The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet – Butter Substitutions

Butter, butter, butter. So good for you, and so enjoyable as long as you don’t look at the calorie count and you’re not allergic to it. If you bake a lot, you already know that it’s possible to go through an incredible amount of butter every so quickly. Knowing how to substitute for butter in any given recipe is essential if you want to keep baking on a gluten free, casein free diet.

neatly stacked butter
Photo by pinprick
Let’s start off with a few words about butter. Butter is fat. Butter’s primary role in most baking recipe is to be the “fat”. Since butter is a dairy product it also adds some water to the recipe – butter is about 80% fat and 20% water. Butter also adds flavor to the recipes, and it’s dairy proteins can help with browning. Yet, despite all of that, butter’s most important role is that it’s fat.

So, if you need to replace butter in a recipe, you can replace it with one of a number of other fats. The particular fat that you choose will depend on two things.

1) You can’t be allergic to the fat.
2) Pick the right fat for the recipe.

Here is a quick list of fats that might work as a dairy substitute for you. I would keep all of these that you’re not allergic to on hand at all times.

Non-Dairy Butter Substitutes for Baking

  • shortening (often contains soy)  - Shortening has a lingering bad reputation for saturated fats, but it’s a great butter substitute, especially for biscuits and pie crusts. In fact, shortening in biscuits is phenomenal; the crust shatters in your mouth and gives one little perfect moment of baking joy.
  • vegetable oils (often contains soy and corn)  - Vegetable oils work if the fat in the recipe doesn’t have to be solid. Oil does a great job of covering up flour particles and can really reduce the grainy mouth feel you sometimes get with gluten free flours.
  • coconut oil (tree nut) – Coconut oil is solid above 76 degrees F, so if your house is cool then this can work a as a butter (or shortening) substitute.  Get the temp above 76 degrees and you can use it as a liquid oil.
  • Earth Balance (often contains soy)- Earth Balance is one of my favorite options!  Earth Balance makes vegan buttery spreads AND buttery sticks. Most of their products contain soy, but one of the spreads is soy free too, and suitable for baking.
  • animal lard – I’ll be honest, I haven’t used lard, but it is a fat and it used to be widely used.  Using lard in cooking/baking is on my to-do list.  From what I’ve read you shouldn’t use the stuff that can be stored for months at room temparature. Instead, look for lard in the refrigerated section or make it yourself.

As always, check and make sure any product that you buy is gluten free, even if that means calling the manufacturer and asking about their manufacturing practices.

How to Choose a Non-Dairy Butter Substitutes

If you wanted, you could get really scientific about which butter substitute would work best in a given recipes. You could start checking melting points, water content, and burning points.  But we’re not going to do that today.

Most of the time you will be perfectly fine if you follow this rule:

Rule: Substitute solid fats for solid butter; substitute liquid fats for melted butter.

So, if the recipe calls for solid butter, you could use shortening, lard,  Earth Balance or solid coconut oil.  If the recipe, calls for melted butter then you can use vegetable oil, or you can melt the shortening, lard, Earth Balance or coconut oil.

Even this is not a hard and fast rule.  If you’re making biscuits and only have vegetable oil, go ahead and use it. It’s won’t be the same as if you had used a solid fat, but it won’t be bad.  Sometimes things won’t work out. The melting point of the fat can be extremely important in some recipes, and you might actually have to experiment with different fat substitutes to find one that works.  But that’s not going to happen all that often.

In most situations, just use the fat that you have on hand and don’t worry all that much about it.  This is just one recipe out of the thousands (millions maybe?) that you’ll cook, and it’s really not worth worrying over all that much.  The recipe will probably turn out just fine and you can spend your worrying energy on something else =)






  1. Just a note to say how much my family loves the glutem free samdwhich bread. I have had very good results in making this bread and I live at 6400 ft altitude. I use the scale to measure like you did in the class and if I don’t have exactly 6oz of eggs (three extra large usually comes out to 6 oz) I add water for the difference so I don’t have to throw away the extra egg. I never seem to get around to using that left over egg! When I let the bread raise over the top of the pan I get a few more air bubbles, but not big ones. I also noticed the difference in using a glass pan verses a dark metal pan. I like the glass pan somewhat better, but the dark pan gives it a nicer golden color. This bread is so easy to make and no kneeding and my grandkids and family just rave about it. I made the yeast biscuits the other day and found they did brown as much, but I think I may need to cook a little longer than was indicated in the recipe maybe it is the atitude. In your gluten free recipe you give alternatives for the flour mixtures. I stick with the soughgum, masa, cornstarch and brown rice flours. I have not tried the soy flour etc., maybe the lady having trouble needs to experiment with her flour mixtures. They only thing I would like to improve would be the flavor, to me its bland like Indian oven bread (I am from New Mexico) but like I said my family loves it like it is, so why change a good thing!

  2. Elizabeth Donohue says:

    Regarding the butter substitutes, we have a few options. First, we are a gf-cf-sf household for group cooking. Coconut milk, either the low-fat or regular, has become a frequent ingredient when we are craving a creamy sauce. Think Thai, Indian, etc. We season the dish a little heavily, and add the coconut milk at the end to avoid collapse. Can’t think of another way to describe it, one minute you have a lovely creamy sauce, the next you have a separated mess. We also use a lot of clarified butter, or what easterners call ghee. True butter fat has no casein (the white portion when separated). We can buy this at the Middle Eastern markets and Whole foods, or if your careful, make your own. Finally, we also keep Earth Balance soy-free natural buttery spread on hand. Whole Foods is the only carrier in our area. As with many gf-cf-sf products, don’t look at the price, just think about how happy your child will be to spread something butter-like onto his toast in the morning.
    On a side note, we had our first gf-cf-sf Halloween and Thanksgiving last year.
    For Halloween, we told our kids up front they would not be allowed to keep any of their trick or treat candy. Boom! Up front, over. We informed however that they would be paid by the piece for Mommy and Daddy’s favorites (Daddy’s idea), and they would be able to exchange for some dietary appropriate treats. They walked away with $7 – $8 apiece, and a small amount of appropriate treats, and we didn’t have sick kids, everyone happy!
    For Thanksgiving, we did not set the bar that everyone has to eat the same thing. What we chose was very selective parallel cooking. Foods that required minimal adjustments, we changed for the whole group, ie mashed potatoes with butter substitute and rice milk, cream sauces/gravies with olive oil or butter substitute and appropriate flour. As for the parallel cooking, for the stuffing, we had usually done two or three anyway (we’re about 15 people) since we had pro-mushroom vs. non-mushroom, turkey vs. casserole dish groups. So last year, the mushroom tolerant also held all the gf-cf-sf crowd, and the non-mushroom group was happy to have no changes. The upside was the mushroom tolerant group made a double batch to potentially host the whole group and walked away with a lot of great leftovers. We made large cubes of a combination of store bought and homemade breads, dried for a couple days, then toasted lightly with our seasonings. We knew this type of bread was going to turn to mush easily so we kept the liquid to a minimum, took the time to really develop the onion, celery, and mushroom sauteing, and did a gentle, quick toss before baking. The only other parallel was desserts. We were able to find graham crackers that met our needs for a graham cracker pie crust. Pecan pie was easy to adjust, and there were lovely options online for using coconut milk as a substitute dairy in pumpkin pie.
    We are a family of passionate foodies, and a little online research, very careful pre-shopping and an adventurous spirit was all that was required to make a nice family holiday.

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