Butter substitutes can be just as delicious as the real thing. Butter, one of the most frequently used baking ingredients, can be replaced with a variety of dairy-free and pantry-staple butter replacements. Try one of our many substitutes for unsalted butter and salted butter, plus healthy butter substitutes that reduce calories and fat in your favorite recipes.

By Karla Walsh
Updated July 17, 2020
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Wondering “What is a substitute for butter”? The truth is there are many butter replacements that work just as well (yes, really) as the sticks themselves. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the benefits of butter and why we call for it in so many recipes. Butter lends moisture and enhances flavor. It can also help thicken certain dishes or create a flaky texture in creations like biscuits, piecrusts, cakes, and more. But what if you run short, want a lower-calorie option, or don’t do dairy? That’s exactly why we’re sharing our Test Kitchen’s best butter substitutes for baking and beyond, plus explaining how to make the swap so no one will notice the difference.

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sticks of butter on counter top
Credit: Scott Little

Substitutes for Unsalted Butter

If you find your fridge empty in the butter department or can’t tolerate dairy, you can swap it completely with these butter replacements. For 1 cup unsalted butter, substitute 1 cup shortening, ⅞ cup (that's 14 Tbsp. or ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp.) vegetable oil, or ⅞ cup lard.

Substitutes for Salted Butter

Salted butter differs from unsalted because it’s preseasoned with (you guessed it) salt. So for 1 cup of salted butter, trade 1 cup margarine or 1 cup shortening plus ½ teaspoon salt; ⅞ cup vegetable oil plus ½ teaspoon salt; or ⅞ cup lard plus ½ teaspoon salt. (By the way, here’s the final answer on whether you can skip salt in a recipe if you use salted butter.)

The Worst and Best Butter Substitutes for Baking

To avoid dense, soggy, or flat baked goods, do not substitute oil for butter or shortening. Also do not substitute diet, whipped, or tub-style margarine for regular margarine. Doing so will significantly alter the texture of your treats and will likely lead to cookies that spread all over the baking pan. (Been there, done that, and mourned a few chocolate chip cookies in the process …)

That being said, if the reason you’re asking, “What is a substitute for butter?” is to lower the calorie count of your recipe or to offer healthier fats, try one of these plant-based butter replacements that do work well for baked goods. While the butter replacements below don’t work to replace all of the butter in your ingredients list, they can stand in for some if you’re running short or prefer to use alternative fat sources.

  1. Pureed Prunes. For half of the called-for butter, substitute baby food prunes ($1, Target). In other words, if your recipe calls for a stick of butter, use 4 Tbsp. butter and 4 Tbsp. (aka ½ cup) of this healthy butter replacement. Cup for cup, prunes have about 85% fewer calories than butter. Using prunes to replace half the butter cuts cholesterol (since cholesterol is found only in animal products), sodium, fat, and saturated fat. One cup of prunes has about 6 grams of fiber, whereas butter has no fiber. Prunes add natural sugars and healthy, energy-boosting carbohydrates.
  2. Mashed Tofu. For half of the called-for butter, substitute mashed tofu. Ounce per ounce, tofu has about 90% fewer calories and 88% less fat than butter. Using tofu to replace half the butter reduces calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium by about half.
  3. Pureed Beans. For half of the called-for butter, substitute pureed beans (like cannellini, black beans, lentils). When estimating how much to use for your recipe, 1 cup of rinsed and drained canned beans is equal to ¾ cup mashed beans as a butter replacement. Cup for cup, beans have 84% fewer calories, 98%(!) less fat, and 70% less sodium than salted butter. Replacing half the butter with beans reduces calories, fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat. One cup of beans has about 12 grams of fiber plus folate and iron, whereas butter has none.
  4. Nonstick Spray. When baking or sautéing, a good butter substitute for 1 Tbsp. of butter to coat a pan is a ⅓-second spray of nonstick cooking spray. Using cooking spray omits virtually all added fat for cooking things like stir-fries or skillet-cooked vegetables. Just be sure to make it speedy: Adding more than one serving (a ⅓-second spray) will start adding fat since the sprays are made from oils. For example, three servings (a 1-second spray) have about 1 gram of fat.
  5. Flaxseed Meal. For one-quarter of the called-for butter, substitute flaxseed meal ($3, Target). Flaxseed reduces calories added by salted butter by 90% and fat by 93%. It also omits cholesterol and virtually all saturated fat and sodium. Plus, this butter replacement has nearly twice the amount of calcium of butter plus 8 grams of fiber. However, flaxseed meal will increase carbohydrates, a good thing to keep in mind if you’re a keto diet devotee.
  6. Unsweetened Applesauce. A great substitute for unsalted butter in baked goods is another fruit. One of our fall favorites, in fact. For half of the called-for butter, substitute unsweetened applesauce. Unsweetened applesauce has about 94% fewer calories and 99% less fat than butter. It has 0 grams cholesterol and saturated fat, plus 98% less sodium than salted butter. As an added gut-healthy bonus, applesauce offers 3 grams fiber per cup. While using applesauce to replace half the butter reduces calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, it will increase carbohydrates. (A similar and also solid butter substitute for baking is canned pumpkin.)
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Now that you have several suitable butter replacement ideas for sweet and savory recipes, you’ll be prepared to tackle any culinary adventures ahead.

Comments (2)

March 29, 2020
If you ran out of butter chances are you don’t have most of the items in this list.
October 8, 2018
Nice. Why do all the other sites assume I must be on a diet, just because I ran out if butter? BTW, some people use avocado or mashed banana.