Whether you want to substitute butter for oil in a recipe to give it a richer flavor, or substitute canola oil for butter to reduce cholesterol or eat dairy-free, using either in place of the other is entirely doable. However, it isn't always an easy substitution. While some experts will advise you to simply swap them one-for-one, you may be disappointed in the results. To swap one for the other successfully, consider what you're making and how the fat contributes to the recipe.
Substitute Butter for Oil
Oil and butter have different consistencies, and this can affect your recipes. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, and you substitute 1 cup of oil, your batter may be too oily. A better oil to butter conversion – recommended by many cooks and chefs – is to substitute 3/4 cup of oil for 1 cup of butter. Some common substitutions are:
- 1 cup butter = 3/4 cup oil
- 1/2 cup butter = about 3/8 cup oil
- 1/2 cup oil = 2/3 cup butter
If you decide to substitute the two equally – 1 cup of oil for 1 cup of butter – you may need to cut back on another liquid ingredient in the recipe.
Understand Their Purposes
The successful substitution of oil for butter, or vice versa, depends on their purposes in the recipe. Oil and butter both add moisture to a recipe. But they differ in the other effects they have.
For example, when baking cakes, cookies, muffins and brownies, the directions often say to "cream butter and sugar." When butter and sugar are creamed – beaten together with a mixer until fluffy – air bubbles are created that help make the baked good light and airy. Substituting oil results in a denser cake, brownie, muffin or cookie.
Pie crusts call for cutting cold butter into the flour rather than melting the butter and mixing it together. This results in a flaky pie crust. Substituting oil in a pie crust changes the texture from flaky to flat and dense. It would be better to consult pie crust recipes that use oil rather than to just substitute on your own.
Cooking on the Stovetop
Oil is often preferred when cooking on the stovetop because oil withstands higher temperatures than butter can. Butter would quickly burn in a stir-fry, whereas oil can take the heat.
If you're cooking at a lower temperature, such as sauteing or simmering, you might be able to substitute butter. It would flavor the dish, too, however, so if you're cooking in a style such as Japanese or Chinese, in which oil is usually used, be prepared for the dish to have an unusual taste.
Knowing the Scoop on Oils
Canola oil is a good oil to substitute for butter because it has a neutral flavor. However, butter does have a taste, so using canola oil instead may cause the dish to be bland. Substitute with olive or coconut oil when you'd like a dish to be more flavorful. Or, use canola oil and flavor the dish with additional spices.
Oils are generally considered to be healthier than butter because butter, a saturated fat, contributes to cholesterol. Oils add calories – 120 calories per 1 tablespoon of oil – but their fat is mostly monounsaturated or polyunsaturated and does not contribute appreciably to cholesterol. In fact, oils such as olive oil are touted for possibly helping to reduce cholesterol.
Different oils work better in certain situations. Olive oil is stable at high heat levels, while canola oil and other vegetable oils tend to break down and release unhealthy components. Olive or grapeseed oil is a good canola oil substitute for techniques like stir-frying. Coconut oil has the most saturated fat, so it's not quite as healthy as canola and olive oil.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area and writes about food for eHow.com and leaf.tv. She started baking on her own at age nine, creating appetizers at 10, and making family meals by 14. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh, where she often cooked elaborate meals and desserts for friends.