Butter is one of the oldest cooking fats and is also a popular spread for bread. It is essential for the flavors and textures of many traditional breads and pastries; however, there are reasons to opt for an alternative including the fact that butter may not be the healthiest food option. Here are some of the best butter substitutes:
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Your best bet: Olive oil
Olive oil is arguably the healthiest substitute for butter and can be used in most recipes that require butter in its liquid state. Olive oil is also a relatively common and affordable ingredient that you can find in most grocery stores.
Because it is extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, olive oil is entirely vegan, unlike butter which comes from cow’s milk. When you replace butter with olive oil, note that you can’t use it as a 1:1 substitute. Instead, use 3/4 cup of olive oil for every cup of butter that your recipe requires. By replacing butter with olive oil, you immediately cut the saturated fat in a recipe and add a significant amount of antioxidants.
Another way that olive oil can improve on butter is in the area of its smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which oil starts to smoke and to release acrolein and other harmful compounds. Butter has a low smoke point of 302 degrees Fahrenheit (150 °C). Extra virgin olive oil is also notorious for its low smoke point, but it can be heated to 374 degrees. Refined olive oils can be heated up to 470 degrees Fahrenheit (243.33 °C).
Olive oil might not be as good a substitute in recipes that require butter in its solid form. For example, you won’t get the same results if you attempt to cream it with sugar. Olive oil’s flavor is also somewhat different from that of butter, which may affect some recipes.
A decent second choice: Ghee
Because ghee is a clarified butter — butter with the milk solids removed — it is one of the best butter substitutes available. It is a more refined version of butter with a similar flavor profile and nutritional value. If you are lactose intolerant, ghee might be a better option than butter since it won’t have as much dairy protein.
Because much of its moisture has been removed, ghee is more shelf-stable than butter. The moisture is what causes bacteria growth. Ghee’s ultra-high smoke point (482 degrees) makes it one of the better oils for high-temperature frying. Ghee can also work as a butter substitute in some baking recipes.
Downsides of ghee include the fact that it is still a specialty product in many parts of the world, which means that you won’t be able to find it everywhere. When you can find it, it is likely to be somewhat expensive.
In a pinch: Margarine
Because it was formulated to replace butter, margarine is in some ways the best butter alternative. It looks like butter and can taste a lot like butter but is not butter. Margarine can work as a spread on toast and as a butter replacement in many pastries and cakes.
Old-fashioned margarines replaced butter’s saturated fat with trans fat, making them worse for health than butter. Some new varieties lack trans-fat but are still high in calories.
Shortening is another fat commonly used in baking and which can also be used for frying. Shortening has a higher smoke point than butter. Vegetable shortening is made from plant sources and is therefore free of animal products, which will be important if you are looking for a vegan butter substitute.