What is the difference between butter and shortening?
What is the difference between butter and shortening?

Most recipes for cookies and pastries demand the use of fat. Fat gives that soft, chewy, and moist feeling to your treats, and more critical – it provides flavor. Still, some baked goods recipes call for butter and some for shortening. Why is that so? Is there a difference in what kind of fat you are using for your cookies or pastries? 

Butter and shortening have different chemical structures and, therefore, various performances when used in recipes. Understanding their abilities will make you perfectly suitable to decide which of them to use when you’re baking.

ButterShortening
Composition80% milkfat + 20% water100% vegetable oil
Melting point95 degrees F 117 degrees F
TasteMild oily tasteStrong milky taste
VitaminsA, D, E, and K
Calories (100g)717 kcal884 kcal
Butter vs. shortening characteristics

Shortening Characteristics 

Shortening is a semi-solid vegetable fat, similar to lard or margarine. Semi-solid fat means that shortening is liquid at room temperature while solidifying in the refrigerator. As it is a vegetable fat, it’s manufactured from vegetable materials, such as soybean, sunflower, palm, or cottonseed oil, thru the hydrogenation process.

Shortening is 100% fat, and it doesn’t contain any moisture, which is necessary to promote gluten formations when baking with it. It also has a high melting point (117 degrees F or 47 degrees C), so it won’t allow your baked goods to spread as much as butter, but it will make them higher. 

When it comes to the flavor, shortening loses a battle. It has a simple mild oily taste, which can be good when using other ingredients with intense flavors. You can also use shortening enriched with butter aroma.

Shortenings were notorious because of their production method – hydrogenation produces trans fats, which are bad for entire human health. However, today you can find shortenings with 0% trans fats, healthier versions. 

Butter characteristics

Butter is one of the healthiest foods in our diet, a dairy product with at least 80% milkfat. Butter is an entirely natural “superfood” containing essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals and almost does not change its properties at high temperatures.

As we mentioned, butter is “only” 80% fat. The rest is 16% of liquid and 4% of milk solids. The liquid in butter allows the gluten to form correctly and gives that beautifully chewy taste to your baked goods. Butter spreads while baking and can prolong baking time, as all the liquid has to evaporate. A little tip – when you’re baking with butter, always use a lower temperature and bake a little longer to avoid burning your baked goods. Butter has a lower melting point than the shortening – it melts at 95 degrees F or 35 degrees C.

Butter has a beautiful natural smell and exquisite, strong taste that you cannot compare with shortening. You can’t achieve the buttery aroma of your baked goods with any other fats.

Also, butter is a healthier option than shortening. It contains all fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. Butter is also a rich source of iodine in a highly absorbable form. It also contains lauric acid (MCT), as well as lecithin. In addition to lecithin from the group of building phospholipids in butter, we also have sphingomyelins and cephalins. 

Although butter is healthier, keep in mind that it is still high in calories and saturated fats.

Can shortening be a substitute for butter?

Yes, shortening can be a substitute for butter, and also butter can be a substitute for fat. Don’t forget that these two ingredients don’t contain the same amount of fat – butter has 80% while shortening has 100%. Suppose you’re using them as a replacement for one another use 1.2 amounts of butter to replace shortening and 0.8 amounts of shortening, and 0.2 amounts of milk to replace the butter. You can also combine shortening and butter in recipes.

Citations:

  • https://www.landolakes.com/expert-advice/butter-vs-shortening-in-baking/
  • https://www.jessicagavin.com/butter-vs-shortening/
  • https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2016/11/16/shortening-vs-butter-in-baking