6 Substitutes for Oil to Use When Baking a Cake

Using a substitute for oil in cake and other baking recipes can help you cut down calories and use up what's in your pantry.
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There are many reasons you might need a substitute for oil when baking. Maybe you're trying to eat a more nutritious diet, but still want to enjoy your favorite cake recipes. Or, maybe you just ran out of oil. Whatever the reason, it's important that you use your oil substitutes the right way.

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Many people wonder if you can make cake without oil, and the answer is yes. There are several nutritious ingredients that can be used as an oil replacement in baking recipes, and you may already have some of them in your fridge.

The Role of Oil in Baking

Vegetable oil is usually called for in baking and cake recipes. Depending on how the cake is made, using vegetable oil in baking does different things.

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The "creaming method" involves mixing the oil with the sugar until it's light and fluffy. This process creates tiny air pockets in the mix and allows the cake to expand when baking, according to the University of Kentucky.

The "all in one method" involves mixing the wet ingredients (like oil) with baking soda in a bowl, and then mixing the dry ingredients with baking powder in a separate bowl, and then combining, according to the Oils & Fats Specialist Group of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry. In this method, the baking soda and baking powder cause the batter to rise — not the oil.

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Depending on what your goals are, you can use different types of ingredients as substitutes for oil in baking. If you're trying to lower the fat and calories, fruit purees are a great choice. If you're out of oil and don't care much about the nutrient content, fridge staples like butter or mayo can work.

Tip

It's important to note that the texture of your baked goods may be slightly different when you replace oil with a substitute. Some substitutions may result in a less-chewy and softer baked treat.

Scroll down for a few tasty and nutritious substitutes for oil in baking.

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1. Applesauce

Adding applesauce to cake mix is a great option if you don't want to use oil, and it's probably one of the most popular substitutes for oil in baking.

Applesauce has far fewer calories and fat than oil and may be a more nutritious option. Applesauce clocks in at about 100 calories per cup, according to the USDA, while oil has 1,097 calories per cup, per the USDA.

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If you want to substitute apple sauce for oil in cake mix or other baking recipes, try replacing half of the oil called for with applesauce, per the University of Maine. So, if your recipe requires 1 cup of oil, you can substitute it with 1/2 cup of applesauce and 1/2 cup of oil. This works in pancakes or recipes like Heather's Whole Wheat Carrot Cake Muffins.

Tip

If you substitute applesauce for oil in cake mixes, reduce your baking time by 25 percent, per the University of Maine.

2. Melted Butter

It may not be more nutritious, but melted butter can also be a substitute for oil in a cake, and it makes a delicious result. 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.

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The main difference between butter and vegetable oil is that butter is made from saturated animal fat while most vegetable oils have unsaturated fat. Replace oil in cake and other recipes by using 1 cup of butter for every 3/4 cup of oil.

3. 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 that is often used is dried plum (aka prune) puree.

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To use dried plums, reduce the oil used in your recipe by half and substitute dried plum puree with a 1-to-1 ratio. You may also need to reduce the amount of added sugar because dried plums are naturally sweet.

Keep in mind that while applesauce has a mild flavor and will not affect the flavor of your cake very much, stronger-tasting fruit purees, like prune, might. You can experiment and try a raspberry puree in a chocolate cake or blueberry puree in a lemon cake.

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Tip

Fruit puree is a great option if you’re trying to take in fewer calories and fat.

4. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a great oil replacement in baking. If you want to lower the fat and calories in your recipe while bumping up the protein, Greek yogurt will help you do both.

The substitution ratio is 1 cup of oil to 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt, which cuts calories by 95 percent and fat by 100 percent, per Stonyfield Organic, a Greek yogurt manufacturer.

This swap will not alter the flavor of the cake very much but could change the texture slightly.

5. 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.

Mayo is also made with eggs, so you can skip adding eggs to your recipe if they're called for.

The ratio swap for this depends on the recipe but a good place to start is 1 cup of mayonnaise for 1/2 cup of oil. While it won't cut calories or fat, this is a good swap if you're out of oil at home.

6. Avocado

Technically this qualifies as a fruit puree, but because avocados are unique in that they're a high-fat fruit, they deserve their own mention. Avocados can be used to substitute for other fats like butter or oil in a recipe, with a 1-to-1 ratio, according to the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.

But when swapping out oil, you may need to add more water to accommodate for the moisture loss from the oil. Avocados are a standout when it comes to nutritional offerings: They're high in omega-3s and fiber.

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