Shortening may not seem like an appetizing ingredient, and for the most part, it isn’t, but it does have its uses and boy, does it do them well. Shortening is responsible for the puff in your pastry, as it traps more air bubbles in the baking process than butter does and helps make them crumbly, flaky, and tender.
Shortening was traditionally made by combining lard and vegetable oils. But today, some brands do not contain lard at all and are purely vegetable-based (vegetable shortening), which works just as well.
If you’re not a fan of shortening or don’t have any on hand, there are some great substitutes depending on your recipes and dietary constraints. Here are some of the best:
- Avocado oil
- Refined coconut oil
Best All-Around Substitute For Shortening: Crisco or Lard
As we are talking about shortening, which is an amalgamation of vegetable oil and lard, it makes sense that the best all-around substitute was a tie!
Crisco is a vegetable oil-based shortening. It is made by hydrogenating oil, which turns the liquid into a solid. It is relatively flavorless and has a decent smoke point, making it an excellent choice for most baking applications. It works exactly the same way as traditional shortening; in fact, nowadays, most shortening is made up of 100% vegetable oil anyway, and the lard has been eliminated.
Lard is simply the rendered fat of an animal, usually pork. The difference between lard and Crisco is that lard will often have a flavor to it, whereas Crisco is entirely neutral. Lard is excellent for frying meats or french fries, or you can get lard that has been processed to remove the flavor for sweet baked goods and pastries.
Best Raw Cooking Substitute For Shortening: Avocado Oil
Shortening has its uses but isn’t great in raw cooking. The mouthfeel is weird, and it doesn’t mix well without being heated to some extent. Therefore, if you are making a raw dish, try avocado oil! It has a rich and heavy mouthfeel and a neutral, fatty flavor. It works well in almost everything I’ve tried it in, from dips to salad dressings.
Best Shortening Substitute for Regular Cooking: Crisco/Lard
For regular heat cooking, lard or Crisco are the best substitutes. Shortening has a smoke point of, lard is, and Crisco is, making all of them suitable for baking and regular heat stovetop cooking.
Best Shortening Substitute for High-Heat Cooking: Ghee
Crisco and lard are not great for high-heat cooking, so this is where ghee steps in. Ghee has a smoke point of 480 degrees, so it can withstand higher temperatures and cooking methods. It is also primarily solid at room temperature and can impart a rich and nutty flavor to dishes, which works well with both sweet and savory foods.
Shortening Substitute that is Closest in Flavor: Crisco
Crisco wins in the category of substitute that is closest in flavor and also the category of most neutral flavored substitute! That is because they are the same. Shortening is known to be neutral, with maybe a hint of flavor from the pork, but not much, whereas Crisco is completely flavorless once cooked… though I have not eaten it raw to be able to tell you what that is like.
Best Budget-Friendly Shortening Substitute: Crisco
Crisco is also the most budget-friendly substitute. As it is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils, the raw ingredients that go into it are cheap, especially compared to its animal-based alternatives.
Best Healthy Shortening Substitute: Refined Coconut Oil
If you are looking for a healthy alternative to shortening that is also solid at room temperature, then you can try refined coconut oil. I say refined, as the non-refined versions taste more like coconut, which may not work for all dishes. If you like the taste of coconut, then by all means, go for the unrefined one, as it has more nutrients.
Coconut oil contains healthy fatty acids, particularly lauric acid, and is a good source of Vitamin E. It is not as stable at warmer room temperatures as shortening, making it a bit more challenging to work with in pastry.
Best Keto/Paleo/Whole30 Shortening Substitute: Lard
Lard is the best alternative for keto, paleo, and Whole30. Shortening is not suitable for these diets, as refined seed and vegetable oils are frowned upon due to their highly processed nature. You could also use ghee or butter if you cannot find lard.
My best guess is that it is cheaper and more shelf stable to make shortening with vegetable oil only, plus there was that period of time when everyone thought saturated animal fat was going to kill them, so they stopped eating lard, thereby reducing its popularity.