3 Best Substitutes For Coconut Oil, From Dietitians & Chefs
We've all been there: You've landed on a recipe, gathered the cooking supplies, and rounded up the ingredients, only to find your bottle of cooking oil has run dry. If the recipe calls explicitly for coconut oil, you may be wondering what type of replacements would work.
To help you out in a pinch, mbg consulted registered dietitians and chefs to share the best coconut oil substitutes, and what type of cooking projects they work best with.
First of all, what is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a natural, plant-based cooking oil made from pressed coconut meat. Many dietitians and health experts consider it one of the healthier options among cooking oils, depending on how it's made.
"Coconut oil can be expeller-pressed (with heat) or cold-pressed (without heat)," chef and certified nutritionist Serena Poon, C.N., tells mbg. It can also be labeled as virgin or refined.
"Cold-pressed and virgin are thought to best preserve the nutritional value and also maintain the coconut flavor," Poon says. "Refined coconut oil is made with dried coconut meat, has a bit higher smoke point, and does not carry a flavor." The latter is also more chemically processed and, therefore, less nutritious.
Is coconut oil a healthy fat?
Whether coconut oil is a heart-healthy fat has been debated. On one hand, it contains lauric acid, which has been shown to lower bad cholesterol1. It's also rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that converts into energy, helping to fuel the body.
MCTs, however, are a source of saturated fats. "Guidelines tell us to limit [saturated fats] to less than 10% of our total calories per day," says Ginger Hultin, RDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So if you're worried about your intake, allergic to coconut, or simply don't like the flavor, consider these comparable alternatives.
What can you substitute for coconut oil?
Extra-virgin olive oil
Best for: Low heat (salad dressings, sauces, pestos)
EVOO is the least processed form of olive oil. It has been proven to improve cognitive functioning2 and support heart health by lowering bad cholesterol3. Because olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, it's a healthy swap for people keeping their saturated fat intake in mind.
The smoke point in EVOO is notably lower than coconut oil (325 to 375°F versus 350 to 450°F), so it would not work as well in high-heat dishes, like those made by frying, grilling, or even baking.
Best for: High heat (roasted veggies, grilled meat, stir fry)
Almond oil has a similarly high smoke point to coconut oil (around 430°F), making it a good replacement for high-heat cooking processes. Though almond oil can hold up heat-wise, it may not substitute as seamlessly in baking projects because of its "distinctive nutty flavor," registered dietitian Titilayo Ayanwola, MPH, R.D., L.D., previously told mbg. Anything else is pretty fair game, though.
Best for: High heat and neutral flavor (baked goods)
Avocado oil has a high smoke point (480 to 520°F) and a mild flavor. This makes it a good replacement in baking dishes, unlike the other oils mentioned above. According to Mascha Davis, R.D., MPH, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Vitamins, avocado oil is high in antioxidants, carotenoids, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fats—so not only is it a good sub, but it's also good for you.
How to substitute coconut oil for butter.
Butter and coconut oil have a lot of similar properties since they're both high in saturated fats (this is why coconut oil can become solid at room temperature). Aside from flavor, the main difference is that coconut oil is a plant-based option. Anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance should opt for coconut oil, Hultin says, which can usually be subbed on a 1:1 basis.
Here are a few of Poon's favorite ways to substitute coconut oil for butter:
- Cookies: "I love to bake cookies with coconut oil, as it lends a tropical flavor and unique texture. Coconut oil can often be swapped out for exact amounts of butter, but it depends on the recipe. You might have to play around with your favorite cookie recipes a bit to find the right amounts."
- Sautéed vegetables: You can also use coconut oil to sauté vegetables in place of butter, I love to do this when preparing curry dishes and stir fries.
- Biscuits: I find it important to use coconut oil in its solid form when making any recipe with flakes. Again, 1 cup of shortening can likely be replaced with a cup of coconut oil, but you may have to make a few adjustments to get the right consistency.
- Banana bread: Use virgin coconut oil to supply your banana bread with a special tropical flavor.
- Pie crusts: Coconut oil can be used to make delicious pie crusts. Again, it's important to fold in solid coconut oil, and you may have to give the recipe a few shots to find the perfect consistency.
- Tofu scrambles: "I love using coconut oil in my morning tofu scrambles. Add red bell peppers, scallions, carrots, and sugar snap peas for a delicious and nutritious morning treat."
The bottom line.
Coconut oil is a relatively healthy and versatile kitchen staple, but these three other oils are a great replacement. Where other oils don't stack up, though, is in their similarities to butter. If you're seeking to make a baking project vegan-friendly, coconut oil may be the way to go.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.