The Best Substitutes For Shortening

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From cooking to baking and everything in between, shortening is a staple pantry item that we all use at one time or another.

Or maybe you don’t typically keep shortening on hand and then you scramble to find alternatives when you’re halfway through a recipe that explicitly lists shortening in the ingredients (and doesn’t offer any substitutes). 

Fortunately, shortening is an added ingredient that actually has a few alternatives when you need a good substitute.

Whether you want to substitute because you just don’t care for shortening or whether you need a quick alternative because you didn’t realize you needed it for this recipe, there are plenty of options available for you. 

What are the best substitutes for shortening? One of the best substitutes for shortening is margarine as it has a similar fat content and melting point. However, margarine does have a more noticeable buttery flavor as opposed to shortening. Other useable options include lard, butter, and coconut oil.

In this guide, we will discuss in detail the best substitutes for shortening.

We will cover your options, including what kind of effects those particular options might have on your recipe and whether or not everything will turn out the same when you substitute another ingredient for your shortening. 

Keep reading to get the best insight on great substitute ideas for shortening in your kitchen. 

Your Guide to Shortening and Using Substitutes

Shortening is most commonly used for baking. It’s the secret ingredient that will give you flaky pie crusts and the best cookies.

It’s called for in a lot of baking recipes because it is the absolute best finishing touch.

It’ll give you just the right texture, flavor, and finish when you combine it with the other ingredients. 

Shortening is fat. In fact, it can be almost any kind of fat. The key is that this particular fat creation turns into a solid when at room temperature.

Shortening is similar to butter and actually more similar to margarine. 

If you consider sticks of butter or margarine, a stick of shortening would look almost the same. Shortening is usually lighter in color.

It can be a pale yellow or even a white color when you purchase it. It’s slightly thicker in texture than butter or margarine, which sets it apart slightly. 

Shortening and lard are nearly identical but are not exactly the same either. Ultimately, the differences boil down to things like hydrogenation, water, and fat content as well as the overall process of making the ingredient. 

Uses for Shortening

To give you a better understanding of shortening, let’s talk about some common uses. 

Shortening is most commonly used in various types of baking. It makes pie crusts flakier and makes your cookies softer. It’s very popular for pies and cookies but you might also find it in other types of baking as well. 

Here are some other uses for shortening that you may not know about. 

  • Popping popcorn
  • Grease hinges, locks, and other items
  • Grease pans before cooking or baking
  • Use to moisturize dry skin
  • Get gum out of hair or clothes
  • Use for frying foods
  • Use as a replacement for oil
  • Use in waffles
  • Pie crusts
  • Sautéing any type of food, rice, or vegetable

There are many uses for shortening, both within the kitchen and cooking realm and with household uses, as you can see from the list above. 

Don’t feel limited to only being able to randomly bake some cookies or pies with your shortening, there are so many options for it! 

The Best Substitutes for Shortening

Not everyone likes to use shortening because there are typically healthier alternatives on the market. If you prefer something with a lower fat content, by all means, feel free to substitute alternatives for shortening. 

What you should know is that no matter what you use as a substitute for shortening, you’re probably going to experience a different end result then what you would if you simply used shortening.

This is just something to be aware of. There are almost always side effects of using substitutions. 

With that being said, let’s dive a bit deeper into the best substitute options for shortening and what you can expect. 

1. Lard

Lard is, by definition, the very closest substitute to shortening you will find. Lard is very similar to shortening in the overall fat content.

However, lard typically comes specifically from animal fat only while shortening can be made from vegetable oil or fats. 

Lard is usually pig fat, more than any other type of animal fat but you may hear of other types or even mixtures when it comes to lard. Lard is very high in cholesterol, particularly when it comes from pig fat. 

Lard can have a very distinctive meaty flavor. For this reason, it’s very popular for making fried foods.

If you’ve ever used lard to make fried chicken, you will notice the flavor is simply outstanding when compared to just using vegetable oil or something like that. 

If you substitute lard for shortening, the most likely thing you will notice is that the flavor is different.

This will be especially true if you use lard for your baked goods, because of the pork or meat-enhanced flavor that comes with it. 

The end result as far as texture is concerned will be primarily the same but shortening really does not have much flavor and lard does have that distinctive meat-type flavor in it because they come from different sources.

The meat source of lard does alter the flavor slightly. 

You may or may not notice a flavor difference. The amount used in baking is typically pretty minimal and therefore the changes will be subtle. 

One more note, shortening can prevent the growth of gluten in wheat products. Lard is unable to do that.

Lard is also animal-based so it is not an option for vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. Lard may also be a poor choice for those who do not consume pork products. 

2. Margarine

Margarine rides the line of being similar to shortening while also being similar to butter.

Margarine is perhaps one of the better replacements for shortening because you won’t notice a difference in the flavor and the difference in pie crusts or cookies will also be marginal (pun intended). 

Margarine and shortening are both made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. Shortening has considerably more fat, being 100% fat while margarine only has an 80% fat content level. 

Both margarine and shortening are made with oil but since margarine is only 80% fat, it has other additives in it to make it what it is.

This typically includes water and milk solids and could potentially have additional ingredients for flavoring purposes. 

One of the biggest things you might notice if you decide to use margarine as a replacement is flavor. Remember that shortening has little to no flavor.

Shortening is used primarily for what it can do to the product and not because it adds any flavor to the product. 

Margarine is not quite as thick as shortening but is thicker than butter. Margarine also tastes more like butter so the flavor may have more buttery goodness to it than with shortening. 

This is a fairly minuscule difference and you may not notice it at all when you use margarine as a substitute for shortening. One thing you may notice though is that your pie crust will not be quite as flaky as it is with shortening. 

Margarine is a great substitute in baking—you will hardly notice a difference. However, when it comes to frying foods you could notice a difference if you use margarine rather than shortening.

This is because margarine is not 100% fat like shortening and you are subjecting it to extra-high temperatures. 

Your food will still taste fine most likely but with margarine, fried foods are more likely to have a burnt flavor because the non-fat additives in the margarine are likely to burn when cooked at such high heat. 

As we said previously, margarine is an optimal substitute for shortening when it comes to baking. You may notice a slight difference in pie crusts but nothing that will ruin them or make them not taste right. 

There is a small trick to using margarine as a substitute: You should add some extra margarine when you are using it rather than shortening.

The rule of thumb is to use 2 extra tablespoons of margarine for every cup of shortening that is called for. 

Here is an example, if your recipe calls for I cup of shortening, you use should use 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of margarine. You can do this in any cup increment.

If your recipe calls for 1/2 cup of shortening, you could substitute 1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon of margarine instead. 

It’s pretty simple, just remember to add a little extra margarine to give you the most similar results. 

If you’re baking, using margarine as a substitute is our closest recommendation. 

3. Butter

Using butter is another great substitute option for shortening, although it’s certainly not a high priority on the substitute list. It’s much thinner than shortening and also has a significantly reduced fat content. 

Shortening has an extra-high melting temperature. This is why your cookies may appear so much thicker when you make them with shortening because it doesn’t melt as quickly when you bake them. 

You will notice some differences if you choose to use butter rather than shortening. For starters, your cookies will most likely be flatter than if you used shortening.

However, they will still taste delicious and even may taste more scrumptious because of the flavor of butter. 

As a reminder, shortening has little to no flavor. However, butter has a buttery flavor – if that even makes sense.

Butter definitely has a flavor and the flavor could potentially make a difference in the end result of whatever you substitute it for. 

Butter, much like margarine, has about 80% fat. Butter also tends to have a high water content, allowably up to 16%, which is what makes butter so much thinner in texture but also so much easier to melt. 

If you think about it, you can pop butter in the microwave for a matter of a few seconds and have fully-melted butter. It takes much longer for shortening to melt because it requires much higher heat.

This mostly affects the end texture of the product because, in the cooking process, the butter melts almost right away. At the same time, butter will give any food a “melt in your mouth” quality that is irresistible to most people. 

The great thing about butter is it adds additional flavor but won’t overpower the intended flavors. Butter is also commonly all-natural. While it has water, it’s also made with dairy cream, milk and protein components. 

Baking with butter can be more challenging to perfect whatever you are making simply because you have the added side effect of butter melting much more easily. 

As with margarine, if you choose to substitute with butter, we recommend that you add an extra 2 tablespoons of butter for every cup of shortening called for in the recipe.

Here’s a great video from Andrew Rea of The Babish Culinary Universe with a how-to video on pies made with butter!

4. Coconut Oil

Last but certainly not least, you can use coconut oil as a substitute for shortening. Coconut oil has a much higher fat content than even lard or shortening.

You can substitute coconut oil in the same measurement that you would substitute butter or margarine in. 

Coconut oil consistency will be much more similar to that of butter as well. In fact, we have a sugar cookie recipe with coconut oil that we think you’ll love!

While coconut oil has more fat content than shortening, it has a lot of health benefits and the fats are considered healthy fats so it makes a healthier substitute. 

Overall, your end results will be very close to that of what you get with butter. One more thing, coconut oil sometimes does have a coconut flavor in it so just be aware that you may taste a hint of coconut if you decide to go this route. 

Related Questions

We hope that you find this guide to identifying substitutes for shortening to be a valuable and informative resource.

There are many options for substituting things for shortening, you need only be aware of how these may affect the final results. 

We invite you to review the following question and answer section for some additional information. 

Is Butter Healthier than Shortening?

Butter has lower fat content than shortening but is high in saturated fat. Meanwhile, shortening can sometimes be high in trans-fat, although there are options that contain lower trans-fat.

In this regard, they are equally as bad.

However, butter does contain more nutrients and minerals which makes it a better overall choice health-wise.

Can I Use Shortening Instead of Butter or Margarine?

Yes, the substitution factor works both ways. However, shortening has no water content while butter and margarine both do.

If you are substituting shortening for butter or margarine, you may want to consider adding some water to make up for that difference. 

Does Shortening Need to be Refrigerated?

Shortening does not require refrigeration, even after opening. You can store it in a cool, dry place in your pantry or cabinet space and it will store sufficiently there.

You can store it in the fridge or even freezer if you prefer but it really is not even necessary to preserve shortening. 

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