Unsalted Butter Substitutes: 12 Unbelievable Choices

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You can start your day with a flaky croissant for breakfast and a strong shot of bullet coffee.

Crispy fried chicken with biscuits and grilled vegetables for lunch.

Ribeye steak for dinner with a side of creamy mashed taters.

Then you end your day with a cold glass of milk.

And two (OK, maybe three) chocolate chip cookies.

All those meals are downright tasteless without one important ingredient.

Butter!

An Essential in the Pantry

Fats and oils are must-haves in the kitchen – this is an undeniable fact. Besides its benefits to our health, it has numerous functions in the food that we prepare, cook, and eat.

  • It gives our food that delectable golden-brown color and adds gloss to it.
  • This is vital to emulsions. Dressings, gravy, and sauces won’t exist without this.
  • Fats and oils absorb flavors, preserving these and allowing them to linger in the tongue.
  • Adding this is the most efficient way to transfer heat – that’s why we use these for sauteing and frying. This is also why that appetizing crust on our food forms.
  • This also causes food to melt or form.
  • It lends texture to food. It can tenderize meats, lubricates dry pastries, and makes sauces or iced treats creamy.

Last but not the least, fats and oils give you that satiated feeling.

These are digested longer compared to carbs and proteins so you won’t feel hungry soon.

Also, there’s that satisfaction you feel right after you eat anything fatty.

Especially if that’s butter.

There are many kinds of fats and oils.

Olive oil. Avocado oil. Sesame oil. They all make dishes delicious.

But butter, on its own, is delicious. And that’s unbeatable.

Salted, Unsalted, High Fat, Snacking, Cooking – Is There a Difference?

When you take a look at the cold section of the grocery, you’ll be awed at the wide selection made available.

There’s the spreadable type, clarified, organic, whipped, plant-based, Euro-style, flavored and so many more.

Each has an attribute that makes it special, distinct from the rest

The question in everyone’s minds is: does the difference matter?

The answer is YES, it does.

But the unvarnished truth is there are just two basics you should have in your pantry: Salted and Unsalted Butter.

What is the Better Option?

If you’re going to spread butter on your toast, go for the salted one. You need that saline-y contrast with the sweetness of your jam.

But if you’re going to cook with it, go for our featured ingredient.

Our featured ingredient is a milk product.

Because milk products tend to go bad faster, salt is used as a preservative.

This means that the salted variety has a longer shelf life – about three to four months.

This also means that the one which lacks salt is fresher.

Also, manufacturers don’t say how salty they made their products.

And because there is no ‘right’ level, you’ll find one to be brinier than the other.

It’s better baking with our featured ingredient because you can control the amount of salt called for in the recipe.

Although the taste wouldn’t be a whole lot different (baked goods usually require a couple of teaspoons or so of this seasoning), it’s better knowing that you added the right amount.

Also, some people shouldn’t have this at all due to medical reasons so it’s best to go for the no salt variant.

What If You Run Out of It?

Nothing can match what our featured ingredient can do to dishes, especially in baked confections.

However, when you require a substitute ASAP, any of the following can work nearly as well.

Go for Salted!

✓ as a spread, for cooking, for baking, for random life hacks

As mentioned earlier, it’s hard knowing how much sodium chloride certain brands have.

But if you have no fatal medical condition, this would work just as well.

Also, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got this in your kitchen compared to the other substitutes in this list.

How to Swap

If the recipe calls for a cup of our featured ingredient, use a cup of this as well.

Because these are practically the same, you can use it as it is, whipped, creamed, melted, and so on without tweaking the recipe too much.

Additional Info

If you’re conscious about your sodium chloride intake, give your butter a taste and make the necessary adjustment to the other ingredients.

Shortening

✓  for baking, for random life hacks

This is used in a lot of baked recipes, since the early 1900s even, because 1) it’s cheaper, 2) it has a longer shelf life, and 3) it has a super high-fat content resulting in flakier confections.

And in that regard, this would make for a suitable alternative.

How to Swap

It’s measure for measure or a 1:1 ratio.

Additional Info

Made from hydrogenated vegetable oils, this got a bad rap recently because of contains a whole lot of trans fat.

Lard

✓ for baking, for random life hacks

Shortening and lard are practically the same because of their form: solid in low temperatures and liquid in high temperatures.

The difference is that the former is extracted from vegetables while the latter comes from pure animal fat – usually, pork – and is richer, more flavorful.

Using this as an alternative gives the same results: scrumptious, flaky baked goodies.

How to Swap

The ratio is also 1:1.

Additional Info

Interestingly, this has lesser saturated fat than shortening, and our featured ingredient, ergo a healthier option, especially for frying.

Coconut Oil

✓ for baking and cooking, for random life hacks

Derived from coconut by pressing copra or dry meat (refined) and fresh meat (virgin), this is now considered a must-have not just in the kitchen but also in the medicine cabinet and the vanity.

This works as a fitting replacement for pie crusts as long as you solidify it in the fridge and make sure that your bowl, whisk, and other utensils are cold.

How to Swap

This follows the 1:1 ratio.

Additional Info

This has a very distinct flavor which may be too strong for certain recipes. But this will work in chocolatey or nutty recipes.

Vegetable Oil

for baking and cooking, for random life hacks

This term is a bit too comprehensive as there are many possible sources – almond, corn, flaxseed, etc – but this refers to soybeans, which is the most commonly used today.

If you haven’t used this for baking, you’re missing out on a lot.

This is what makes cakes creamy and moist because it remains liquid even when slightly cooled down.

How to Swap

For a cup of our featured ingredient, use ¾ cup of vegetable oil.

Additional Info

While this is perfect for cakes, this won’t work as a substitute for pie crusts.

Olive Oil

✓ as a spread or a dip, for baking and cooking, for random life hacks

The extra virgin variant of this food item is said to be the healthiest fat on earth.

Aside from cutting down the bad cholesterol in your diet, this is packed with antioxidants that protect our body at a cellular level.

How to Swap

If the recipe calls for a cup, use ¾ of this item.

Additional Info

Because of its strong flavor, this is best used in bread, biscuits, and savory meat pies. This won’t work in sweet treats.

Fats and oils aren’t the only suitable substitutes for unsalted butter. Here are other options which many don’t usually consider.

Buttermilk

✓ for baking and cooking

Strictly speaking, this is the thin low to the no-fat liquid left after you make butter from milk.

You can now buy this from the store as is or you can make your own at home by mixing fresh milk with a bit of lemon or vinegar.

This would work for most recipes except for pie crusts.

How to Swap

Use half a measure of this food item to replace the full measure of our featured ingredient.

Greek Yogurt

✓ as a spread (or a dip), for baking and cooking

An incredibly healthy snack, this is a suitable replacement because it is also a milk product that works almost the same way as buttermilk.

How to Swap

The right ratio is 1:1 but use this only if the recipe calls for just a cup. Because yogurt has more water content, it may change the consistency of your batter if you add more than a cup.

If you can’t abide by fats, oils, or any milk products (if you are lactose intolerant or a vegan), these following options may be the best alternatives.

Fruit Purees

✓ as a spread (or a dip), for baking

Butter is considered a liquid in dishes, even if you don’t melt it before mixing it in. These options will work as well because it keeps your final product moist.

How to Swap (for every cup of the featured ingredient)

Applesauce – ½ c
Avocado – 1 c
Pumpkin Puree – ¾ c
Prune Puree – ¾ c

Additional Info

Because most of these are a bit sweet already, you might want to lessen the sugar you’re adding.
Since fat is still needed, you could add a bit of vegetable oil to the mix as well.

Last Updated on July 22, 2021

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.