Butter is a popular spread and baking ingredient that some people nonetheless avoid for various reasons.
Still, you can enjoy foods in plenty of ways without the need for butter.
This article explores various ingredients that can be used as butter alternatives.
Why you may need to replace butter
There are a few reasons why you may need to find a substitute for butter in your diet.
While butter is very low in protein, it still contains a small amount of the milk protein casein, which 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.
People with lactose intolerance tend to tolerate 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.
Some individuals avoid butter because it’s high in saturated fat. High intake of saturated fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, though the evidence is mixed.
Some studies suggest that the saturated fats in butter may raise cholesterol more than the saturated fats in other dairy products like cream.
What’s more, since butter is high in fat, it’s high in calories. If you want to reduce your calorie intake, you may want to cut back on butter.
Others choose to limit their butter intake because it isn’t very nutritious when compared to its high number of calories per serving.
Summary: 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, it contributes to the flaky, moist texture of baked goods, as well as their rich and tasty flavor.
Without these properties, baked goods might be flat, dry, and flavorless.
Still, plenty of delicious butter alternatives can serve the same purposes in baking.
Summary: Butter functions as a leavening agent in baked goods and provides texture and flavor.
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 is a type of clarified butter with an aromatic and nutty taste. It contains virtually no casein or lactose and is thus a safer choice for people with milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
In baked goods for which a strong, buttery flavor is desirable, it can replace butter at a 1:1 ratio.
Substituting ghee for butter works best with items that are baked at high temperatures and served warm, such as bread and cookies.
However, as ghee provides more moisture than butter, you may need to alter the amount of liquid and flour in your recipes.
Coconut oil can replace butter in baking at a 1:1 ratio, though it may slightly change the flavor, with some types of coconut oil affecting taste more than others.
Unrefined coconut oil tends to taste more like coconut than refined varieties. 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.
In most recipes, olive oil can be substituted for butter at a 3:4 ratio by volume.
Suggested read: Is plant-based butter healthy? Nutrition and comparison
For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup (225 grams) of butter, you can replace it with a 3/4 cup (180 ml) 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.
Summary: 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 1:1 ratio.
However, many have a higher water content than butter, which may increase the moistness of baked goods.
To maintain the texture and mouthfeel of the original recipe, you may want to reduce the amounts 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 in others.
This is especially true when it comes to taste. Many butter substitutes have unique flavors that may or may not work depending on what flavor you’re looking for.
In general, the following foods work best as butter replacements in cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies, and quick bread:
- Applesauce. Applesauce significantly reduces the calorie and fat content of baked goods. Yet, it does add sweetness, so you may want to reduce the amount of sugar in recipes.
- Avocados. Avocados add nutrients and healthy fats to your recipes. Use dark 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. If dairy is not an issue, using Greek yogurt adds protein to your recipes and replaces sweetness with a tangy flavor. Full-fat yogurt is best for keeping baked goods creamy and tender.
- Nut butter. Nut butter infuses baked goods with a nutty taste and tends to make them more dense and heavy. Still, keep in mind that they’re high in fat and calories.
- Pumpkin purée. This is a nutrient-rich butter replacement. Use 3/4 the amount of pumpkin purée when substituting for butter.
Summary: Several foods make great butter substitutes. Some may change the flavor and consistency of baked goods, which is important to keep in mind when changing your recipes.
Substitutes for butter as a spread
Butter is widely used as a spread for bread, crackers, and other food items.
Suggested read: 7 healthy substitutes for lard
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 onto toast or crackers.
- Cheese. Try cottage cheese, cream cheese, or ricotta — if you can tolerate dairy.
- Avocado. Lightly spread a tablespoon or two of ripe avocado over toast
- Hummus. Hummus works great for spreading and dipping.
Summary: A variety of healthy foods can replace butter’s function as a spread for bread, crackers, and other food items.
Margarine — an unsuitable substitute
The most important ingredient to avoid when finding a butter substitute is margarine.
It’s highly processed and may include inflammatory trans fats.
As baked goods often aren’t healthy, to begin with, it’s important to keep the quality of the ingredients in mind when you treat yourself.
Additionally, margarine usually doesn’t provide much when it comes to flavor and texture.
Summary: To maintain the quality and flavor of baked goods, you should avoid using margarine as a butter alternative.
Plenty of delicious and healthy foods 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.