Butter is a common sight in many a kitchen around the world, whether it be salted butter or unsalted butter. Whether making sandwiches, doing a fry up or when baking, many people use butter every day. However, with how much butter gets used, it’s very easy to be caught short when you need it for a big bake. As such, knowing the perfect unsalted butter substitute is vital to keep your bake going smoothly.

 

What is Unsalted Butter Used For In Baking?

Unsalted butter is an incredibly versatile ingredient, especially so within the context of baking. As a result of this versatility, finding a one to one replacement for unsalted butter can be quite tricky to do. The uses for unsalted butter in baking include the following:

 

Tenderising Flour

When unsalted butter is mixed with flour, the fat within the unsalted butter will tenderise the flour. As a result, the resulting bake will be less dense. Instead, it will result in a light and fluffy texture with a soft crumb texture.

 

Flavour Enhancement

Unsalted butter is formed from an emulsion of approximately 80% fat and 20% water. This combination will naturally enhance the flavouring of the other ingredients present in the butter a bake. As a result of this unsalted butter is often considered one of the worlds first flavour enhancers for baked recipes.

 

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Lubrication

Due to how easily unsalted butter melts under heat, it makes for a natural lubricant in the creation of baked goods. During baking, this lubrication prevents the flour and eggs from bonding together and becoming dense. This not only makes the final product softer and lighter but also gives you bake a pleasant moistness. Additionally, in pastries, unsalted butter will result in a flakier texture whilst in bread, it will make it more crumbly.

 

Colouration

Ever wondered where baked goods get their distinctive golden brown colour from? The answer is the inclusion of unsalted butter. Without the inclusion of butter, baked goods are typically much paler. This is because the proteins in unsalted butter and the sugar in these bakes will; undergo the Maillard reaction and caramelisation when baked.

 

Salted Or Unsalted Butter?

The obvious answer for what you should swap for unsalted butter may initially seem obvious. Salted butter will perform the same functions as butter in baked goods.  However, whilst they are two variations of butter, there are some significant differences between unsalted butter and salted butter.

 

Salt Level Of Salted Butter Can Vary

Whilst the main difference between salted butter and unsalted is the presence of salt, how much salt is contained is inconsistent. This is an issue because when baking, it’s important to know what’s going into your food from both a dietary perspective and to get the desired flavour. The difference in taste may not be too dramatic, however, the unpredictability is not something you want in the kitchen.

 

Unsalted Butter Is Often Fresher

Butter when added to salt is often done so not just for taste but also as a preservative. As such salted butter will have a much longer shelf life than unsalted butter. This means that it may be less fresh when you come to use it for your bakes due to having been sat on a shelf. As such to maximise freshness, unsalted butter is probably better.

 

Salted Butter Lasts Longer

As a counterpoint to the prior statement though, salted butter lasting longer can be something of an advantage in certain situations. This is because, in a household that doesn’t use a lot of butter, salted butter will stay good longer, meaning you don’t need to throw any out.

 

Why Would You Want To Substitute Butter In Baking?

Whilst butter is a fantastic and some would say essential part of baking, you may want to or need to replace it with something else. The reasons for doing this can be quite varied, such as the following:

  • You’re Out Of Butter: Perhaps the most obvious reason to require a butter substitute is that you’ve simply run out. Alternatively, the shop may not have any in stock. Naturally, if this is the case, you may be less picky about your unsalted butter substitute selection.
  • Lactose Intolerance: Whilst butter is quite low in lactose by comparison to other dairy products, it can still contribute to issues relating to lactose intolerance.
  • High Cholesterol Levels: Butter is incredibly high in fat with roughly 80% to 90% of its contents being fat. Of this fat content, a decent amount of cholesterol.
  • Dairy Allergies: Despite being quite low in dairy, butter can still cause allergic reactions.
  • If You’re A Vegan: Vegans won’t consume anything that is derived from animals. Some limit this to food whilst others may boycott any products that involve animals in their production at all. Either way, vegans should avoid butter as it is made from cows milk typically and should seek butter replacements like they would use chia seeds in place of regular ones.
  • You’re on a low-fat diet: Low-fat diets, as the name suggests are all about reducing your fat intake as much as possible. As such, butter being made from roughly 80% to 90% is potentially one of the worst foods to have whilst on this diet.
  • You’ve decided to go dairy-free: Going dairy free has been linked to a multitude of health benefits, especially related to digestion and the thyroid gland. As such, the reduced consumption of dairy products, or their removal entirely can positively impact metabolism and energy levels amongst other benefits.

 

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Substitutes For Unsalted Butter

When it comes to what you should be substituted for butter, there is a multitude of options at your disposal. Each option has the benefits and drawbacks associated with them. Additionally, certain ones may not address all the requirements you could have for a butter substitute.

 

Salted Butter

As mentioned above, salted butter can work as a substitute for unsalted butter. By comparison to some of the other substitute options, this will be the most similar due to being a salted version of butter. 

However, as mentioned above the amount of salt present in salted butter can be quite unpredictable. This is because there is no universally accepted amount of salt required for butter to be considered “salted” vs “unsalted”. As such a single stick of butter can contain anywhere between and eight and a half teaspoon of salt.

When using salted butter in place of unsalted, it is possible to use it in both sweet and savoury recipes. However, when used in recipes that call for additional salt, you should reduce the amount of salt you would normally use. Whilst salt content of this kind of butter can vary wildly a good rule of thumb is to reduce the amount of salt you add by a quarter teaspoon per stick of butter used.

 

Lard

Lard is often used in baking, particularly for more savoury baked goods such as in pie crusts and pastries that need to be flaky and crispy. This is because unlike melted butter and other fats, lard doesn’t tenderise or dissolve. As such, the texture it produces is often considered better than butter. 

However, unlike butter, lard doesn’t provide any real difference in taste and colour. As such to enrich recipes using lard, bakers will often add an egg and some extra salt to the mix to improve the colour and taste. As a result of this, lard is often considered best as a substitute in savoury recipes.

When a recipe calls for butter and you wish to use lard instead, the conversion is slightly more complex than salted butter. This is because for every cup of unsalted butter you should use roughly seven-eighths of a cup of lard and an egg.

 

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is a fairly common replacement for recipes that require melted butter as it will have a similar texture. This is because both are liquid fats, meaning the effect they’ll have on the recipes will be similar.

When making things like muffins and bread, vegetable oil is a great substitute. Particularly if trying to make the recipe more vegan friendly. Additionally, due to being a very commonly used ingredient in cooking, you’ll likely either have some already or easily be able to grab some in the shop.

When substituting, use roughly seven eighths as much vegetable oil as you would butter. However, be careful to use too much as in some bakes, the consistency will be dramatically altered by using oil.

 

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Vegetable Shortening

One of the most preferred unsalted butter substitutes amongst bakers is vegetable shortening. Due to containing roughly 100% fat as opposed to the 80-90% that in butter, the texture produced will be crisper, however, it will be less rich. Like unsalted butter, it is also has a neutral taste, making it quite versatile.

Whilst vegetable shortening has its advantages and is more vegan friendly than butter, there is a downside. The saturated fat content of vegetable shortening is significantly higher than that of butter. As such, foodstuff containing vegetable shortening should be eaten in moderation.

When using shortening as a substitute for unsalted butter, it can be used in a one to one ratio. However, for the best results, many bakers will recommend using seven eighths as much vegetable shortening as you would butter.

 

Unsweetened Apple Sauce

For a lower fat option, unsweetened apple sauce can make a surprisingly excellent choice. This is especially true for vegans and those trying to avoid dairy/lactose. Additionally, if you’re trying to cut down on your fat and sodium intake or reduce cholesterol levels then unsweetened apple sauce is one of the best substitutes for unsalted butter.

Whilst this may help with your caloric intake, however, unsweetened apple sauce does contain more carbohydrates than butter. Additionally, due to its naturally sweet taste, it is best used in sweeter recipes rather than savoury ones. Although, whilst it is best used for baking cakes and muffins, it can still be used for things like bread.

When using unsweetened apple sauce as a substitute for unsalted butter, only half as much is needed compared to when using butter.

 

Final Thoughts

When substituting unsalted butter for another ingredient, you have plenty of options at your disposal. Salted butter, lard, vegetable shortening, vegetable oil and unsweetened apple sauce each have their own strengths. For example, unsweetened apple sauce cuts down on fat and salt dramatically, whist salted butter and lard replicate unsalted butter more closely. Ultimately, however, there is no single best option, merely the best options depending on your own personal requirements.

 

FAQs

 

What Can Be Used Instead Of Unsalted Butter?

When substituting unsalted butter for another ingredient, you have plenty of options at your disposal. Salted butter, lard, vegetable shortening, vegetable oil and unsweetened apple sauce each have their own strengths as substitute options.

 

What Happens If You Use Salted Butter Instead Of Unsalted?

When salted butter is used instead of unsalted butter there isn’t too much of a difference in sweeter foods as the sugar tends to counter the salt content. However, in savoury bakes, it is important to reduce any added salt in the recipes to compensate for the butter. If this is not done, the final product will be particularly salty.

 

Can you substitute salted butter for unsalted butter?

Salted butter can be substituted for unsalted butter. However, in recipes that would include additional salt, you should reduce the amount you add accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to reduce the salt added by a quarter tablespoon per stick of salted butter added. 

 

Can I Use Olive Oil Instead Of Unsalted Butter?

Olive oil can work as a substitute for unsalted butter. When doing so simply exchange it at a ratio of three to four of olive oil to butter.