Out of Oil? Bake Anyway with Creative Substitutions

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.

In the middle of baking and your'e out of oil? Don’t panic! Find creative substitutions and solutions that will do just as well, right here: https://foodal.com/knowledge/how-to/out-of-oil-substitutions/

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.

Oil 101

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.

Oil in Mixing Bowl | Foodal.com

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.

Handy Substitutions

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!

A Cup of Pumpkin Puree | Foodal.com

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
  • Ghee
  • Margarine, melted
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pumpkin, cooked and pureed
  • Sour cream
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Yogurt
  • 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.

Get Creative

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.

Avocado | Foodal.com

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.

Mashed Banana | Foodal.com

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.

Recipe Book | Foodal.com

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.

Pureed Fruit as a Substitute for Oil in Baking | Foodal.com

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.

Photo credits:Shutterstock.

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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.

13 thoughts on “Out of Oil? Bake Anyway with Creative Substitutions”

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

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