who want to reduce calories and it is also popular among those who want to cut it with fats. 

Margarines consist of an emulsion of small water droplets in oil stabilized by a structure of solid fat crystals. Margarine is produced through hydrogenation of vegetable oils, in order to increase the melting point of liquid oil, turning it solid at room temperatures. Hydrogenation involves the addition of a hydrogen molecule across the unsaturated C = C bonds in the fatty acid groups of the triacylglycerols, producing a more saturated fat. In the hydrogenation process, hydrogen gas is reacting with oil at elevated temperatures and pressures in the presence of a catalyst (normally Nickel on carrier) (2).

Margarine is considered the best alternative to butter just due to its similar texture and flavour.


Oil is another substitute for butter in mac n cheese. Among oils, coconut is not a good choice of substitute because it has a different taste and flavour. Other options such as canola oil, vegetable oil can be good but a tricky alternative for butter in mac n cheese.

Vegetable oils and fats are an important part of our diet as they provide energy; fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids required for growth and development of the body. Oils and fats, apart from providing nutrition, are known to play functional roles during product preparation contributing to the palatability of processed foods (3).

While adding oil in your cheese containing the recipe, you must be careful because adding more oil can ruin the texture of cheese sauce than some other ingredients as the cream can also be added to just make the recipe right. 


Ghee is a substitute that is defined as clarified butter. It seems like a material that we get after simmering the butter at a low temperature and then straining it to emit water content. Using butter in mac n cheese in place of butter could be good in taste and flavour.

Clarified butter has some flavour related to nut enrichment that sharpens the taste of recipes. Ghee is not only a better option just due to the reason of good flavour while it is also a good choice for those people who are sensitive to dairy products because in the process when we clarify the butter then along with water, casein and lactose part of butter is also emitted. Clarified ghee contains not less than 99.5 % fat and is one of the most widely used milk products in numerous foods for various purposes. In fact, it is considered as the supreme cooking and frying medium (4).

Ghee is also one of the ingredients which last for a long time. Ghee is a shelf-stable ingredient that does not require any need for refrigeration and also it has no worries that it will go bad right away. However, ghee undergoes oxidative degradation during storage and the extent of degradation depends mainly on storage temperature (controlling factor for maintaining ghee state either in liquid or solid state), oxygen availability (in unpacked, packed, type of package etc.) and ghee condition (liquid or solid state). Oxidative deterioration degrades color, flavor, aroma and nutritive value of ghee affecting suitability for consumption and reducing shelf-life of the product (4).

Ghee is the best substitute for butter either we make it on our own or buy it from the stores.

Heavy cream

Butter is formed from heavy cream, so it can be a good alternative product of butter in mac n cheese. Heavy cream is a good choice to make a decadent and really rich sauce.

The cream is a concentrated emulsion of milk lipid globules in skimmed milk and is prepared commercially by centrifugal separation of the less-dense lipid phase from skimmed milk. The cream products could be classified according to the milk fat contents, such as heavy cream (>36%), light cream (18-30%) and half and half (>10.5%) in the United States (5).

Heavy cream is also termed as the best option because we can use it for making butter on our own. This is also a good option to synthesize butter at home that will give a pure homemade touch to our recipes along with hygienic conditions.

Cream cheese

Cream cheese is also one of the good alternative products for butter in mac n cheese. Cream cheese is considered good because it can give extra flavour and taste to recipes in place of butter. It can also be used with other ingredients in a less heavy option such as with oil it will give a texture enriched with creamy flavour.

A mild cream buttery flavor and slight dairy sour taste, total absence of bitterness, along with a creamy texture, and a consistency that varies from brittle to spreadable and with shiny appearance, characterizes this acid coagulated fresh cheese product. Standard cream cheese must include at least 33% milkfat and not exceed 55% moisture content, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, the allowed raw materials included milk, skim milk, cream, condensed milk or condensed skim milk or non-fat dry milk solids; added hydrocolloids were limited to not more than 0.5% (w/w) (6).

Cream cheese is a replacement for flavour or it can be added a little bit along with butter to give extra creamy nature. A little bit of the content of margarine or ghee should also be used to avoid the sticky nature of noodles or roux.

Dairy-free substitutes for butter 

Dairy-free substitutes can also be used in place of butter. These dairy-free options are good for those who avoid taking dairy products due to allergic reactions.

Plant-based milks essentially lack certain components normally associated with mammalian milk such as cholesterol, saturated fatty acids, antigens and lactose while on the same time being the good source of minerals, non allergic proteins, essential fatty acids etc., making it well suited to serve as dairy free alternative (7).

Other FAQs about Mac and Cheese that you may be interested in.

What can I substitute for milk in Kraft mac n cheese?

Can you eat expired Mac & Cheese?

Does kraft mac and cheese have pork in it?

Do you Cover Mac and Cheese When Baking


In this brief article, we have provided an answer to the question, “What can I substitute for butter in mac n cheese?” with an in-depth analysis of the possible substitutes for butter in mac n cheese, how we can use these substitutes in mac n cheese along with their nutritional contents and quantity to use.


  1. Xue, Huidan, et al. Spatial price transmission and price dynamics of global butter export market under economic shocks. Sustainab, 2021, 13, 9297.
  2. Van Duijn, Gerrit. Technical aspects of trans reduction in margarines. Oléagineux, corps gras, lipides, 2000, 7, 95-98.
  3. Chandran, Janu, et al. Oxidative stability, thermal stability and acceptability of coconut oil flavored with essential oils from black pepper and ginger. J food sci technol, 2017, 54, 144-152.
  4. Asha, A., et al. Antioxidant activities of orange peel extract in ghee (butter oil) stored at different storage temperatures. J food sci technol, 2015, 52, 8220-8227.
  5. Lee, Chia-Lin, et al. Standards and labeling of milk fat and spread products in different countries. J food drug anal, 2018, 26, 469-480.
  6. Pombo, Alan F. Wolfschoon. Cream cheese: Historical, manufacturing, and physico-chemical aspectsInt Dairy J, 2021, 117, 104948.
  7. Kundu, Preeti, JyotiKA DhANKhAr, and AShA ShArMA. Development of non dairy milk alternative using soymilk and almond milk. Curr Res Nutr Food Sci J, 2018, 6, 203-210.