Butter vs shortening

Butter vs Shortening

Apr 9, 2021 | Cooking Tips

Butter and shortening are two very important kinds of fat in baking. It’s one of the most important ingredients in cooking. Fat makes or breaks food. Fat creates great texture, adds delicious flavor and produces aroma. Fat in food is simply splendid.

Fat typically has a bad reputation for being bad for you. It is known to add to bad cholesterol and hypertension. But don’t let that turn you off.

Fat works wonders in cooking. A lot of delicious food is fueled by the presence of fat in it.


The role of fat in frosting, baking and other desserts

Fat not only adds flavor to food but also dictates the texture and form of the finished product.

Frosting is usually made of fat and sugar. Frosting is a sweet fluff of topping that is usually piped or smeared on top of desserts like cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts and the list goes on. Frosting contains fat or sometimes it is mainly just fat with a little bit of sugar like in the case of whipped cream frosting and cream cheese frosting. Some frostings like American buttercream compose of shortening and powdered sugar. Fat in general, when whipped up, creates volume and a smooth texture in frostings. It is the reason how these frostings are able to stand and not melt away from the main dessert.

Fat in baking serves the same purpose are fat in frosting with regards to holding up the fort. There is a chemical reaction between fat, sugar and flour that creates the texture of a dessert. Each way you mix the fat with sugar and flour also dictates how the texture will be like. In making biscuits, the fat is barely blended in with sugar and flour and as a result, it becomes crumbly. When the heat is introduced to the fat, produces air in between the sugar and flour. When fat is creamed with the sugar, this allows for the final product to spread.

In 4 simple roles of fat:

  • Fat adds moisture to the dessert. Unlike water, fat doesn’t evaporate.
  • Fat tenderizes the baked good by waning the gluten bonds within the assembly.
  • Fat helps transport the heat throughout the baking process.
  • Fat aids the browning of food.

What is the difference between butter and shortening?

All kinds of fats are different from each other but we have the main players for baking, which are butter, and shortening.

Butter is a well-known type of fat, which is good on anything. It’s good on bread, rice, vegetables, meat, fish and sweet food. Some people even eat butter alone. Butter is typically a byproduct of cow’s milk. The milk is churned until the fat solids and liquid separate. The solids are what eventually become butter and the liquid is what we call buttermilk.

Shortening is typically hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenation turns liquid vegetable oil into solid by barraging the oil with hydrogen atoms. This process allows for shortening to stay solid at room temperature.

Metling Butter
Melting Butter

Melting Point of butter and shortening

This is one of the more distinct differences between butter and shortening. Butter has lower heat resistance compared to shortening. It has a melting point of 35C. Butter will burn faster and when mixed in with other dessert ingredients, it will cause the product to spread thinner and faster. Shortening on the other hand has a higher melting point, which is 47C. It will keep the solid form of the product longer.

Texture difference in using shortening and butter

Shortening is 100% fat which has a zero moisture contribution factor to baked goods. The absence of moisture doesn’t promote gluten formation and as a result, baked goods that contain shortening in them are mostly crumbly and tender.

Butter isn’t 100% fat. It is 80% butterfat, 18% water and 2% milk solids. When butter is mixed with flour, it creates gluten, which can result in a more chewy baked good. You can also find the crisp factor from butter by baking in low heat at a longer time.

Is there a difference in flavor?

If you’ve ever tried vegetable oil alone, you’ll know that it doesn’t have much flavor. This is why vegetable oil is commonly used for frying or as the base oil for sautéing with any dish. It’s neutral oil that works for everything. Shortening is technically vegetable oil meaning, it doesn’t have too much flavor in it.

Butter on the other hand is packed with flavor. Butter solids from the milk have this very distinct yet subtle taste and aroma that amplifies any baked good’s flavor. The subtle creaminess of butter wins the lot overall.

Butter vs shortening in cookies
Butter vs Shortening in Cookies

Butter vs. Shortening in Cookies

As individuals living on Earth, we all have our preferences in life and cookies aren’t shy of that. Some of us like crispy and crumbly cookies. Some of us like soft and chewy cookies. Some of us like crispy cookies on the outside and chewy on the inside.

The presence of fat in a cookie is what determines the results of our preferences – it determines the texture and the flavor.

If you use shortening to make cookies, chances are, the cookies will be crumbly, tender and hold their form more due to the limited spread factor. It’ll be a great-looking cookie with the texture of shortbread.

If you use butter to makes cookies, the cookie may be crispy and fattier depending on how you use the butter. If the butter is melted and mixed in with the sugar, the cookies tend to be crisp on the outside but chewy on the inside. If the butter is creamed in with the sugar, the cookie is will be crispier and the overall spread factor of the cookie will be thinner.

Butter vs Shortening in pie crust
Butter vs Shortening in Pie Crust

Butter vs. Shortening in Pie Crust

There are many debates on which kind of fast is best for pie crust. We have a tie. Again, this all boils down to preference.

If you’re a butter purist, you’ll definitely say butter because it adds so much flavor to the pie crust that shortening will never be able to achieve. Since butter is made of 80% fat and 18% water, the moisture from the water steams up the baked good and moves the heat, allowing air pockets to rise and create flakiness.

Shortening will also be able to create a flaky crust because eventually the fat will melt and the steam from this will create air pockets as well. The pie crust will be perfectly flaky just like butter pie crust but it just won’t be as flavorful. If you’re looking for your pie’s filling to stand out more than the crust, shortening if your best choice

Butter vs Shortening in frosting
Butter vs Shortening in Frosting

Butter vs. Shortening in Frosting

Fat in frosting is very important because it creates volume and texture depending on the method of making it.

Butter is usually used for frostings like Italian and French buttercream while shortening is used in American buttercream. If you’ve gone this far through this article, you are most likely aware that shortening holds longer at room temperature compared to butter.

Frosting is one of those dessert toppings that endear the consumer. They’re often colored or shiny to entice you to eat them. Frosting is mostly a ready-to-eat food item. It usually isn’t cooked.

Now the debate for when choosing your frosting is what type of fat do you want to eat as is?

You also have to consider where you will be serving the baked good with frosting – if it’s in a hotter or cooler place.

Butter vs Shortening in bread
Butter vs Shortening in Bread

Butter vs. Shortening in Bread

Butter vs. shortening in bread is a lot of technicalities but we’ll make it simple.

The composition of fat in each differs. The moisture present in butter can affect the finished product of bread and the absence of it will also affect the finished product. If you’re following a certain recipe for bread, make sure to follow it according to the fat required of it. Seasoned bakers will easily be able to interchange both but if you’re a beginner, it’s best to follow the recipe.

Again, the butter will provide more flavor to the finished product and shortening will keep the flavors in one straight line.


Hey there! I'm Isabel. I love cooking, dogs, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good flavorful food, to share with family and friends.



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