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 eggs and flour 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.
Why not try it in brownies?
I always have a big jar of smooth, unsweetened applesauce in the house, so I added it cup-for-cup in place of oil.
After dinner I watched and waited, and guess what?
None of the delighted faces around my table detected anything strange as they ate brownies that were baked with applesauce.
Would you like to know why baked goods call for vegetable oil?
In a nutshell, this is 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, slowing down the formation of gluten and producing light and fluffy foods.
A recipe for moist baked goods like brownies, cake, or muffins that calls for oil is best made with light, mild-tasting varieties like canola (rapeseed), sunflower, soybean, and corn. These are usually the most affordable as well.
Coconut oil is also great for baking, but it imparts a sweet taste to foods, and is on the expensive side.
In addition to these plant-based fats, there are animal-based sources like butter, ghee, margarine, and shortening. These act to create delicious texture and consistency too, but unlike vegetable oils, they contain cholesterol.
For dressings, many folks use the types of oil mentioned above as well. Others prefer heavier and more flavorful kinds like olive, avocado, peanut, walnut, flaxseed, and sesame.
For frying, oils with high smoke points are best. This means that they can withstand high heat without producing potentially toxic smoke. Good choices are canola, corn, safflower, peanut, grapeseed, and soybean.
Other products you may be familiar with are essential oils. While not actually oil but hydrophobic liquid, these aromatic essences are making a sensation in gourmet food preparation.
Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that oil and vinegar don’t truly mix, no matter how hard you try to blend them together? Without the addition of emulsifiers like mustard, mayo, or garlic, these two polar opposites actually repel each other.
Oh, forgive me. There you are with a bowl full of everything but the oil, and here I am waxing scientific…
On to the recipe-saving substitutions, without further ado!
The following may be substituted cup for cup for vegetable oil in baked goods:
- Applesauce, preferably unsweetened
- Banana, ripe and mashed
- Butter, melted
- Cauliflower – unseasoned, cooked, and pureed
- Margarine, melted
- Pumpkin, cooked and pureed
- Sour cream
- Vegetable shortening
- Zucchini – unseasoned, cooked, and pureed
As an added bonus, there’s one more ingredient that I highly recommend:
- Beets, cooked and pureed
A great substitute in chocolate baked goods, beets may alter the color of lighter foods.
These ingredients can easily take the place of oil in a recipe. Generally speaking, this is because they contain at least some fat and/or pectin, a gluten inhibitor and thickening agent.
The idea when choosing a substitute is to select a mild-flavored alternative to oil that will add moisture to whatever you’re baking.
If you’ve got a leftover baked sweet potato rolling around the fridge, by all means, mash it up and give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose, and may not only salvage a recipe, but perhaps even find you like it better with your new secret ingredient.
And what about that overripe avocado you’ve been avoiding?
Add it to your list!
When you use superfoods like sweet potato and avocado, you’re packing in additional nutrients!
Waste Not, Want Not!
Say you have a little canola left, but it’s not the full amount your recipe calls for. Use what you have, and combine it with enough of an alternative ingredient to make up the difference.
You can also start keeping a stash of emergency-fix ingredients. Sometimes I have a banana that’s riper than I like, so I place it in an airtight container in the freezer. You’d be surprised by the number of times I’ve been thrilled that it was there, and used 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 them steamed at our house, and I always keep some leftovers in the freezer. They’re not only a great baking fix, but an excellent gravy thickener and rice add-in as well.
Note Recipe Changes
Now that you know how to rescue a recipe for baked goods with an alternate ingredient, there’s just one more item I want to discuss – food allergies.
Make a note when you change up a recipe because you’re caught short of an ingredient. You may have guests with food allergies who will need to know.
If I added mashed peaches to my muffins as a last-minute substitution and accidentally served them to my nephew, he would likely need his EpiPen and an emergency visit to the hospital. Let’s not go there!
By the same token, adjusting a recipe to suit particular dietary needs becomes easier as you get the hang of making healthy substitutions, even when you’re caught short of a critical ingredient.
One day when you’re not so pressed for time, maybe you’ll experiment a little. Let us know in the comments about the great substitutions that you’ve discovered in a pinch! We always enjoy hearing from our readers.
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 Substitutions”
You have just switched on my creative light bulb. I never would have thought about using beets or cauliflower as a replacement for oil.
Hi and thanks for your feedback. Give them a try and let us know what you think.
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?
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.
You’re welcome and thanks for reading.
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!
Same! My gramma made THE best chocolate mayo cake!
Hi Kathy –
It’s wonderful to hear that you are carrying on your Grandma’s baking tradition. Mayo is indeed an excellent egg and oil substitute.
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!
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.
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!
Hello Halaine –
Yes! Applesauce and black beans are excellent substitutes for oil. Thanks for sharing.
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.
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!
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.
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing this 3-ingredient recipe. I will be making it very soon!
Gonna give that a try! thanks!
This is the best tip for making a cake. We use a sugar free cake mix too.
I wonder what the ratio would be if making cookies from a cake mix. The recipe calls for any large cake mix(15.25 oz Box), 2 large eggs and 1/2 cup of melted butter.
Any ideas? Thanks.
That is EXACTLY what I came here for! Looking for an oil sub to use with a box cake! Will definitely try it! Thank you
Hi Hilarie –
Welcome to Foodal. We’re glad you found the article useful.
Doesn’t that change the taste of what you’re cooking a little bit, or just enough to shy away a picky eater?
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.
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.
If the recipe says 1/4 cup of oil or nut butter, do I add 1/4 of applesauce?
Yes, that’s right! This substitution works in a 1:1 ratio.
Great article. Thanks! What about puréed beans (White, black) as a substitute?
This is a marvelous idea that works well in certain recipes, like these gluten-free brownies.
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! ????
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!
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
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!
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.
Thanks for your message, Barbra. You’re so welcome, and we’re glad you found us!
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.
I like this site as I think about nutrition and I do alot of cooking
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.
How about carrots? If I cooked them and mashed them. Would that work as replacement on the veg oil?
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.
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!
Hello Milo’s Mommy-
We’re so happy you enjoyed the article and are using healthy substitutions. Thank you for sharing!
Great site! I look forward to trying some of the suggested alternatives!
Hi Lisa –
We’re happy you’re enjoying Foodal. Thanks for writing.
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.
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!
You’re welcome, Elise! Thank you for your message.
This is not actually a typo though- you can read more about the differences between canola and other types of rapeseed oil in our article.
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.
So happy to find this site… was also looking for an oil alternative. I have learned quite a bit on here. Thank you!
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!