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Best Unsalted Butter Substitute

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

Butter is one of the most widely used components in any kitchen—it also happens to be one that runs out quickly! If you’re out of butter, you can substitute it for other solid fats, such as salted butter, shortening, or lard.

We’ll also go through unsalted butter substitutes for those with dairy allergies or food preferences, such as coconut oil and vegetable oil. When we go through each of these items, we’ll be sure to give you equivalent measurements for each substitute.

Unsalted butter
Unsalted butter

When it comes to finding an adequate substitute for unsalted butter, you have to factor in what type of food you’re making. For baking, more solid fats are preferable, whereas you can use any fat for stovetop cooking.

1. Salted Butter

Salted Butter is a healthy substitute for unsalted butter
Salted Butter

Although this may be cheating, salted butter truly is the best substitute for unsalted butter. People often don’t have unsalted butter in their homes, but they sometimes have salted butter. In a pinch, salted butter works just as well as unsalted.

If your recipe asks for a cup (8 ounces) of unsalted butter, substitute it for an equal amount of salted butter. Although the butter remains the same, you have to make changes to salt content. For every cup of salted butter, reduce the amount of salt in your recipe by 1/2 teaspoon.

Since you’re substituting butter for another form of butter, you don’t need to worry about whether it will affect the recipe. Whether you’re baking a pie or cooking a savory dish, the salted butter won’t change the flavor unless you forget to reduce the salt content. 

2. Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil is a good unsalted butter substitute
Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is among the best substitutes for unsalted butter. It’s vegan and dairy-free, meaning anyone can enjoy it. Coconut oil is also solid at room temperature, meaning it will feel like butter when you cook with it.

If your recipe asks for a cup (8 ounces) of unsalted butter, you’ll need to substitute it for 3/4 of a cup and two tablespoons of coconut oil (6.7 ounces). Some people add water or milk to give the coconut oil more moisture, like butter. To do so, add two tablespoons of milk or water to the above measurements.

More than any other product on this list, coconut oil will change the taste of the food you cook. Because of the change in taste, we recommend only using coconut oil to complement the original flavor. That includes muffins, cakes, brownies, cookies, and other dishes where coconut adds a pleasant flavor.

3. Vegetable Shortening

Vegetable Shortening
Vegetable Shortening

Vegetable shortening (and lard) is the premier unsalted butter substitute for baking.

Vegetable shortening is made from vegetable oil that’s gone through hydrogenation or the addition of hydrogen molecules to vegetable oil. By adding hydrogen, the oil becomes a solid at room temperature.

If your recipe calls for a cup of butter (8 ounces), you can substitute it for an equal amount of vegetable shortening. The best uses for vegetable shortening tend to be for baking.

Vegetable shortening is best for making pie crusts and pastry, but you can use it for anything because it doesn’t have a strong flavor.

Can’t find vegetable shortening as well? See recommended vegetable shortening substitutes.

4. Lard

Lard
Lard

Lard is a lot like shortening, except it uses animal fat instead of vegetable oil. Lard is usually made from pig fat that’s been rendered and cooled. The solid left-over is lard. The manufacturing process means lard is 100% animal fat.

If your recipe asks for a cup of unsalted butter (8 ounces), substitute it for 7/8 of a cup (7 ounces) of lard. Lard has less moisture than unsalted butter and more fat content, meaning you need less to get the same end-product. If your food doesn’t seem like the right consistency, add a tablespoon of water or milk.

Lard is versatile for cooking fat. In the past, it was the most popular cooking fat in the U.S.A., being used as a frying oil, baking fat, and so much more. You can still use lard for any cooking method, although it is most commonly used in pastry nowadays.

5. Vegetable Oil

Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil

Vegetable oil of any kind is a decent substitute for unsalted butter, but only in some circumstances. Since vegetable oil is a liquid, you shouldn’t use it as a substitute in baking. The liquid will change the consistency of your mixtures, changing the way it needs to be cooked.

If your recipe asks for a cup of butter (8 ounces), you’ll need to substitute it for 7/8 of a cup (7 ounces) of vegetable oil. The best time to substitute unsalted butter for vegetable oil is when you’re cooking dishes in a pan, such as in sauces or gravies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the most common questions we get asked about unsalted butter substitutes and their qualities.

What Are the Main Nutrition Facts of Each Substitute?

Since all of these substitute products for unsalted butter are fats, we’ll give you the fat content of each product, the cholesterol, calories, and salt content.

Unsalted Butter (3.5 ounces)
1. Calories: 717
2. Total Fat: 81 grams
3. Saturated Fat: 51 grams
4. Trans Fat: 3.3 grams (the legal maximum)
5. Cholesterol: 215 milligrams
6. Sodium: 11 milligrams

Salted Butter (3.5 ounces)
1. Calories: 717
2. Total Fat: 81 grams
3. Saturated Fat: 51 grams
4. Trans Fat: 3.3 grams (the legal maximum)
5. Cholesterol: 215 milligrams
6. Sodium: 576 milligrams

Coconut Oil (3.5 ounces)
1. Calories: 892
2. Total Fat: 99 grams
3. Saturated Fat: 82 grams
4.Trans Fat: 0 grams
5. Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
6. Sodium: 0 milligrams

Vegetable Shortening (3.5 ounces)
1. Calories: 884
2. Total Fat: 100 grams
3. Saturated Fat: 20 grams
4. Trans Fat: 13 grams
5. Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
6. Sodium: 0 milligrams

Lard (3.5 ounces)
1. Calories: 902
2. Total Fat: 100 grams
3. Saturated Fat: 39 grams
4. Trans Fat: 0 grams
5. Cholesterol: 95 milligrams
6. Sodium: 0 milligrams

Vegetable Oil (3.5 ounces)
1. Calories: 884
2. Total Fat: 100 grams
3. Saturated Fat: 12.6 grams
4. Trans Fat: 0 grams
5. Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
6. Sodium: 0 milligrams

Why is There Salted and Unsalted Butter?

Butter normally comes in two varieties—salted and unsalted. Most people purchase salted butter for toppings, such as on toast or as a cooking oil. The salt the manufacturers add during production helps strain more water out of the butter. This makes the butter have less water and more dairy products. The salt also acts as a preservative.

Unsalted butter doesn’t have nearly as much salt added to it during production, so the water present during manufacturing stays in the butter. Bakers prefer unsalted butter because they can more precisely measure the amount of butter to use.

Why Wasn’t Margarine Included on this List?

Although margarine is a solid substitute for butter in some circumstances, it has limited uses. Margarine is great for grilled cheese sandwiches, creating a non-stick surface, or even in some cookies. But it’s limited aside from these niche uses.

That’s why we suggested using other alternatives, such as lard or coconut oil. Depending on the recipe you want to make, one of the other fats will do a better job than margarine at mimicking the flavor and texture created by butter.

Why is Vegetable Oil Bad for Baked Goods?

Non-pastry baked goods that require butter all use the same method to achieve a heavenly texture—creaming. Creaming the butter and sugars together creates a uniform mixture that will spread the ingredients evenly throughout your baked goods.

If you use liquid oil, it can be difficult or impossible to cream the oil and sugars together evenly. If you try, you’ll either end up over-mixing to get all the ingredients together or you’ll under-mix, meaning your baked goods won’t look or taste as good.

That’s why we suggested you use either coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or lard as a substitute for unsalted butter in your baked goods. These fats are solid at room temperature, which makes creaming your sugar much easier.

Are There Any “Healthy” Butter Substitutes?

Butter, like most fats, is not healthy in large quantities. Small portions in line with daily intake requirements are doubtful to affect your health negatively. But, if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to butter, you have some options.

Olive oil is among the healthiest options of any oil. With its savory flavor, olive oil isn’t the best choice for all cooking applications, though.

For baking, we suggest using coconut oil, as it has a good balance of healthy fats and other nutrients while also being a solid that works well for baked goods.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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