When it comes to food recipes, one of the most used ingredients is butter. Whether cooking, baking, or just simply as an added topping to your meal, butter has traditionally served as a food enhancer for thousands of years. However, in recent years, health concerns have driven consumers to seek comparable alternatives to butter. Though there are many substitutes for butter, it is important to remember that certain alternatives work better than others depending on the intended use. Whether you are baking, cooking, sautéeing, or simply using as a spread, the chosen butter alternative can make a world of difference.
Why Use Alternatives for Butter?
Few ingredients are more well-known and utilized within the sphere of food and baking than butter. However, for the 30 to 50 million Americans who are lactose intolerant, or even for those who are generally health conscious, butter has been a longtime foe. Butter is the dairy product that results as a separation from churning milk or cheese. It is essentially a highly concentrated form of fluid milk. Butter contains up to 80% butterfat and can be chilled and used as a solid, or melted and used as a liquid. Derived from animals, butter generally has higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and when consumed in high amounts, butter has been thought to increase levels of cholesterol. That being said, recent studies have alternately shown that certain types of butter (including grass-fed and Ghee) can be healthy alternatives to traditional butter. As with everything, moderation is key and the inner workings of a healthy diet. Although studies have been generally mixed concerning the respective health benefits and downsides of butter, many people remain interested in substitutes for butter.
Substitutes for Butter
When deciding to substitute an ingredient for butter, it's important to consider what you will be using it for. The most ideal butter substitutes vary based on the intended use and will yield much more satisfactory results when a proper substitute is used. For example, when baking breads, muffins, or cookies, butter can serve as a mechanism for retaining moisture or creating density. Alternatively, when butter is used for pie crust, it helps to create a much sought-after flaky crust. When used as a topping or a spread, butter is generally used to provide a creamy and rich flavor to our breads, pastries, and potatoes. Due to the unique and versatile nature of butter and its respective uses, it is always advisable to substitute with an alternative that can provide those same characteristics to the dish you're eating or serving. A good phrase to remember is that not all substitutes are created equal. While keeping that in mind, some of the most commonly used substitutes include coconut oil, coconut butter, olive oil, safflower oil, nut butter, applesauce, yogurt, and dairy free butter.
Coconut oil, olive oil, safflower oil, and coconut butter are some of the most used butter alternatives. Depending on temperature, coconut oil can be both a solid and a liquid. This versatility is exceedingly helpful depending on the intended use.
Coconut oil can add a different texture and flavor when used in place of butter. When baking with coconut oil, it is generally substituted for other fats on a 1:1 basis. If a recipe calls for ½ cup butter, you can use ½ cup coconut oil. When using coconut oil in place of butter for pie crusts, it is important to use solid, room temperature coconut oil to create a flakier crust. In addition to its versatility, coconut oil is packed full of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) instead of the average saturated fats.
Olive oil is another alternative to butter, touting around 120 calories per tablespoon, 14 grams of total fat, and 0 grams of cholesterol. In terms of conversion, ½ cup of butter can be replaced by ¼ cup and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Olive oil is generally best used when sautéeing, cooking, or as a dip and glaze for breads and pastries.
Safflower oil is another healthy butter alternative because it is low in saturated and trans fats. There are two types of safflower oil, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated safflower oil has a high smoking point, so you can use it in high-temperature recipes. Polyunsaturated safflower oil is more delicate and should be used to drizzle on salads and a spread or topping.
When it comes to baking, nut butters such as almond and peanut butter make great dairy butter alternatives. Due to their sweet and creamy consistencies, they can help retain moisture in batters and dough while decreasing the amount of added sugar needed. Chock full of healthy fats and nutritional value, almond butter is slowly becoming a preferred topping on breads, bagels, and pastries. Although almond and peanut butter have higher overall fat content than dairy butter does, the quality of the fats differ greatly. Unlike dairy butter, nut butter is mainly comprised of monounsaturated fats.
Applesauce is another great butter alternative when baking. Applesauce can be a healthy substitute for butter, touting 166 calories per cup and packed full of vitamins and nutrients. If sugar is a concern, there are options for unsweetened applesauce that will serve as a viable substitute as well. Applesauce can help work as a binding agent when baking and will create a slight change in taste and texture. Applesauce typically creates a sweet and soft texture in oil-based goods when substituted for butter. When using applesauce in place of butter, it is advisable to replace half of the amount of butter in the recipe with applesauce. When baking bread, you can use applesauce instead of butter to create a more dense and moist loaf.
Yogurt can be a great substitute for recipes if you are looking for a healthy, low fat, and low calorie replacement to butter. Greek yogurt can provide a rich and tangy flavor to baked goods, much like its counterpart, buttermilk, and with less overall fat and calories. When substituting yogurt for butter in baking recipes, it is best to follow a 1:1 ratio. If the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, you can replace it with 1 cup of yogurt. However, yogurt tends to increase the moisture content in a recipe, and as such, bakers suggest only using yogurt in place of recipes that call for 1 cup or less of butter. Greek yogurt is much denser and has a consistency closer to solid butter rather than melted. Therefore, when using Greek yogurt in bread or cake recipes, it will create a dense consistency. If the recipe is too dense, this can be remedied by adding more of other liquids the recipe calls for.
Dairy Free Alternatives
In recent years, many new dairy free companies have sprouted up to address the growing demand of consumers. Earth Balance®, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter®, and Miyoko’s Kitchen® are among some of the companies that provide a wealth of dairy free and butter-like alternatives. These companies have products that address health concerns (lactose intolerance, organic, non-GMO, low calorie, low fat) while maintaining a similar composition to the foods with which they aim to replace, including traditional butter. Earth Balance has two lines of buttery products, including a margarine-style spread and sticks of dairy free butter. The Earth Balance buttery sticks are comparable to traditional dairy butter in the composition, texture, and flavor.
Earth Balance buttery sticks are composed of natural oil, and have less saturated fat and no trans fats. They can be used interchangeably respective to the quantity of butter called for in a given recipe. Dairy alternative butter sticks can be used not only to bake cookies, pastries, and pies, but also to cook with and add as a topping to your meal. Margarine spreads like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter are another comparable dairy free alternative to butter. Unlike the previously mentioned sticks, the margarine alternatives are best used as a topping or spread. Due to the consistency and composition of margarine, it will not yield the same desired results when baking as butter would.
Though butter has been a long-time staple in many kitchens, a new era of butter alternatives has gained some steam. Butter alternatives can mimic the same effects that traditional butter can have in recipes, including enhancing flavor, creating a buttery density and consistency, and a helping to develop “flakiness.” Coconut oil, olive oil, and dairy free butter alternatives are all great options to replace traditional butter depending on the intended use. Whether you enjoy using a small amount or a Paula Dean-worthy quantity, butter alternatives can serve as a great substitute in any of your favorite recipes!