Baking without oil can be a tricky journey to embark upon, no matter what your reasoning. Oil serves so many unique purposes in baking, and as we often say, baking is all about the ratios and purposes of each specific ingredient and making sure they work together in perfect harmony. That perfect harmony will create your perfect brownie, pastry, or loaf of bread, and without canola oil, it may seem like these things are not quite possible. In fact, that is entirely false--there are plenty of wonderful substitutes you can use in place of oil, and it depends on what you need your substitute to do. The good part is, we have brought together information on all of our favorite oil substitutes for baking, so you don’t have to do all that legwork and research yourself. So read on for all of the amazing substitutes for oil in your baked goods recipes!
Why Would You Want to Substitute Oil in the First Place?
There are a few reasons you may want to bake without using oil. Many people call oil the most calorically dense food on earth: it comes in at a whopping 4,000 calories per pound, as compared to something like an avocado, which has about 750 calories per pound. Now that may seem crazy, and of course you are never going to sit down and eat a pound of oil, but keeping foods calorically light is a good way to lose weight and maximize your calorie intake for the day.
Staying slim and eating efficiently is all about getting as many nutrients as you can in slightly fewer calories than the average person. Oil contains very little in the way of helpful nutrients--sometimes there are omega-3 fatty acids, and some substitute oils, like coconut oil, do have antioxidants and other properties, but for the most part, the nutrients you get from oil are fairly negligible. Some people stop using oil because they are eating a “whole” or “unprocessed” diet, and oil simply does not fit in this category. But maybe the most common reason for needing an oil substitute is even simpler than all of these--maybe you just ran out of oil and don’t have time to go to the store! No matter your reason for baking without oil today, you will find a surprising number of substitutes for almost any recipe!
Why Do We Need Oil?
It is important to understand an ingredient’s functionality in a recipe before we try to substitute it for something else. In baking especially, all the ingredients play a specific role in the whole recipe, so we need to understand what the oil is doing to ensure we replace it correctly. Probably the biggest function of oil in most baking recipes is to keep your product moist. It basically captures the gases that are released from the interaction of the baking powder and baking soda, and slows down gluten formation to keep certain baked goods tender and fluffy in texture! It also helps with binding your other ingredients together in the right way. So when substituting for oil, we should pay attention to how our alternate ingredients perform these two tasks.
Most commonly, you will see vegetable oil called for, but there has been a surge of alternative oils like coconut, grapeseed, avocado, and sunflower lately. However, we have made a list of substitutions for any of these oils, although we typically keep vegetable oil in mind as the standard.
Whether you’ve run out of oil in your house, or you are looking to eliminate oils from your diet, you shouldn't stop baking your favorite treats, pastries or breads. These are oil substitutes you can use when you are baking:
Canola oil is the most common choice used in most baked goods recipes, and this can be replaced one-for-one with a cup of applesauce. We love applesauce because it maintains a similar flavor to the original recipe, although it may have a more naturally sweet flavor to it! You can even add some skim milk to the applesauce to make it a little creamier. Applesauce is incredibly moist, and much lower calorically than oil.
Paula Dean and my southern Grandmother would definitely approve of this substitute. Butter is a favorite addition to almost any baked good to make sure you are getting fluffy, delicious end products. You will typically melt the butter before adding it to your recipe, and the taste may be even better than with oil. You could use margarine in the same way. The only downfall is that butter or margarine will probably be equal or even less healthy than oil would be--so if calories and fats are important to you, this may not be the best substitute. It is, however, something you most likely have right at home, so if you are in a pinch, butter is the way to go!
Fruit or Veggie Puree
Applesauce is basically just a fruit puree, so this should not come as much of a surprise to you. However, almost any fruit or veggie puree will serve as a great oil substitute. You could see this as a positive or negative, but the flavors will most likely show up in your recipe. So if you coordinate this well, it can actually give you an even better result! Think zucchini or banana bread, for instance, or try a raspberry puree in a chocolate cake--yum! On the veggie side, you should be a little pickier, but we love winter squash varieties and mashed sweet potatoes as a substitute for oil. Some veggies may also change the appearance of your end product, such as beets. These are a delicious oil substitute, but can change a lighter cake into a pink one--not so great if you are trying to be stealthy with your healthy substitutions! If you are working with colored veggies or fruits, try to keep the recipe on the darker side for the most discreet results.
There are quite a few dairy products that you can use in place of oil, and some of them may surprise you. We mentioned using some skim milk with your applesauce, but other good dairy substitutes include:
- Sour cream
- Greek yogurt
- Non-dairy milk options
Most of these have been known to substitute for each other in tons of different recipes, so it is no surprise that if one can be used as an oil substitute, they all can. Mayonnaise, the least likely of the bunch, actually gives the closest result to having used oil, and it retains the flavors of your cake or whatever baked good you are creating very well! Yogurt and sour cream also work in a pinch, but do change the flavor profile a tad. We like Greek yogurt as a substitute if health is your main priority--plus, yogurt adds natural probiotics! Buttermilk can also work as an oil substitute, but you should mix about three quarters of buttermilk with one quarter of melted butter before subbing it into your batter.
Cornstarch also works as an oil substitute when you are baking. Cornstarch will not add any real nutritional value, but you will get a similar product. Simply mix it with a little bit of water under heat until you get the consistency you want--err on the more watery side if you’re not sure. Then after it cools, it should be good to mix into your recipe! We do not recommend this substitute in baking recipes with high oil content, as it is prone to change the consistency of your batter.
How to Substitute for Oil
Some substitutions in recipes can get really finicky, but for the most part, these oil substitutions are pretty simple. Except for the buttermilk we mentioned, all of these substitutes can be added in one-for-one with the amount of oil the recipe calls for. So if you have a recipe that calls for 1/2 cup of oil, you can add in 1/2 cup of yogurt, for instance. You can also mix and match with oil, although we do not necessarily recommend mixing and matching with the substitutes. However, a little oil and a little applesauce will provide a healthier overall product without radically changing the taste or texture!
No matter what you are baking--brownies, cookies, muffins, cakes, etc.--you will feel great about finding a healthier, easier substitute for the oil, especially if it involves using up something extra you have in the fridge! Not all of these substitutions for oil will yield the same end results, so it is always fun to experiment and see what works the best for you! We dare you to try to trick your family--with how delicious these substitutes are, we doubt they will even notice that tomorrow night’s brownies are healthier than usual! Try a few and let us know in the comments below which of these oil substitutes is your favorite!