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 …
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 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.