Best Butter Substitutes In Mac And Cheese

Mac and Cheese is a classic of western cooking. It may not be the fanciest dish, but it is a staple of bars, cafés, and any mom’s kitchen. It is easy to see why when you look at the ingredient list for the simplest Mac and Cheese.

Best Butter Substitutes In Mac And Cheese

The dish can be as simple as butter, pasta, cheese, flour, and milk, and, although it is not the most recommended recipe, it still fills a hole.

On the occasions when we come home, maybe after a long day, maybe after a long night, and in need of something quick and easy, we turn to Mac and Cheese. Yet, when we open the fridge door, there is no butter.

You may not think that this is a big deal, it’s not called ‘Butter, Mac, and Cheese’ after all. However, this one small ingredient is vital to making a good Mac and Cheese, forming the glue that holds the sauce together.

Without it, your dinner would be nothing more than a gloppy mess. So, what do you do without it? You do what every college student has done since the dawn of time, you experiment with substitutes.

In this list, we are going to tell you the best butter substitute you can find for your Mac and Cheese.

Heavy Cream

As they are both made from cream, a good substitute is heavy cream. Being incredibly rich and indulgent, heavy cream forms an incredible sauce which can be applied in almost any way.

The fat content means it can be made into a roux, a sauce made from equal parts fat and flour, in this case just add half as much cream as you would butter.

Should you feel obliged, you can make your own butter from it, although this takes some effort and can get messy when you need to wash the butter.

You could also use cream at the start by cooking the pasta in a half cream, half water mixture before adding cheese. This provides a creamy, rich sauce, while having enough starch to coat the pasta in a superb, textured layer.

Cream Cheese

A substitute I’m sure we all tried, or at least added to our Mac and Cheese, at some point: cream cheese. Substituting butter for cream cheese is an instant flavor booster, adding a level of depth and creaminess to your Mac and Cheese.

The problems arise with cream cheese when trying to make a roux for the foundation of your dish. A roux needs a malleable fat to adhere to the butter, which cream cheese doesn’t do.

As such, if you plan to use cream cheese, the best option is to forgo making the roux. Instead, use a different foundation, such as heavy cream or milk, bring it to a gentle simmer before incorporating the cream cheese.

Adding the cream cheese this way will thicken and flavor the sauce, then you can reduce it down to your desired consistency and add your main cheese. In this way, you can create a beautiful dish without using butter or even a roux.

Sour Cream

Sour Cream

At this point, we are moving away from standard substitutes that most people think about and into unknown regions, starting with sour cream.

The tangy flavor of sour cream makes for a vibrant flavor profile, as it mixes with the saltiness of the cheese and starchiness of the pasta.

Similarly to heavy cream, it can be used to make a roux with the same proportions, adding half as much cream as you would butter. However, it struggles a little when cooking pasta in it.

Therefore, the best option when using sour cream is to cook the pasta and save about half a cup of the pasta water. Then, gently heat the cream in the water until it is incorporated, before adding your main cheese off the heat.

It is not the best sauce on the list, but it is good for a five-minute meal.

Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils are a fantastic option for a Mac and Cheese. Even though they may not give the depth of flavor as some of the other choices do, they give you the freedom to cook Mac and Cheese the way you know how, and they are suitable for most dietary needs.

Since vegetable oils are an edible fat, it can be used to form your roux, although you only need a small amount – much less than butter – or your roux will be thin and far too oily.

With neutral flavored oils like canola or sunflower, you will need to add more flavor boosters, as all the flavor you would normally get from fat will not be there. Try mustard powder, paprika, or extra cheese to even out the flavor.

You could also use a more prominently flavored oil, like olive or sesame, which would make your sauce hearty and much more robust in flavor. However, do be aware that these flavors will be prominent, so when adding cheese or seasoning try to make it match.

Coconut oil

Of most of the substitutes on this list, I believe this is one of the two most surprising. A staple of Asian cuisine, as food has globalized, so has this humble oil.

With its growing following in the west and the multiple ways people have found to use coconut oil, seeing it in Mac and Cheese may become more common than you would think.

There are two main benefits of Coconut oil: one is that it remains solid at room temperature, acting as butter would, two is that of the oils it is the most similar in texture to butter.

With these benefits, you can reasonably replace butter in your roux with coconut oil for the same amount.

The only real downsides are the distinct flavor of coconut oil overpowering you dish. The solution to this is to add flavorings that compliment coconut oil and balance this with the cheese in your sauce.

If you wanted, you could try and make a variation of Mac and Cheese using flavors from Thailand or Sri Lanka, though I am unsure how this would go.

Nuts And Nut Butters (Especially Cashew)

When I said earlier about the two most surprising, I prepared you for this entrant. Nuts are incredibly high in fat, making them a perfect substitute for a creamy sauce.

I have been told many times about their benefits, especially about Cashew Mac and Cheese, which is meant to be insanely creamy and tasty.

How this was first created or discovered I can only put down to sorcery or mad science, but no matter its origins, I am happy it is here.

As with other entrants, nuts and nut butters will not create a roux. The way around this is to make a sauce first using milk on its own or a milk substitute with a small amount of another fat and reduce it down to a thicker consistency.

Then, put the sauce in a blender with your nut or nut butter of choice, add whatever other spices or herbs you want, then blend to a thick, creamy consistency free of lumps.

Once finished, you can add your cheese or cheese alternative, and you have your Mac and Cheese, ready to eat.

The one problem with nuts is their strong and pronounced flavors, similarly to the coconut oil. The best way around this is by adding spices or strong flavor profiles that complement the nuts themselves.

Mustard often works well in regular Mac and Cheese, and it isn’t a bad choice here, either.

Conclusion

Before this list, I bet you didn’t realize the importance of butter to a dish. Further still, I bet you didn’t know of so many alternatives available for our favorite yellow spread.

But as diets have become more varied and the world has become more closely connected, we have had to come up with new ingredients or draw from other cultures to match the changes.

As such, even a dish as simple as home cooked Mac and Cheese can become an indulgent extravagance, if you choose to forgo its simplest ingredient.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do I Even Need Butter For Mac And Cheese?

Butter is a core component to the sauce or roux that you choose to make for your Mac and Cheese. Roux needs that fat for the flour to bind to and, effectively, dissolve when you add another liquid.

If you don’t make a roux, then it becomes a key flavor component and often mellows out more aggressive flavors. Not only that, but it adds additional flavor and salt to your final dish by effectively being the base that your Mac and Cheese is built off.

Can I Just Not Use Butter?

You do not have to use butter if you use an alternative, but not using any kind of butter or butter substitute means that the dish you’re making is probably not Mac and Cheese.

Butter is a key ingredient and also dictates the cooking process, you can’t make a roux without some form of fat. The best this dish would be is cheese on macaroni pasta.

I Can’t Use Butter Or The Ingredients Here. What Should I Do?

Experiment! The way a lot of these alternatives were found was through trial and error.

There are probably many, many more butter alternatives that were tested for Mac and Cheese and were a disaster, but without that experimentation we would not have got the items on this list.

First, find a type of fat that is edible and can replace butter. Then, add it in the places where the butter should be or where you feel it should go best, you may get a few wrong turns, but eventually you will strike gold.

Jess Smith
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