What can I use instead of butter?

This brief guide will answer the question “ What can I use instead of butter?” while briefly explaining the uses of butter and diving deeper into what can be substituted for it. 

What can I use instead of butter?

Sometimes people search for alternatives for butter for various reasons. Some of them include lactose intolerance, milk allergies or for vegans, who choose not to have dairy products.

In the US, 75% of people with lactose intolerance avoid dairy with over half of them worrying about the long-term risks to their health due to this dietary restriction. Dairy avoiders have different reasons to avoid it; in a survey in the US, 61% of respondents indicated an avoidance of dairy for intolerance or allergy/sensitivity, while the remainder avoided dairy for other reasons (1).

 Fortunately, butter has many substitutes in both cooking and baking and most of these are healthy options that can be found in your kitchen. Some of its popular alternatives include: 

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Ghee
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Avocado
  • Mashed bananas
  • applesauce

What is butter and its uses?

Butter is a staple in almost all households. It is a versatile ingredient as it is used in baking, cooking and even as is ( for example as spreads on sandwiches). Butter is made from the churning of milk or cream to separate the fat from the buttermilk. Butter is rich in vitamins d and fats but is a high-calorie food so should be eaten in moderate quantities.

Butter is used in baking to provide texture, structure and volume to the dish. Cold butter is used in the making of the delicate layers in puff pastry as well. Butter is also used often for high-heat cooking such as in sauteing and pan-frying. This not only adds a kick of flavour but also prevents the food from sticking to the utensil.

Additionally, butter is spread on sandwiches and burger buns for flavour and moisture. They are used in a variety of Indian street food as well and used as a garnish on top of curries and sides for a delicious buttery delight. 

There are two completely different methods for manufacturing butter. These are the churning method and the emulsification method. In the churning method, crystallization of the fat takes place in cream, followed by a phase inversion in which the oil-in-water emulsion of the cream is turned into a water in oil emulsion by strong mechanical treatment. The fat content is then concentrated by draining off the buttermilk. The butter is finally plasticized by mechanical working. In the emulsification method, the aforesaid first three sub processes are carried out in reverse order. First, the fat emulsion is concentrated to a fat content corresponding to the composition of the final product, then a phase inversion is carried out followed by crystallization, and finally a coherent fat mass is formed and plasticized (2).

What are some substitutes for butter in cooking?

1. Olive oil

Olive oil is a popular and healthy substitute for sauteing vegetables and meat. It contains fewer calories and is healthier as it is a monounsaturated fat unlike the saturated fat in butter. Monounsaturated fats come with a hoard of health benefits that include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, it does not carry the same flavour that cooking with butter does. 

Olive oil is used widely in Meditteranean cuisines. It should, however, be used less in amount than butter when used for cooking. Olive oil is not a good substitute for butter in baking as it does not result in the same texture and also cannot be used in instances where the fat needs to be in solid form, for example in frothing and beating with sugar and eggs. 

In a study, olive oil was used in the place of margarine for cake baking. The substitution of margarine by extra virgin olive oil increased batter density of cakes suggesting that less air was incorporated into the batter. This increase in density with extra virgin olive oil addition could be attributed to inferior ability of the extra virgin olive oil containing batter to entrap air in comparison to margarine containing batter. In addition , cakes prepared with extra virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil/margarine mixture showed higher hardness (3).

2. Coconut oil

Coconut oil, made from dried coconut flesh, can be used in a 1:1 ratio in cooking. It does, however, result in a different taste and can clash with the other flavours depending on the dish. It is a good substitute for sauteing and pan-frying.

Unlike olive oil, coconut oil is also an effective alternative for butter in baking, but do consider the amount of it in the recipe as it can result in a different taste. However, you can use more refined coconut oil to reduce the coconut taste. 

Coconut ghee, or creamed coconut, a spread made of coconut kernel, is an alternative to both butter and margarine. It is known as “vegetarian butter”, thus it is produced from the unsweetened dehydrated fresh pulp of a mature coconut, ground to a semi-solid white creamy paste. Coconut oil has many health benefits due to its lower cholesterol content and rapid digestibility due to being made up of mainly medium chain fatty acids (4).

3. Ghee

Ghee is clarified butter that is used popularly in Indian cooking. It adds an aromatic and nutty flavour that beautifully enhances the flavour of the dish. It does, however, have a higher moisture content than butter. Despite being made from a dairy product it contains virtually no lactose.

It is an excellent substitute for butter in baking as well; especially those baked goods that are cooked at higher temperatures, such as bread and cookies. It can be substituted for butter in an equal ratio.

Ghee is a product exclusively obtained from milk, cream or butter from various animal species by means of processes which result in the almost total removal of moisture and solids-not-fat and which gives the product a particular physical structure. A major portion of ghee is utilized for culinary purposes, e.g., as a dressing for various foods and for cooking and frying of different foods (5).   

What can I substitute for butter in baking?

1.  Greek yoghurt

This is a high protein substitute that is fewer in calories and therefore healthier. It is a great alternative to butter as it adds moisture and texture to the baked good. It may also add a tanginess to the dish that can be quite enjoyable depending on what it is being used for. 

It is important to use full-fat yoghurt rather than fat-free options as the full-fat yoghurt adds moisture and tenderness while the fat-free ones can result in a dry, crumbly texture. Remember that this option contains lactose.

Traditionally, it was made in Greece by straining whey from yogurt in a pouch of cloth. The popularity of Greek yogurt is attributed to the healthy appeal of the high protein content (2–2.5 times that of regular yogurt). For commercial purposes, natural straining has been replaced by the use of centrifugation and filtration (6).

2.  Avocado

Mashed avocados are an excellent substitute for butter in baking as it is highly nutritious and also has healthy, unsaturated fats unlike the ones in butter. It can result in a green tint in the recipe though.

One cup of mashed avocados can be replaced with one cup of butter. It can also be used as a delicious spread on bread and toast.

Studies have shown the feasibility of avocado puree as a fat replacer in oatmeal cookies and butter cake at up to 50% avocado substitution for butter (7).

3.  Mashed bananas

Mashed bananas are a great, healthy alternative as they contain a variety of nutrients and no added fat and overall is much lower in calories. It does, however, have added sweetness and a strong banana flavour (depending on how much is used).

Banana has been used for replacing fat in baked food products for its high starch content (8).

4.  Applesauce

Applesauce is pureed cooked apples. This vegan alternative also cuts calories and fat content and adds nutritional value to the recipe. Applesauce is naturally sweet, however, so must be accounted for by reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe. 

It can be replaced by butter in a 1:1 ratio. It can be used in cakes, cupcakes, muffins and quick bread.

 A study showed that applesauce can be a successful substitute of fat in chocolate chip cookies. Replacing butter with applesauce improves the nutritional value of chocolate chip cookies (9).

Other FAQs about Butter that you may be interested in.

Can you use butter instead of margarine?

Can you eat cannabutter on toast?

What can I substitute for unsalted butter?

Conclusion

In this article, we saw the different uses of butter and all the possible alternatives in both cooking and baking. When considering each alternative, keep in mind the sweetness and the change in flavour that it might result in.

Citations

  1. Dekker, Peter JT, Damiet Koenders, and Maaike J. Bruins. Lactose-free dairy products: market developments, production, nutrition and health benefits. Nutrients, 2019, 11, 551.
  2. Deosarkar, S. S., C. D. Khedkar, and S. D. Kalyankar. Butter: manufacture. 2016, 529-534. 
  3. Matsakidou, Anthia, Georgios Blekas, and Adamantini Paraskevopoulou. Aroma and physical characteristics of cakes prepared by replacing margarine with extra virgin olive oil. LWT-Food Sci Technol, 2010, 43, 949-957.
  4. Kumarasinghe, I. L. W., et al. Development of an Edible Spread Base Using Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) Kernel Derivatives. 2013.
  5. Sserunjogi, Mohammed L., Roger K. Abrahamsen, and Judith Narvhus. A review paper: current knowledge of ghee and related products. Int Dairy J, 1998, 8, 677-688.
  6. Chandan, Ramesh C., Akanksha Gandhi, and Nagendra P. Shah. Yogurt: Historical background, health benefits, and global trade. Yogurt in health and disease prevention. Academic Press, 2017. 3-29.
  7. Othman, Nurul Ain, et al. Influence of avocado puree as a fat replacer on nutritional, fatty acid, and organoleptic properties of low-fat muffins. J Am Coll Nutr, 2018, 37, 583-588.
  8. Colla, Kathryn, Andrew Costanzo, and Shirani Gamlath. Fat replacers in baked food products. Foods, 2018, 7, 192.
  9. Hayek, Saeed A., and Salam A. Ibrahim. Consumer acceptability of chocolate chip cookies using applesauce as a fat (butter) substitute. Emir J Food Agri, 2013, 159-168.