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5 Healthy Butter Substitutes

If you desire to remove lactose from your diet or cut down on fats, you might consider using butter substitutes. But with so many options available, how do you decide what alternative is best to use?

While butter is common in many of our favorite recipes, it does contains a high amount of saturated fat. Finding a healthier substitute might be in order for some of us.

Join us as we discover some different choices from butter that may surprise you.

Let’s dive in!

Just What Is Butter? 

Some people live by the motto that butter makes everything better. You might grease pans, sautee onions, or even top your waffles with it. Let’s take a deeper look at the production of this beloved dairy substance.

Cream contains microscopic bits of butterfat. In the process of agitating or churning, tiny molecules of butterfat glob together, eventually forming a butter-like substance. The substance is then kneaded or pressed with long wooden paddles to remove excess water. The butter you buy at the store usually contains 80 percent butterfat, while handmade butter is often closer to 65 percent.

The cream that doesn’t clump together becomes more watery because the butterfat is removed. This liquid, known as buttermilk, is common in many baking recipes, including biscuits and pancakes.

Butter being used for cooking
Butter is a fridge staple for many at home chefs.

The History of Butter

The word butter derives from the Latin butyrum, which translates to “cow cheese.” Historians believe this delicious milk-fat product existed in the Middle East as early as 9,000 BCE. It would have been a natural bi-product of storing and moving milk in containers.

Historians found a 4,500-year-old limestone tablet describing the butter-making process. Butter proved particularly useful before refrigeration because it takes longer to spoil than cream or milk. 

Farmers produced most of the butter until the first production factories appeared in the United States around 1860. Today, India produces the most butter in the world. In 2022, the country made 6 million tons. By comparison, the United States made just over one million tons in the same year. 

Types of Butter 

At the grocery store, you may face the decision between salted or unsalted butter. Unsalted works very well for most recipes. If you use salted butter, you may want to cut down on the salt the recipe calls for. We may think these are our only options, but did you know other types of butter exist?

Some people make clarified butter, or ghee, at home. You just melt down the butter and skim off extra milk solids and water. It tastes delicious as a dipping sauce for seafood. Ghee’s high smoke point also makes it an excellent option for pan frying. 

Cultured butter is made from fermented cream and can keep baked goods moist and fluffy. You may find European-style butter the most delicious. Churned at a very slow rate for a long time, the result contains more butterfat than any other butter. 

Why Choose a Butter Alternative? 

Now that we’ve discussed how delicious butter can be let’s talk about why you might want to consider a butter substitute.

People who experience dairy allergies or lactose intolerance will probably need to avoid butter. Those with high cholesterol or heart problems usually need to cut down on saturated fats; reducing butter intake can be one way to accomplish this. Finding healthier alternatives can be a small way to make a big difference in your health.

Another reason you may decide not to use butter might simply be that you’ve run out and you don’t time to make another store run. But soon, you’ll know which pantry staples you can grab as a substitute.

Pro Tip: Ever wondered Who Really Invented Peanut Butter? Find out!

Buttering bread
From olive oil to avocado, there are plenty of substitutes you can use in exchange for butter.

What Are Good Butter Substitutes? 

Just like certain kinds of butter serve different purposes, the various butter substitutes will be better for specific recipes. Let’s look at the alternatives and what you may want to use them for.

#1 Olive Oil 

Made from squishing whole olives to extract the oil, this butter substitute has gained popularity over the last decade. Olive oil, though a calorie-dense food, can help lower cholesterol when used in moderation. It has less than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. This oil can replace butter at a one-to-one ratio, meaning you’d use the same amount of olive oil as you would butter. 

Olive oil can be used to saute vegetables or meat, but isn’t ideal for frying because of its low smoke point. It can also be used in baked goods, but we suggest buying light olive oil in this case to reduce the distinctive flavor of the oil. 

#2 Ghee

Ghee may not be healthier than butter, but using it can give your food a rich buttery texture. Made by melting butter and skimming off milk solids, this substitute contains nine grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, so it might not be the proper substitute for you if you’re looking to lower cholesterol. 

This clarified butter can be used in baking and substituted at a one-to-one ratio. Because of its high smoke point, many chefs like to fry with ghee too. Most commonly, people enjoy dipping shellfish in ghee. 

#3 Coconut Oil

Like butter, coconut oil remains solid at room temperature making it suitable for baking. This oil is a great option for anyone looking to avoid dairy, though it can add a bit of a coconut taste.

Virgin coconut oil is made by pressing fresh coconut flesh together to extract the oil. The refined version has less of a distinct coconut taste and is made by pressing dried coconut meat, or copra, for extraction.

With 12 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, this butter substitute may not be the healthiest, but it’ll make your baked goods taste delicious.

#4 Yogurt

With less than one gram of saturated fat in an entire yogurt container, it serves as an excellent substitute for those looking to have a healthier heart. But it won’t be helpful for those with a dairy allergy or choosing a vegan lifestyle.

Yogurt can be a great butter substitute in baking. Replace half of the called-for butter with yogurt and the other half with a fat like olive or coconut oil. 

Bakers love to use greek yogurt in their products because it keeps their food moist. An added bonus to using yogurt is its protein content. This easy swap can help reduce saturated fats and increase your protein intake, all while keeping your baked goods delicious.

#5 Avocado 

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried brownies made with creamy avocados instead of butter. An entire avocado contains half the saturated fat as a tablespoon of butter. They also serve as a dairy-free substitute for anyone that needs one. 

Substituted at a one-to-one ratio, avocados are a great alternative. Their creamy texture and mild flavor make them the perfect butter substitute for baking. Experts recommend trying avocado in chocolate recipes, like brownies or chocolate cake. 

Pro Tip: Going grocery shopping? Try out these 7 Trader Joe’s Brand Foods That Are Better Than National Name Brands.

Time to Try Some Healthier Alternatives

We know butter can be delicious, but with so many substitutes readily available, we suggest giving them a try. If you have a dairy aversion, be sure to try baking with avocado or coconut oil and cooking with olive oil. If you want to be a little more heart-healthy, yogurt or avocado may be your best bet. Whatever your motivation, we hope you enjoy experimenting with these butter alternatives.

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