Sticks of butter sit on a tray

Butter Alternatives

Plant-Based Culinary Arts Chef-Instructor Olivia Roszkowski suggests seven substitutes for traditional dairy butter

It seems like butter is an ingredient in nearly everything. But, thanks to these butter alternatives, it doesn't have to be.

In the Plant-Based Culinary Arts curriculum, we explore the science of butter by looking at the types we use in cooking and baking, and testing a variety of ways to emulate the emulsion with whole foods or plant-based ingredients.

Coconut cream, cacao and chickpeas can replicate the moisture and flavor we get from dairy-based butter.

What is Butter?

Butter is a semi-solid emulsion made up of approximately 82% butter fat, 16% water and 2% milk solids. The percentages of fat and water in butter are unique, especially when it comes to affecting the texture and flavor when baking.

Butter provides moisture and flavor for baking. Moisture from butter helps hydrate flour and starches, binds together ingredients, and adds tenderness and flavor.

When the creaming method is utilized in baking, sweetener and butter are creamed together to incorporate air bubbles in the fat. The water content in butter transforms into steam when heated, acting as a leavener. The steam then expands the air bubbles in dough.

Knowing all this, mimicking the flavor and properties of butter through other whole-food ingredients can be impossible to duplicate entirely, but the following ingredients can still be utilized for delicious plant-based alternatives.

Types of Butter

Butter Alternatives:

In the Health-Supportive Culinary Arts curriculum, we utilize non-hydrogenated and organic plant fats whenever possible. We prioritize reaching for whole foods instead of processed butter alternatives in our baking module recipes. Try these butter substitutes for baking:

Refined Coconut Oil: Great to cut into biscuits, galettes or pie dough. Refrigerate until pliable. Add an additional teaspoon of ice water if the dough appears dry or crumbly.

Coconut Cream: Whip a few tablespoons with softened, refined coconut oil in a stand mixer or with an electric beater to emulsify the mixture. This is an especially great substitute when making frosting.

Nut Butters: Mix with coconut sugar for quick cookie dough. The protein and fat structure as well as the emulsified texture of the nut butter help mimic some of traditional butter’s characteristics.

Cacao Butter: Perfect fat selection for chocolate cakes, chocolate truffles or white chocolate macadamia cookies as it imparts a fragrant cocoa flavor. Melt and cool slightly before using for best results. Remember to use 80% of the recommended amount of butter, as cacao butter is 100% pure fat derived from the cacao bean.

Avocado: Great luscious buttery texture for chocolate desserts such as mousse, cake and brownies. Avocado is also amazing for making gluten-free flours taste less gritty. Make sure your avocado is ripe and creamy for the best results. If using in a non-chocolate recipe, try to bake batter right away to reduce oxidation.

Aquafaba “Mayo”: Make your own by emulsifying together reduced chickpea can liquid and good quality oil. Try using the “mayo” instead of butter for the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich or to yield super moist cake or waffle batter.

Pureed Squash or Sweet Potato: Generally, this beta-carotene-rich produce can be used whenever a recipe calls for apple sauce. They’re lightly sweet, just like butter, and both make for a great emulsifier. These are a winner in yielding a moist product that holds its shape.

Plant-Based Butter:

Crisp chickpeas in refined coconut oil. The remaining oil will take on a golden hue and buttery notes. Strain through a fine sieve and use in baking. (It’s also great on popcorn!)

Blend soaked cashews and refined coconut oil until smooth. Season with miso paste or nutritional yeast for added flavor. Refrigerate and use in as butter alternative in biscuit dough or in a pie crust recipe.

Whip together softened coconut cream and refined coconut oil in a 3:1 ratio. A favorite conversion in the Health-Supportive Culinary Arts Converting Baking class, you can use an electric or stand beater to whip these together until emulsified. Try it instead of softened but-ter in your next batch of chocolate chip cookies.

See 7 sweeteners for baking conversions.

Dissolve agar flakes and kudzu root in coconut milk for a frosting base. Add vanilla extract, your sweetener of choice, and refrigerate until set. Whip in a food processor before use.

Butter Substitute Tips:

Add additional spices or extracts: Try vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger or dried fruit to compensate for the flavor factor.

Replace with 25% less oil: If a recipe calls for 80 grams of butter, use 60 grams of oil. Add a splash of water to help emulsify the dough.

Replace one ingredient at a time: When recipe testing, it is important to isolate the variable to successfully analyze the results.

Make sure to use refined coconut oil: Refined coconut oil is deodorized of its signature tropical flavor and has a higher smoking point, making it the preferred choice in most circumstances over virgin coconut oil or coconut butter, which will both impart coconut flavor in your baked goods.

Explore baking conversions with alternative flours and sweeteners.

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