What can I substitute for butter in sugar cookies?

Quick Answer

Some common butter substitutes for sugar cookies include:

  • Vegetable oil – Canola, corn, or olive oil work well as 1:1 substitutes
  • Shortening – Use an equal amount of vegetable shortening instead of butter
  • Applesauce – Replace half the butter with unsweetened applesauce
  • Banana – Mash ripe bananas as a substitute for about half the butter
  • Yogurt – Plain yogurt can replace half the butter in cookies

Butter contributes moisture, tenderness and rich flavor to cookies. When substituting, adjust other ingredients and expect a slightly different texture and flavor.

Why Substitute Butter in Sugar Cookies?

There are a few reasons you may want to use a butter substitute in sugar cookie recipes:

  • Dietary restrictions – Vegan or dairy-free diets rule out regular butter
  • Health concerns – Lower fat or calorie options by replacing butter
  • Change texture – Certain substitutes can make chewier or crispier cookies
  • Flavor – Subtle flavor variations by using oils, fruit purees, etc.
  • Availability – If you’re out of butter, good substitutes can work in a pinch
  • Cost – Oils and other subs may be cheaper alternatives to butter

While butter provides distinctive flavor and texture, sugar cookie dough is generally forgiving enough to work well with creamy vegetable fats and fruit purees too.

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is one of the more direct substitutes for butter in cookies. Oils like canola, corn and olive oil have a similar fat content to butter.

When substituting, use the same amount of oil as the butter called for in the recipe. So for 1 cup butter, use 1 cup oil. The cookies may spread a bit more since oil is liquid at room temperature. Refrigerating the dough for 30-60 minutes before baking helps counteract spreading.

Neutral tasting oils like canola or vegetable work best as all-purpose substitutes. Olive oil and coconut oil will impart a subtle flavor.


  • Easy 1:1 butter replacement
  • Adds moisture and richness like butter
  • Vegetable oils don’t have milk proteins
  • No water content so cookies brown well


  • Oils cause more spread than butter
  • Some vegetable oils add flavor
  • Not an exact match for butter’s flavor


Vegetable shortening is another alternative to butter that contains 100% fat. Shortening is solid at room temperature like butter, so it creams well with sugar and doesn’t cause cookies to spread excessively.

Use an equal amount of shortening in place of the butter. So for 1/2 cup butter, substitute 1/2 cup shortening. White shortening works best as it won’t add any color to the cookies.

Since shortening has a neutral flavor, it allows more of the cookie ingredients like vanilla, eggs and sugar to shine through.


  • Mimics butter’s consistency
  • Produces soft, chewy cookies
  • Doesn’t make cookies spread more
  • Typically inexpensive


  • Lacks butter’s rich flavor
  • Some shortenings use trans fats
  • Added processing compared to butter


Unsweetened applesauce is a moist, low-fat way to replace some of the butter in sugar cookies. Use a 1:1 ratio, replacing half the butter in a recipe with applesauce.

For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup applesauce. Be sure to use unsweetened sauce for cookies.

The applesauce produces cookies with great moisture and texture. Its mild fruitiness pairs nicely with common cookie flavors like cinnamon and vanilla. The texture won’t be quite as rich and tender as an all butter cookie.


  • Cuts fat and calories compared to all butter
  • Adds moisture for chewy cookies
  • Natural subtle fruit flavor
  • Easy substitution


  • Different texture than all butter cookies
  • Moisture content can make cookies cakey
  • May need to reduce other liquids in the recipe


Ripe mashed banana can stand in for about half the butter when baking cookies. Banana adds moisture, sweetness and flavor to cookies.

Use very ripe bananas for the best results. Mash them thoroughly before adding to the dough. Replace 1/2 of the butter in a recipe with equal parts mashed banana.

Their high moisture content means cookies made with banana tend to be soft and cake-like. Reducing other liquids slightly helps counteract an overly moist texture. Banana pairs well with spices like cinnamon and vanilla.


  • Adds moisture and texture
  • Banana flavor goes well in sweets
  • Uses up ripe bananas
  • Cuts fat from butter


  • May make cookies too moist or cakey
  • Not as rich tasting as butter cookies
  • Banana flavor may overpower other ingredients

Greek Yogurt

Plain Greek yogurt is a tasty substitution for half the butter in a sugar cookie recipe. The live cultures and milk proteins of yogurt mimic some of the properties of butter.

Replace half the butter in a recipe with an equal amount of yogurt. So for 1/2 cup of butter, use 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup yogurt.

Yogurt adds moisture and tanginess while still allowing for tender, flaky cookies. Opt for plain yogurt rather than flavored varieties. Non-fat yogurt works well too.


  • Adds moisture and richness
  • Tangy flavor complements cookies
  • Lower fat than all butter
  • Doesn’t change cookie texture drastically


  • Moisture content may alter texture
  • Yogurt flavor may be detectable
  • Not as flaky and tender as butter alone

Other Butter Substitutes to Consider

In addition to the most common alternatives above, there are a few other ingredients to consider using in place of butter:

Coconut Oil

Replaces butter at a 1:1 ratio. Adds subtle coconut flavor.


Use stick margarine for easy 1:1 butter swap. Check labels as some contain trans fats.


Pureed avocado replaces about 1/4 the butter. Adds creaminess but also flavor.

Pureed Prunes

Blends of prunes and warm water substitute for about 1/3 of the butter. Adds moisture.

Nut Butters

Almond or cashew butter can replace up to 1/4 the butter. Strong nutty flavor.

Vegetable Butter Spread

Some dairy-free butter spreads mimic properties of real butter fairly well.

How Butter Affects Sugar Cookies

Butter is more than just a fat in sugar cookie recipes. When creamed with sugar, it creates air bubbles that result in cookies with:

  • Flaky, tender texture – Butter’s fat crystals create pockets and layers.
  • Rich flavor – Butter has a sweet, aromatic flavor that comes through.
  • Browned surfaces – Butter helps cookies caramelize and brown.
  • Moisture – The water in butter keeps cookies from being dry.
  • Spread control – Solid at room temperature, butter helps restrict spread.

Substitutes that mimic butter’s moisture, fat content and crystallization help achieve the most similar cookies. Adjusting other ingredients can help compensate when substitutions throw off moisture, flavor, spread and texture.

Tips for Substituting Butter Successfully

While it takes some tweaking, you can create tasty butter-free sugar cookies with the right subs and adjustments:

  • Refrigerate dough before baking to prevent excess spread if using oils.
  • Reduce liquids slightly if using a moist substitute like applesauce or banana.
  • Sift dry ingredients to maximize rise if substituted fat won’t cream the same.
  • Extend baking time about 1-2 minutes for the best texture.
  • Add a touch more sugar or vanilla to help achieve sweet, buttery flavor.
  • Let cookies cool completely on the baking sheet so they keep their shape.
  • Experiment with subs in small batches first to get amounts just right.

With some care, you can make sugar cookies with substitutions that are incredibly delicious in their own right. The flavor and texture may not be exactly the same as butter cookies, but are often still crowd-pleasingly tasty.

Top Recipes for Butter Substitute Sugar Cookies

To get you started, here are some popular recipes that use oil, applesauce, banana and other butter subs with great success:

Chewy Vegan Sugar Cookies

Uses canola oil instead of butter for tender, lightly crispy edges.

Secretly Healthy Sugar Cookies

Swaps half the butter for unsweetened applesauce.

Cinnamon Banana Sugar Cookies

Incorporates mashed banana for moisture and flavor.

Two-Bowl Shortening Sugar Cookies

Replaces butter with a equal amount of shortening.

Greek Yogurt Sugar Cookies

Subs half the butter with tangy Greek yogurt.

Fluffy Coconut Oil Sugar Cookies

Uses coconut oil for subtle coconut richness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make sugar cookies without butter?

Yes, you can make delicious butter-free sugar cookies by using vegetable oil, shortening, fruit purees or other suitable substitutes in place of the butter. The texture and flavor will be a little different than regular butter cookies.

What’s the best butter substitute for sugar cookies?

There is no single best substitute, but good options include canola oil, shortening, applesauce and mashed banana. Use about half fruit puree and half butter for a good balance. For vegan cookies, stick with oil or vegan butter spreads.

Do I have to refrigerate sugar cookie dough without butter?

If using oil instead of butter, it helps to chill the dough briefly before baking to prevent too much spread. Dough made with shortening or other solid fats doesn’t need chilling.

Will butter substitutes change the taste?

Butter has a distinctive rich, sweet flavor. Substitutes like oil or shortening won’t replicate that exactly. Fruit purees and yogurt add their own flavors. With the right adjustments, subs can still taste delicious.

How do I adjust sugar cookie recipes for butter substitutes?

Reduce liquids slightly if the sub adds moisture. Add a bit more sugar or extract for flavor. You may need to bake slightly longer. Make subs in small batches at first to perfect the amounts.

The Bottom Line

Butter is a key ingredient in sugar cookies, but you have options if you need or want to replace it. Oils, shortening, fruit purees and yogurt all work well in the right amounts.

Make adjustments to other ingredients to retain moist, tender, flavorful cookies. Refrigerate dough made with oils, reduce liquids if the sub is moist, and allow for a little longer baking time.

While the texture and taste will likely vary a bit, you can make delicious sugar cookies without butter. Try out different substitutes and amounts to find your perfect butter-free cookie recipe.

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