What Can I use as a Substitute for Unsalted Butter?

Unsalted butter is one of the staples for baking cakes, cookies and bread. But if you don’t have any to make your baked delight, did you know that there are substitutes? If you haven’t, check this post to learn more! These ideas will definitely help if you run out of unsalted butter!

There are several ingredients that you can use as substitutes for unsalted butter. Salted butter, margarine, vegetable shortening, and lard are the most common and effective. They all add texture and richness to baked goods, and their taste can easily be adjusted.

Before we find out what you can substitute for unsalted butter, let’s first understand what butter does to baked goods.

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What does butter do to baked goods?

Butter acts as a lubricant for baking recipes as it easily melts when being heated. This prevents proteins found in flour and eggs bonding together, which results in the baked goods being soft and crumbly. This lubricating effect also enhances the eating experience, creating a sensation of moistness. It makes pastries flaky and bread with a loose crust that falls apart.

Butter is an emulsion of fat and water (80% fat & 20% water). It intensifies the natural flavors of other ingredients making it one of the original flavor enhancers in baking recipes.

The fat tenderizes the flour to make a softer crumb and a light and fluffy texture.

Butter also gives a golden brown color to the outside of baked goods. Sugar and proteins undergo caramelisation and Maillard reactions when heated. Without the inclusion of fat, baked goods are typically paler.

Unsalted butter alternatives

Unsalted butter substitutes:

There are a few of substitutes for unsalted butter than you can use and easy to buy:

Salted Butter

Salted butter is the most common replacement, as it is a good substitute for unsalted butter. They’re almost the same product, just with the world’s most common preservative and flavour enhancer.

If you are making cakes or baked goods where salt is not included in the ingredients there are no adjustments required. But for making bread you should cut back on the amount of salt in the recipe.

How much salt is in salted butter?

Different brands of salted butter contain different amounts of salt. A stick (113.4g) of salted butter can have anywhere between 1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

When converting a recipe from unsalted to salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon for every stick of salted butter added. Or 1.5 grams per 100 grams of butter if you want to be more exact!


Margarine is similar to unsalted butter, but it has a softer texture. Melted margarine works best in recipes that require melted butter. But in recipes that call for softened butter, using margarine can alter the texture. For instance, cookies will be less crisp, and spread out more. In addition to this, cakes made with margarine will be less tender. 

Margarine has a much sweeter taste than unsalted butter. It also contains salt which will alter the flavour of baked goods and will make them taste drier. It also doesn’t give the same golden brown colour to baked goods that unsalted butter does!

How much margarine should I substitute for butter?

You can use margarine as a substitute for unsalted butter. Use exactly the same amount of margarine as you would butter, just be careful as margarine is more watery than butter so you might need to reduce the amount of liquid added to your recipe.

Vegetable Oil

Whilst not a great choice for baking cakes, vegetable oil is often used as an alternative for unsalted butter in bread. 

For 1 cup of unsalted butter, use 7/8 cup of oil and reduce the water by ½ a cup.

Vegetable Shortening

Vegetable shortening is also one for most preferred butter substitutes by many bakers. Despite it being 100% fat compared to butter’s 75-80%, it’s still a great replacement! Vegetable shortening has a neutral taste that is akin to unsalted butter.

The most common vegetable shortenings are high in saturated fat so should be used sparingly. This won’t help bad cholesterol!

The texture of cookies might get a bit crispier when using vegetable shortening. There isn’t the same richness that butter has. But what it does do is allow the other ingredients to stand out in the final product.

How much vegetable shortening to use?

A ratio of 1 butter to 1 vegetable shortening can be done. But a 7/8 cup of vegetable shortening for every 1 cup is a slightly better solution when using this as a substitute. You might find it necessary to add a touch of water to get the right consistency, but a little trial and error is required between brands. 

If you want to use shortening as your fat, just add it to a creamed mixture and mix until well blended. Doing this before adding anything else into the mix means it should work-out well!


Due to its high smoking point, lard from animal fat is often used in food recipes and baking. It adds lightness in texture and makes baked goods flaky. These happen because lard doesn’t tenderize or dissolve like other fats. This is perfect for making breads, cookies, baked goods with a high fat content or anything that needs to be flaky and crispy. 

Lard produces a better texture than what butter can do. However, it produces tasteless results. To further enrich the use of lard as a substitute, you can add an egg yolk into the dough. This will give a subtle eggy flavour and will add a golden colour to baked goods. To counteract the blandness, you can adjust the salt levels of your recipe. This mainly differs on how salty your brand is.

How much lard should I add instead of butter?

Lard substitutes for unsalted butter in equal amounts but has a flavor that’s better suited for savory recipes. For baked goods, 7/8 cups of lard and 1 egg yolk per 1 cup of butter can be used.

Is unsalted or salted butter best for baking?

Between both types of butter, unsalted butter is the most commonly-used in baking. Compared to salted butter, it is more flexible when being used for baking. It still contains a small portion (0.01%) of salt, but it doesn’t taste salty at all. Unsalted butter often has a shorter shelf life, but it doesn’t mean it is not as fresh!

The presence of saline changes the texture of light baked goods. A cake that contains unsalted butter will have a smaller crumb than one made with salted butter. The reason for this is that salt acts as a sort of glue that holds ingredients together during baking. This is especially true when baking soda or powder are present as it holds elements like flour and sugar together to make them more stable.

But of course, it’s still not the end of the world if you ran out of it. There are still substitutes that you can use to replace it.


There are several ingredients that you can use as substitutes for butter. From animal to plant-based, you have your options, so experiment! Taste your mixtures all the time to check everything is on track!

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