Yes, You Can Substitute Olive Oil For Butter In These Recipes

Find out when it's okay to substitute butter for olive oil when cooking.

Oil, Butter, and Water on Table
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

There could be any number of reasons why you'd want to substitute olive oil for butter in your recipes. Maybe your doctor told you it was time to take better care of your heart. Perhaps you're trying to get back into your favorite jeans. Or maybe you've taken a big, bold step and have decided to embrace a vegan lifestyle.

No matter your reason, it's definitely possible to use olive oil instead of butter in many recipes. But before you throw out the butter and start pouring olive oil into your cake batter, take a minute to consider why you'd want to swap oil for butter in the first place.

Is Olive Oil Better For You Than Butter?

Unlike butter, olive oil is low in saturated fat and rich in antioxidants. And while it's hard to beat the delicious flavor that butter can give a recipe, it's equally tough to ignore just how much better olive oil is for you.

Butter can contain up to 65% (or more) saturated fat, while olive oil clocks in at a much more reasonable 14%.

That's not to vilify butter in any way—there's no denying its flavor, texture, and structure-enhancing abilities—but if you're looking to make the swap, here are a few tips, pointers, and guidelines to help you.

Smart Swap: Sautéing & Roasting

For savory dishes where meat or vegetables are cooked on the stovetop or in the oven (like sautéing, pan frying, or roasting), you can almost always swap out butter for olive oil.

Keep in mind that extra-virgin olive oil has a strong flavor that is very different from butter. Depending on where the olives were grown, an olive oil's flavor can range from sharp and peppery to smooth and buttery. Taste the oil before you cook with it so you know how it will affect your recipe.

Recipes for roast chicken or pork are also a good way to incorporate olive oil.

Best Best: For higher-temperature cooking, stick with a less-expensive (not extra-virgin) olive oil. While you definitely can use extra-virgin olive oil, it's more cost effective to use it in uncooked applications, like dressings and finishing drizzles where you can truly appreciate the flavor.

Smart Swap: Pasta Dishes

You can easily substitute olive oil for butter in most pasta recipes, especially ones that have lots of fresh vegetables. Choose recipes that are lightly dressed and avoid pastas with rich cream sauces (which require butter).

Substitution Tip

Substitute three-quarters of the butter in a recipe with olive oil. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons), use 6 tablespoons oil.

Is Olive Oil Best For Baking?

When baking, olive oil does not always make a good replacement for butter, especially when the recipe calls for creaming the butter with sugar. That process gives baked goods a light and airy texture that can't be achieved with olive oil.

Instead, stick to recipes that call for melted butter (or another type of liquid fat) for best results. Olive oil will work well in brownies of all types, from chocolate chunk to pumpkin swirl, muffins, and quick breads.

Best Bet: Definitely use a mild olive when it comes to most baking recipes. The one exception would be an olive oil cake, which is specifically intended to highlight and celebrate the olive oil's unique flavor.

Can You Compromise and Use Both?

When it comes to sautéing, roasting, and pan-frying, yes, you can absolutely use half butter and half olive oil. In fact, this is a fantastic compromise: It cuts down on the amount of saturated fat, helps reduce burning, plus you get an added flavor boost from the butter. It's the best of both worlds!

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