In baking and cooking, butter has long been a staple ingredient. But what if one day, you can’t find butter in the grocery store but instead see plenty of margarine? Can you substitute margarine for butter in a recipe without affecting the taste and texture of whatever you’re making?
Let’s find out.
Note: This article was originally published back on March 7, 2018. It’s been updated today, June 21, 2023.
- Butter is a spread made from churned cream or milk, containing at least 80% milk fat.
- Margarine is composed of highly processed vegetable oils. It was developed as a cheap substitute for butter.
- Butter and margarine are typical spreads on bread and other pastries. However, even if they have similarities, they vary in ingredients, flavors, textures, and nutritional profiles.
- You can use margarine instead of butter in most recipes but be prepared for differences in taste and texture that, while not necessarily bad, can still be obvious.
Butter vs. margarine: what’s the difference?
Butter and margarine are usually yellow, formed in blocks, and are commonly used spreads for breakfast and brunch breads. The similarities stop there, though. Here are where they differ.
- Butter is a product made by churning cream or milk.
- Margarine is made from vegetable oil. The oil can be soybean, canola, and sunflower. The oils undergo hydrogenation to give them a more solid texture.
Flavor and Texture
- Butter has its own distinct flavor, often described as “buttery.” It also has a consistently rich and creamy texture. It’s solid when it stays in the ref, melting quickly at room temperature.
- Margarine has different consistencies and tastes, depending on the formulation. It’s softer than butter, even when stored in the fridge.
- Butter is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol compared to most kinds of margarine. It also contains fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.
- Margarine is usually lower in saturated fats and cholesterol compared to butter. Some types of margarine are fortified with vitamins and may contain added nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids. It is also considered better for the heart than butter.
So… Can you use margarine instead of butter in a recipe?
Aside from the appearance, why would you consider margarine a butter substitute, anyway? Well, ingredient substitutions are common. For example, we had a Bailiwicker asking in the TBA Student Lounge about flour:
She couldn’t find any cake flour wherever she was located, so she asked if she could use all-purpose flour instead.
Another example is if you’re on a keto diet and still want to enjoy some sweet treats, you can easily use keto substitutes.
Going back to the original topic, when you cook or bake, it’s common for you to find recipes that call for butter. Consider that margarine was created as a cheap substitute for butter, making it a popular choice in such cases. Some kinds of margarine are even explicitly formulated for baking purposes.
So yes, you can substitute margarine for butter in a recipe. Of course, you can’t expect the results to be exactly the same.
Some Things To Remember When Substituting Margarine For Butter
When it comes to recipes that have margarine substituted for butter, keep the following things in mind.
You Might Get A Different Texture and Moisture
People use butter in recipes to achieve specific tenderness, richness, and moisture in baked goods. When margarine is used as a substitute, the moisture content may change, potentially altering the texture and mouthfeel of the final product. For example, if you make chocolate chip cookies using margarines with less fat contents, you might find them to be tougher to bite into.
To try and get the same results, you can always make adjustments like increasing the amount of your liquid ingredients (i.e., milk, water). This can help compensate for the difference in moisture content. You can also try adding a small amount of oil instead of the above.
You Might Need To Measure Margarine Differently
When measuring margarine as a substitute for butter in baking, the general ratio is 1:1. That means that whatever amounts of butter is required, you should use an equal amount of margarine. However, it is crucial to check the specific instructions provided by the margarine manufacturer, as some brands may recommend slightly different ratios.
There Will Be A Difference in Taste
When substituting margarine for butter, there will be a noticeable difference in taste. Butter has a distinct and rich flavor, while margarine has a milder taste that may vary depending on the brand. And while some margarines aim to replicate the taste of butter, they may not achieve an exact match.
A specific example: an author who wrote for Food52 tried using margarine and butter for pound cake recipes. While visually, the results generally looked the same, taste testers remarked the butter pound cakes tasted better than the saltier-tasting margarine pound cakes.
You’ll Have To Adjust Cooking Times and Temperatures
Margarine often has a higher water content than butter, which can affect the outcome of specific cooking methods. For example, if you’re sautéing or frying, the higher water content in margarine may lead to splattering or a different browning effect. Adjusting cooking times and temperatures may be necessary.
Additionally, be mindful of the smoke point, which indicates the temperature at which the butter or the margarine starts to break down and emit smoke. Butter’s smoke point differs from margarine’s, so you must make modifications to achieve good results.
Other Reasons To Use Margarine Instead Of Butter
No butter in stock is not the only reason to substitute margarine for butter. Here are a few more.
Substitute Margarine For Butter In A Recipe Because Of Health Concerns
Health-conscious individuals have sought alternatives to butter due to its high saturated fat content. Margarine is a good substitute because it typically contains less saturated fat and can be suitable for those following a low-fat or cholesterol-restricted diet. Additionally, people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies may opt for margarine as a non-dairy substitute.
Cost And Availability
Another reason to substitute margarine for butter is its wide availability. Margarine can be found in most grocery stores, making it a convenient choice for many home cooks. It is also generally less expensive than butter.
Substitute Margarine For Butter In A Recipe Because Of Personal Preference
Some individuals prefer the taste and texture of margarine over butter. Butter may have a rich and distinct flavor, which most chefs like—but some people just like the milder flavor of margarine.
FAQs about Substituting Margarine for Butter
Can you substitute margarine for butter in all recipes?
Yes, you can. Just keep in mind that the dish’s taste, texture, and overall outcome may be slightly different from the expected taste.
Should I use salted or unsalted margarine as a substitute for butter?
Unsalted butter is the way to go. This allows you to have better control over the salt content in your dish, especially when following a recipe that specifies using unsalted butter.
Can I use reduced-fat or light margarine as a substitute for butter?
While reduced-fat or light margarine may be suitable substitutes in specific recipes, it is essential to note that they have a higher water content. This can affect the texture and overall outcome of the dish, particularly in baking. It’s better to use butter in a baking recipe that calls for actual butter.
Can I substitute margarine for butter in recipes that require creaming?
It is best to use butter as specified in recipes that call for creaming butter, such as in cookies and other baked goods. The solid consistency of butter helps create the desired texture for them.
Are there any recipes where substituting margarine for butter is not recommended?
Some recipes, such as laminated doughs or certain pastries, rely on the unique properties of butter for their success. In these cases, using margarine instead of butter is generally not recommended.
In conclusion, while margarine can serve as a butter substitute in many recipes, it’s essential to consider the potential differences in taste, texture, and overall outcome. Health concerns, dietary restrictions, personal preference, and availability may influence your decision to use margarine instead of butter.
Whether you choose to use butter or margarine, we recommend that you test in your kitchen first. That way, you can be sure you—and your potential tasters and customers—will like the output.
Keep coming back to The Bailiwick Academy blog for more kitchen tips, tricks, and much more!