Can I Substitute Oil for Butter?

By: Bob's Red Mill | January 12 2018
Have you ever run out of an ingredient right in the middle of the recipe? Especially when it is too late to go back because most of your ingredients are already measured and mixed up? This happened to me the other day! I was baking some cookies for senior citizens for the holidays, and right in the middle of the recipe, I realized I had forgotten to buy any butter. Luckily, in my case, my friend was on her way over and grabbed some, but this inspired me to explore the ways in which butter can be substituted in various types of recipes. The short answer is that depending on the recipe, you can typically substitute about three-quarters of the amount of butter that is called for in the recipe. If you want to know more about how best to substitute oil for butter in your recipes, keep reading to learn which recipes you should and shouldn’t substitute oil for butter, and why oil might be best for certain health purposes!

What Purpose Does Butter Serve?

We always ask this question when considering substituting ingredients for other ingredients. The key to successful substitutions, especially in baking, is to ensure that the new ingredients serve the same purpose as the ones that the recipe actually calls for--and does not serve any additional, unwanted purposes. Butter and oil both serve to add moisture to recipes, keep ingredients from sticking to each other (or the pan), and contribute to a baked good’s end texture. Though they have these things in common, butter and oil are different, so they go about each purpose differently. Butter owes its name to its particular fatty acid, known as butyric acid. This is one of the fatty acids that predominantly contributes to the texture and mouthfeel of your recipe differently than oils. The amount that a pastry will rise is typically proportional to the amount of solid fat in it, so the butter can help determine the levity of the end product. Butter also melts very evenly and helps absorb flavors around it, so this can help with the even distribution of various flavors in your recipe. Not to mention, butter has a delicious taste to it and can add that nice flavor to any recipe that uses it. When trying to substitute a cup of oil for a cup of butter, it is important to pay attention to which of these attributes oil can also provide, as well as which ones you may not be able to get from oil. Sometimes you can make up for missing links in other ways, or you may just need to use a different butter substitute in some recipes.

Why Substitute Butter?

Well, you may be asking, if butter is so delicious, why on earth would you want to sub it out for something else? Especially oil! This is actually a really easy answer, and there are a couple of main reasons you may want to substitute something else for butter (even if it is not oil). One big reason lately is dietary restrictions. Vegans choose not to eat butter, as it is an animal byproduct, although vegetarians typically do still eat butter, as many consider milking cows to be more humane than eating beef. Lactose intolerant people will also want to avoid butter, for obvious reasons, but oil would be fine for these people. For vegans, most oils will be okay, but it is important to pay attention to how they are made. Some popular diets these days, such as the keto, Whole 30, or paleo diet also restrict the consumption of dairy products so butter would be out for those people as well. Some oils are allowed on these diets, but it will depend on the exact type, so make sure you check your specific restrictions and allowances before substituting! Or, as in my case with the cookies, you may simply be out of butter or margarine and not know where to go in order to complete your dish. No matter what your reason for substituting butter, oil is a really popular substitute in most recipes, so you will definitely be able to try it in some of your favorites!

Differences Between Butter and Oil

The differences between butter and oil are what make this substitution possible, but they are also what makes it a little tricky. For one, butter has ton of tiny air bubbles that help it keep its shape, whereas oil is a more compact liquid. If you can imagine the difference between mixing or heating butter or oil, then this will make more sense: you can mix butter to become a creamy substance, whereas oil is tougher to change from its original state, and heat simply vaporizes it in many cases. These two ingredients also taste different--your oils will likely taste similar to what they were made from, whereas butter has a specifically savory taste that we all know and love. This makes butter ideal for pies and crusts, where the butter flavor adds to the rest of the ingredients’ flavor profiles. On the other hand, oil is more ideal for moist, tender recipes like thick cakes, and can be used to complement different flavor profiles, like with coconut oil!

Best Ways to Substitute Oil for Butter

If your recipe calls for melted butter alone, then you have a better chance of similar results with an oil substitution. The melted butter and oil are both liquid fats so they will react similarly in the recipes. Baked goods like quick bread and muffins are two recipes where substituting oil is a good idea, and will produce very similar results to the original recipe. In savory dishes, like sauteed veggies or meats, switching out butter for some olive oil is almost always a good idea for a more heart-friendly alternative. The olive oil will treat these foods in the same way, although oils cooked this way can have a strong flavor. Olive oil is nice for veggies and meat, but you could also use coconut oil or sesame oil to add unique flavors to your meal. As a nonstick device, vegetable oil is a common swap and works just as well. You can find this in easy spray cans in the baking aisle of your local grocery store! One of our favorite and simplest substitutes is just using olive oil to brush bread instead of butter. Oil still gives bread that shiny appearance, and when baked, that delicious crunch. Just brush it on with a knife and bake for a few minutes before serving up your bread.

When Not to Substitute Oil for Butter

There are some recipes where oil will work similarly to butter, but somewhere this sub is not the best idea. Do not substitute butter for oil when the recipe calls for creaming the butter with sugar. Oil will definitely not be a great sub in this case, as it does not carry the air bubbles needed for creating a nice, creamy texture.

How to Substitute Oil for Butter

Okay, now that we know when to sub in oil for butter, we should talk about how to substitute the oil correctly. No one wants to end up with an oily cake or bone-dry meats, so the right balance is important as in any cooking swap. There is not really a hard and fast rule to the right amount of oil to replace butter, but you can typically use about three-quarters of the amount of butter that is called for in the recipe. For instance, if the recipe calls for 10 tablespoons of butter, you can use about 7 1/2 tablespoons of oil. You can use a little more vegetable oil than you would olive oil, depending on which type of oil you prefer. Pay attention to how your dough or batter normally looks, so that you can determine if your substitution was successful or not.

Health Reasons and Concerns for Substituting Oil for Butter

No matter what your reasoning for giving up butter, most experts agree that eating less of it is a good decision for your heart and overall body health. Oils are not danger-proof themselves, however, and have their own risks. Vegetable oils have been linked to cancer-causing chemicals in some studies, and some people even believe that olive oil can be bad for you, although there are no conclusive studies to that effect in circulation. Coconut oil is good for you in many ways but has been mildly linked to the possibility of furthering high cholesterol in some consumers. We always recommend everything in moderation for the best results! If you do not have moral or health reasons for not eating any butter, a little can go a long way. Vegans, paleo-dieters and lactose intolerant folks make up a huge percentage of the population, not to mention those who are trying to cut out saturated fats from their diet for other reasons. Though oil is not the only substitute for butter in cooking, it is a common one and a simple one to make. Try this simple swap out in your favorite cake, quick bread, and muffin recipes to see how it compares to the original recipe--bonus points if you try a few different oils and see which flavors work best!

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  1. Liz
    Love your company, the products. ideas. recipes every thing . I just made some Ethopian bread injira from the Teff flour. liz
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Thank you for trust us with your health, Liz!
  2. Gluten free baker
    Gluten free baker
    Very helpful article on oil/butter substitutions and *why*. Thank you! (And I didn't know you had teff flour--I learned ALL kinds of things on this post! I could use some injera too--maybe my next baking adventure?!)
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Yay! We're so happy you found this useful. Enjoy the injera too!
  3. joy ann sullano
    joy ann sullano
    thanks guisss
  4. Sweet
    This is very helpful.. Thank you so much. I love it and i can't wait to try this amazing trick..
  5. Betsy Kurtz
    I am casein intolerant. Casein is one of several proteins found in milk products, whey being the best known. Lactose is a sugar found in milk products. Those of us with casein intolerance are also unable to digest butter, unless the milk solids are removed, as is the case with ghee. So consider this intolerance when explaining why some cooks prefer, or even need, to replace butter with more easily digested ingredients.
  6. Seiichi Yamaguchi
    Seiichi Yamaguchi
    Can i substitute oil for butter in my recipe for brownies? It says 1 cup butter, to be melted with chocolate chips! Thank you.
    1. Whitney Barnes
      It depends on the other ingredients in your recipe, but in theory that should work just fine as a substitution :)
  7. Mary T.
    For melted butter in brownies, pumpkin baked goods, and other appropriate flavor profiles, I have substituted walnut or hazelnut oils... delicious!
  8. Tiana
    Thanks for this useful guide. Just one note: butter contains very very small amounts of lactose so it’s generally very safe for those that are lactose intolerant. Lactose is a type of sugar found in dairy so dairy items without sugar or carbs are generally safe.
  9. Vicki
    We are in lockdown due to Covid-19 and I have run out of butter to make cookies. Will try vegetable oil. Thank you & love your products.
  10. Patty
    Me too! I’m rationing the butter I have left while trying to find cake recipes that use oil. Maybe vegan recipes will help. Good luck to you!
  11. Christina
    Thank you for a very helpful article! I especially appreciate the advice about not replacing butter when the recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar. (And as a long-time consumer of LOTS of Bob's products, thank you for continuing to produce high-quality products that never disappoint!)
  12. Jim
    I’m making date bars, could I you oil instead of butter
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Jim - that really depends on what recipe you're using. You can email our Customer Service team the recipe and they'd be happy to help.
  13. Hafsa Dewan
    Actually, I was trying to make donuts where it is said to warm butter with milk in microwave, can I use oil instead of Butter in this recipe??
  14. zzz
    I'm trying to make pie filling, is it good to use oil as a substitute for half a cup of butter? My pie filling is sugar cream, and I don't really know if it will affect it's taste. Thanks!
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi - In that case I would recommend sticking with butter. Oil is liquid at room temperature whereas butter is solid and this may affect the final texture of the pie.
  15. Brian Lee Schroeder
    Brian Lee Schroeder
    I came across Bob's red Mill products and my grocery store just tried them on a whim and I've never been more impressed with any product I've ever tried from the same company than with you guys and this article was perfect for what I needed the substitutions for you guys are just awesome thank you so much!
  16. Nandagopal Balram
    Nandagopal Balram
    Hi! In a condensed milk cake recipe, my friend and me argued about using olive pomace over butter. I dislike creamy and buttery tastes in foodstuffs, and argued that it would taste like that. The recipe calls for canola oil, but I want to use olive pomace oil because it is similar. Please help!
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi! If you normally use olive pomace oil in your kitchen, you can certainly use it in a cake recipe that calls for canola oil. They are both relatively flavorless and are extracted using the same method.
  17. Judith Iserloth
    Thank you for your clear instructions. I didn't have butter, and substituted Veg. Oil. It's so very helpful when a company takes the times to help its customers in this way. Very satisfied :)

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