You've decided to make some cookies or a quick bread, or you're getting ready to whip up a stir-fry and veggie fritters. You've got your recipe and you're ready to go only to realize that you don't have enough oil, you don't have the right kind of oil — or perhaps you don't have any at all.
This sounds like a recipe-ruining situation, however, you can easily make a simple swap and be on your way. Yes, there are plenty of oil substitute ingredients that can act as an easy fix. Bonus: Some of these oil swaps cut calories and add nutritional benefits, too.
Oil Substitute Ingredients to Bake With
Depending on your goals for the end result and what you have on hand, there are many options for oil substitutes. No matter what you decide to swap, remember that it can take some trial and error to get your treats how you want them.
Before You Start...
“If you're making something for an event where it needs to be perfect, try to avoid experimenting with the recipe then,” recipe developer, food stylist and former Ladies Home Journal food director Tara Bench, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Instead, give yourself a few tries to play around with the swaps, write down what changes you make and keep the recipe that yielded the best version.
1. Dairy Products
If your goal isn't to get rid of fat but rather just to swap out oil, check your dairy supply. "Sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese are great options to get some fat into a recipe and also get some moisture in there," Dave Crofton, pastry chef, co-owner of One Girl Cookies in Brooklyn and co-author of the One Girl Cookies cookbook, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
As with swapping dairy products for oil, you have to watch the amount of liquid in the batter. "If your mixture is very liquidy, I would suggest reducing the other liquid in that recipe by about a quarter-cup," Bench says.
Combining dairy with a vegetable or fruit, whether shredded or puréed (more on that below), can be a good way to get a batter to the right consistency, cut some of the fat and add some nutrients. "You do need some fat in a recipe to help it come together," Crofton says.
The most commonly used fruit purèes to replace oil are apple sauce and mashed banana, but Bench also likes plums when they're in season.
"I'll take fresh plums, peel them and purée them into a texture similar to apple sauce," she says. If you're adding a sweet fruit purée to your recipe, you might want to cut back on the sugar a bit as well, Bench says.
Another fruit that works well as an oil substitute: Avocado (yes, it's a fruit). "Avocado works great if you want something a little more rich and creamy," Bench says. "Again, you have to watch out for the color, so it's best in a baked good that already has a darker color."
If you’re making a pumpkin cookie, for example, and you want it to be more cakey and less chewy, you would swap some or all of that oil for applesauce, adds Bench. "That will completely change the texture.”
"There are some really fun options if you want to swap vegetables for oil in your baked treats," Bench says. "You could use grated or mashed zucchini. You could do cauliflower purée and even a cooked-beet purée. That would be delicious in something chocolatey because if you put it in a lighter baked good, you're going to get a pink color," which isn't always desirable.
One of Bench's favorite vegetables to use in baked goods is winter squash, like butternut. "I have a brownie recipe where I swapped mashed-up squash for some of the oil. I wanted a little bit of sweetness, and I wanted a smooth, soft ingredient to add to brownie mix so it would be fudgy and dense without having all of the oil."
You don't even have to DIY the squash; Crofton notes that canned pumpkin, squash and sweet potato are all readily available in supermarkets. Major bonus: The kids won't even noticed you added veggies to the treats!
Oil Substitute Ingredients to Cook With
When swapping fats in sautéing or frying, it's important to note the smoke point of the ingredient you're going to use. The smoke point is just what it sounds like — it's the temperature at which oil will begin to smoke.
That number varies depending on the type of fat. It's crucial to use a fat with a higher smoke point for high-heat cooking such as stir-frying, because once the oil exceeds its smoke point, not only will it give the food a burned flavor, it can also release harmful free radicals.
When you don't have any oil on hand, you can turn to:
- Ghee or clarified butter: Both have a smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit
- Beef tallow: Has a smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit
- Vegetable shortening: Has a smoke point of 360 degrees Fahrenheit
For healthy cooking, we especially recommend using vegetable shortening over animal-based ingredients like lard and beef tallow to cut down the saturated fat content in your dish.
What Does Oil Do?
Oil and fats, in general, play a few different roles in baking. "Fat adds moisture to the end product so that your dessert isn't dry," says Crofton.
"Also, as you're baking, the fat helps bind everything together. It combines with the sugar and binds with the flour to create a homogenous batter, so you end up with a nice, even crumb."
When cooking or frying, oil helps conduct heat from the pan to the food and prevents the food from sticking to the cooking surface. Fats such as oil also help food to brown, which gives it extra flavor. But if you're out of oil or avoiding using it, these oil substitute ingredients will work well, too.
Read more: Why You Need to Eat Fat to Burn Fat