What Can You Substitute for Oil While Baking a Cake?

There are many reasons you might want to swap out oil when baking a cake. Trying to eat healthier? Did you run out of oil? Whatever the reason, there are many options available to keep you from running to the store. If you've never substituted another ingredient for oil in a cake, give it a try — you may decide you like how it alters the flavor, texture or nutritional profile of the baked good.

If you’ve never substituted another ingredient for oil in a cake, give it a try — you may decide you like it better. (Image: Twenty20/@jehnner)

The Importance of Oil in a Baking a Cake

Depending on how the cake is made, oil has a different function. The first is called the "creaming method," and this involves mixing the oil with the sugar separately, then whipping them together until they're light and fluffy. The beating incorporates air into the mix and increases the overall volume, which allows for the cake to expand when baking.

The second method is called the "all in one" method which involves mixing the wet ingredients with baking soda and the dry ingredients with baking powder separately and then combining. Mixing the two separately allows the baking powder and baking soda to combine, causing the batter to rise. In this case, the oil isn't what causes the necessary air to be incorporated.

Why Substitute Oil When Baking a Cake?

There are many reasons to substitute oil when baking a cake. First, oils are calorie-laden. A tablespoon of oil has about 120 calories. If you're trying to cut down on your calorie intake, swapping in a healthier alternative can help.

Another reason? Perhaps you have a few items on hand that you need to use up before they spoil — i.e. ripened bananas, avocados, mayo, etc. Or maybe you're in the midst of baking a cake and realize you're out of oil. Don't despair. Whatever your reasons, there are many different ways to swap out oil. Below are our top six oil substitutes when baking a cake.

Apple sauce, melted butter, fruit puree and Greek yogurt are all good oil substitutes when it comes to baking. (Image: Twenty20/JulieK)

6 Easy Substitutes For Oil While Baking a Cake

Applesauce Applesauce is perhaps one of the most common substitutes for oil when baking cakes or other pastries. Applesauce has far fewer calories than oil. Applesauce clocks in at about 100 calories per cup while oil has almost 20 times that at 1,980 calories per cup. When substituting applesauce for oil, it's a one-to-one substitution. If you go the applesauce route, consider using unsweetened applesauce to reduce the added sugar content.

Melted Butter Not healthier, but just as yummy, melted butter can also be a substitute for oil in a cake. In fact, many boxed cake mixes use butter or margarine instead of oil. This is a good option if you've run out of oil and don't want to run to the store, or if you have extra butter to use up. The nutritional difference in using butter versus oil is that butter is saturated animal fat, and most vegetable oils contain healthier monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat. When substituting butter for oil, use one cup of butter for every ¾ cup of oil. Note, this will reduce the total calories in the recipe by about 150 calories.

Fruit Puree While most people are aware of the applesauce substitute, fewer may know that you can use any fruit puree as a substitute for some of the oil in your cake recipe. One common puree used in cakes is dried plum (aka prune) puree. In the case of dried plums, the oil is reduced by half and substituted with the dried plum puree with a one-to-one ratio. You may also need to reduce the amount of added sugar (a win-win) because dried plums are naturally sweet.

Keep in mind that, while applesauce has a mild flavor and likely will not affect the flavor of your cake, stronger-tasting fruit purees might. Experiment and try a raspberry puree in a chocolate cake or blueberry puree in a lemon cake. You may discover that the texture of your baked good changes with your substitutions. Fruit puree is a great option if you're trying to watch your calorie and/or fat intake. When substituting a fruit puree for some of the oil, you're reducing the overall calories by about 20 percent.

Greek Yogurt If you want to decrease the overall fat and calorie content of your recipe while bumping up the protein offerings, Greek yogurt is the right route for you. The substitution ratio is one cup of oil to ¾ cup fat-free Greek yogurt which cuts calories by 95 percent and fat by 100 percent. This swap will not alter the flavor of the cake but could change the texture slightly. If you're out of Greek yogurt, sour cream is another option.

Mayo Mayonnaise may sound like a stretch, but it's actually the closest to oil compared to the rest of the alternatives — oil is one of the ingredients in mayonnaise, after all — and surprisingly, does not alter the taste of the cake. The ratio swap for this depends on the recipe but a good place to start is one cup of mayonnaise for ½ cup of oil. This is a good swap if you're out of oil at home or don't want to run to the grocery store.

Avocado Technically this qualifies as a fruit puree (see above), but because avocados are unique in that they're a high-fat fruit, we felt they deserved their own mention. Avocados can be used to substitute for other fats like butter or oil in a recipe, with a one-to-one ratio, but when swapping out oil, more liquids may need to be added to accommodate for the loss from the oil. Avocados are a standout when it comes to nutritional offerings. They're high in omega-3s and fiber. What's more, avocados are a good source of folic acid, pantothenic acid, and vitamin K, and also offer riboflavin, potassium and vitamin E.

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