Out of Oil? Bake Anyway with Creative Substitutes

We’ve all been there. Company’s coming, we’re on the home stretch, and we suddenly realize we’re out of a crucial ingredient.

Just the other day, I was whipping up a batch of brownies. I already had the flour and eggs in the bowl before I realized there wasn’t a drop of oil in the house.

The store’s not far, but it was pouring rain, and you know how it is.

And then I remembered my neighbor telling me how she was baking heart-healthy for her husband and using applesauce instead of butter in her muffins.

Vertical image of pouring a liquid ingredient into a bowl with whisked eggs next to other measured food items in bowls, with text on the bottom and in the middle of the image.

Why not try it in my brownies?

I always have a big jar of smooth, unsweetened applesauce, so I added it cup-for-cup instead of oil.

After dinner, I watched and waited, and guess what?

None of the delighted faces around the table detected anything strange as they ate brownies baked with applesauce.

After my success with brownies, I explored other oil substitutions. Read on for the imaginative options I discovered.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

I’ll meet you in the kitchen!

Oil 101

Would you like to know why baked goods commonly call for vegetable oil?

Vertical image of measured ingredients in various cups next to a whisk and eggs on a white wooden table.

In a nutshell, it’s to keep them moist and tender.

Oil is a plant-based fat. By attaching to dry ingredients, it encapsulates the gas released by the action of baking powder and soda, inhibiting the formation of gluten and producing light and fluffy foods.

Recipes for moist baked goods like brownies, cakes, and muffins that call for oil are best when made with light, mild-tasting varieties like canola (rapeseed), corn, soybean, and sunflower. These are usually the most affordable as well.

The coconut variety is also great for baking but imparts a sweet taste to foods and is comparatively expensive. Other plant-based fats that are solid at room temperature include margarine and shortening.

In addition to plant-based fats, those from animal-based sources like butter, ghee, and lard can also create a delicious texture and consistency, but unlike vegetable-based products, they contain cholesterol.

Many folks also use the types of vegetable oils mentioned above for dressings. Others prefer heavier and more flavorful kinds like avocado, flaxseed, olive, peanut, sesame, and walnut.

For frying, oils with high smoke points are best. They withstand high degrees of heat without producing smoke. Canola, corn, safflower, peanut, grapeseed, and soybean are good choices.

Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that oil and vinegar don’t mix, no matter how hard you try to blend them? Without the addition of emulsifiers like mustard, mayo, or garlic, these two opposites repel each other.

Handy Substitutions

Oh! Forgive me. There you are with a bowl full of ingredients, and here I am waxing scientific.

Horizontal image of a glass bowl with flour next to a baking sheet with cubed butter and shortening.

On to the recipe-saving substitutions, without further ado!

You may substitute the following cup-for-cup for vegetable oil in baked goods:

  • Applesauce, preferably unsweetened
  • Avocado, unseasoned, mashed
  • Banana, ripe and mashed
  • Unsalted butter, melted
  • Cauliflower, unseasoned, cooked and pureed
  • Ghee
  • Margarine, melted
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pumpkin, unseasoned, cooked and pureed
  • Sour cream
  • Sweet potato, unseasoned, cooked and pureed
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Yogurt, plain
  • Zucchini, unseasoned, cooked and pureed

As a bonus, there’s one more perhaps unlikely ingredient that I highly recommend:

Cooked and pureed beets!

A great substitute in chocolate-flavored baked goods that have a darker hue, beets may alter the color of lighter foods. Use our recipe for roasted beets to get them perfectly soft and tender, then puree them until smooth in a food processor.

All of these ingredients can easily take the place of oil in a recipe. Generally speaking, it is because they contain at least some fat and/or pectin, which serves as a gluten inhibitor and thickening agent.

Get Creative

When choosing a substitute, the idea is to select a mild-flavored alternative that will add moisture to whatever you’re making.

Horizontal image of mashed sweet potato in a white dish.

A lot of times, you can find inspiration in what you might already have prepared and cooked that’s hanging out in your own refrigerator.

If there are leftover plain baked sweet potatoes or cauliflower florets rolling around the fridge from dinner the other night, by all means, mash them up and use them as substitutes in your baking.

And what about that overripe avocado you’ve been avoiding? Or that half stick of butter you keep forgetting to use?

Give it a try!

You have nothing to lose! You’ll be salvaging a recipe, and you may even find you like it better with your new secret ingredient.

And you can secretly enjoy your hidden sense of pride by sneaking in some superfood nutrition without getting caught!

Waste Not, Want Not

Say you have a little canola oil left, but it’s not the total amount your recipe calls for. Use what you have, and combine it with enough of another alternative ingredient to make up the difference.

Horizontal image of mashing bananas in a glass bowl.

You can also start keeping a stash of emergency-fix ingredients.

When I have a banana that’s riper than I like, I put it in an airtight container in the freezer. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve been thrilled to have one when I’ve come up short in a recipe.

Another good item to have on hand is cooked vegetables. We eat a lot of steamed veggies at our house, and I always keep some leftovers in the freezer. They’re a great baking fix, an excellent gravy thickener, and a hearty add-in with rice cooked on the stovetop.

Disclose and Experiment

Now that you know how to rescue a recipe for baked goods with an alternate ingredient, there’s just one more item to discuss – food allergies.

If you have guests with food allergies, be sure to let them know when you’ve unexpectedly changed the ingredients in a food they can usually eat at your house.

If I were to add mashed peaches to my muffins as a last-minute substitution and accidentally serve them to my nephew, he would likely need his EpiPen and a visit to the ER. Let’s not go there!

Adjusting a recipe to suit particular dietary needs becomes easier as you get used to making healthy substitutions, even when you’re unexpectedly short of a critical ingredient.

Horizontal image of measuring liquid ingredients into a bowl with flour on a wooden cutting board.

One day soon, when you have some free time, experiment and discover new favorites!

We always enjoy hearing from our readers. Please let us know in the comments about the great substitutions you’ve discovered in a pinch.

If you found this article helpful and want to know more about altering recipes to suit your needs, we have other guides you’ll love to read! Read these articles to increase your knowledge next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Originally published September 26th, 2016. Last updated on October 19, 2023.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.

60 thoughts on “Out of Oil? Bake Anyway with Creative Substitutes”

  1. You have just switched on my creative light bulb. I never would have thought about using beets or cauliflower as a replacement for oil.

  2. Thank you, Nan. This is really good stuff to know. I’m always looking for good things to substitute. I’ve tried a couple of these, but I’m really happy to now have a longer list of things to use.

    I’ve heard of using veggies, but I haven’t tried it yet. It would be a great way to get more veggies into my picky eater. I’ll have to make sure she doesn’t catch me though. I also really like the tip about using veggies as a thickening agent. How cool is that?

  3. I love that applesauce technique. That is something that I always seem to have on hand too, so it would really work there for me. It makes sense when you think about it, but of course you usually do not think of it as a substitute for oil. I can see myself using this one, so thank you.

  4. Applesauce and banana I have used to replace oil or butter (and I’ve used oil to replace butter, for that matter!) And I’ve heard of beetroot in chocolate cakes.

    But adding savoury things like cauliflower and mayonnaise are definitely pushing my boundaries! And I’m nervous of how yogurt will affect the results – I mean I have cooked yoghurt in cakes but am not sure how much yoghurt I would use to replace oil for example and if it would make the cake heavier?

    I avoid canola oil because it is made by such extreme heat and can thus be heat sensitive (ie goes rancid easily) and not as healthy as we all used to think it was. It’s a pity some of the more specialist oils (grape, sesame, avocado, coconut, etc) come in small containers and are so much more expensive than canola and olive oils.

    • Really when you think about it mayonnaise is mostly just eggs and oil so its not really much of a stretch and cauliflower really doesn’t taste like much so you wouldn’t notice it.

      • I’ve used mayo in many cake recipes – it works wonderfully. In fact my Grandma used to make a chocolate cake that she called a depression cake that only used mayo – no eggs or oil. It was delicious!

  5. I haven’t heard of most of these, surprisingly. Though, I do have to admit, once I was making a chocolate cake, from a box, and I did not have oil, so I used applesauce as a substitute and it was awful. It made the cake very “grainy” and left a terrible texture. Perhaps I will have to try some of the others and see if they work well.

    • Try plain Greek yogurt in place of oil, so yummy! I use half oil and half yogurt in place of the other needed oil in my brownies/cake… Y can use plain Greek yogurt in many many recipes, and in place of sour cream for taco night!

  6. I can get a little creative and use a variety of oils in cooking and baking. Recently, I’ve seen more recipes using avocado instead of butter to make cakes, which makes it healthier. I also substitute liquids, for instance if I don’t want to add too much milk, then I add water or I add some soy milk instead to make up the quantities required.

  7. I never would’ve thought applesauce could be a substitute for oil, I imagined the texture to be quite noticeable when mixed with other ingredients. I’m interested in trying out pumpkin oil, seems like it would work quite well.

    • Applesauce as well as black beans was one of the substitutions we taught at Weight Watchers. Amazingly, a puréed can of black beans goes undetected and adds fiber. Woohoo!

  8. Such a helpful article. I find so many healthier baking recipes that call for mashed banana. My husband is allergic to bananas and I absolutely despise them. This article showed me that there are other fruits and vegetables I can use in place of the banana in those recipes, as well as others I find so I can make healthy substitutions on my own.

  9. It never occurred to me that oil could be substituted with anything but butter. I trust the opinion that mayonnaise will make a great substitute. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go through with it since I’m not a big fan of the regular variety (the sriracha one on the other hand is phenomenal). I might gag while eating simply because there’s mayo in there whether or not I cant taste it!

  10. If you want a super moist cake without oil or eggs just use this recipe:

    3 Ingredient Greek Yogurt Cake Mix Recipe

    1 Boxed Cake Mix
    1 Cup Greek Yogurt
    1 Cup Water

    Cook as the box directs.

    • Substitutions can change the taste or texture from what you’re used to in the original version of a recipe. But most of these substitutions blend in pretty seamlessly with baked goods, providing the extra moisture needed and sometimes a bit of added sweetness.

  11. I was looking around the internet to see if anybody else has used grated cheese in their bread recipes. I thought this time I might have found them. But I don’t see cheese listed here, either. I’ve been using it to help my gluten free bread stay together better. I use a cup of shredded Colby or cheddar cheese per loaf of bread. I haven’t substituted it for anything….just added it to the recipe. It does help some, to keep the bread from being so crumbly, but you really don’t taste it at all. Rather disappointing, since I love cheese….live in Wisconsin…go figure!

    • I’ve used cottage cheese before. Just use a stick blender to smooth it out. I’ve also used this for a sub for sour cream when I didn’t have any.

  12. Thanks a million Nan. You saved my marriage and husband’s life. Lol. Looks at around 9 pm for oil to make a cake for the Father’s Day holiday for him and my dad, and pretty sure he is the one who used up the rest of my oil when he cooked something for himself! I was going to have to run out to the grocery store at around 8:00 a.m. Was NOT happy about that! Lol. Thanks again for substitution advice. It will save the day, as well as my husband! ????

  13. I have used Greek yogurt and applesauce for a long time as a substitute! I find they work really well for muffins, banana bread, etc.

    I have been thinking about this article since last night. If all of these are suitable substitutions, wouldn’t all of the leftover baby food I have (frozen homemade & shelf-stable store bought) also be acceptable substitutes? Has anyone tried this?

    • Yes Lauren, absolutely! I use carrot baby food in addition the shredded fresh carrots that I put in the batter for my husband’s birthday cake every year. It comes out beautifully moist!

  14. I love these solutions! We all have fruit or veggies that are left from a preceding meal in the fridge! I was taught not to “waste” food since we experienced real hunger when my Mom was trying to support us during WW II! We never wasted anything. These tips are so great; thank you

  15. Hi, I am going to make a triple chocolate cake for a b-day party, and I was wondering, could I substitute chocolate ready-made pudding instead of the oil?

    • I’ve heard of using powdered pudding mix as a substitute for the oil when baking with cake mix, but I haven’t tried this myself. If you want to give this a try with pre-made pudding, I’d recommend substituting just half of the oil with an equal quantity of pudding, or seek out a recipe that has been tested with accurate measurements for this type of substitution.

      We’d love to hear how it turns out!

  16. Hi, I’m Barbra and I am so glad that I came upon your site. I too am gluten and dairy free, and I also have high cholesterol. I have begun to eat the Modern Mediterranean diet and I was looking for ways to substitute oils and for something healthier. I like your ideas. Also, I love to garden but have not checked that out on your site yet. Thanks for this site and the good information.

  17. I have a carrot cake recipe that calls for 1 1/2 cups of oil. I would normally use applesauce as a substitute but the cake batter is fruit/veg heavy already (carrots, pineapple, raisins, coconut) and I worry that the applesauce will be too much. Thoughts?

    • Is this a recipe that you’ve made before, Molly? Applesauce should work, but the texture may come out a bit differently than you’re used to if you want to replace the full quantity of oil. Though the apples won’t change the flavor, they will add sweetness, and they may cause the cake to brown a bit more than it normally does during baking as well.

      The carrot cake recipe that I like the most is also pretty heavy in the fruit/veg department. The oil is drizzled into the mixer slowly, to create a sort of mayonnaise-like emulsion with the eggs. If your recipe is similar, I wouldn’t recommend cutting the oil entirely. But you might try experimenting with replacing 1/2 cup or so, maybe a bit more, with carrot baby food or homemade puree instead of applesauce.

  18. Hi, you imply at the start of the article that you can cook with essential oils, & there is a linked article that states the same.

    Medical advice is that it is not safe to ingest essential oils. The companies that were indicated, whose sales reps say you can, are unfortunately spreading harmful misinformation.

    Here are a few sources. This comment comes out of concern for the real world harm this misinformation can cause.

    • Thanks for sharing these sources, Rebecca. I agree that cooking with essential oils should be approached with caution. Flavoring extracts designed for cooking are less potent and safer, whereas essential oils are not all necessarily food safe, and must be diluted significantly for use in anything edible.

    • Hi Carrie –
      Cooked and mashed carrots should work well as an oil substitute in baked goods. You might try pureeing them with your mixer or blender to achieve a virtually undetectable consistency. Remember to let guests know of the substitution to avoid allergy issues.

  19. Thank you so much for this well thought out and SUPER helpful article. I was looking for a way to make my traditional chocolate banana bread healthier and this did the treat! I used a mix of cauliflower and beets because that’s what I had available (totaling the 1/4 cup oil that I needed) and pureed in my blender, then added as usual to my recipe. The results were WONDERFUL! My chocolate banana bread came out delicious, no one would know by tasting it that I substituted anything and I felt happier with every bite knowing that it was a little healthier for me and my family. Going to try more experimenting next time. Thanks again!

  20. I am going to be switching to the Forks Over Knives whole food plant based way of eating and that means no oil. These substitutions will come in handy so I can still make bread. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Shaun, I too eat the FOK way of eating and have eliminated oil… Have you baked anything yet and how did it turn out? These seem like great substitutes but I haven’t tried any before. Please let me know what’s worked for you and what hasn’t. I’d love to hear your advice. Thank you!

    • Hello Shaun –
      You’re welcome. We’re happy to hear that the substitutions will be of use to you on your healthy eating journey.

  21. Hi – I use Mayo in a pinch it can replace BOTH eggs & oil at the same time since homemade Mayo is only eggs & oil. **AND you have a major typo or something with (rapeseed) after stating a “…mild variety like Canola, etc. And TY for the alternative suggestions!

  22. I was making something once (muffins, probably, but maybe brownies), and ran out of oil. No worries! I had used some sauce before. Oops! I only had enough apple sauce for 1/3 of the oil… So I rummaged around my fridge and found some some butter to stretch that 1/2 the oil… And then found my dairy-free unsweetened yogurt for the other half and hoped that would work. The recipe came out noticeably better than usual. It was so moist, and maybe a slightly deeper flavor. Everyone loved it. It didn’t occur to me then that I could have used leftover veggies! That will help now that I’m looking for healthier brownies, too.

  23. Hello, I should have looked this up yesterday. I baked muffins with EVOO (I had no other oil but OO, and knew that was too strong). Yikes, it took over my zucchini muffins, it’s a learned lesson! I’ll see if I can turn them into bread pudding!? Thank you for your knowledge!


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