With the holiday season approaching, some home cooks are already planning what food to bring to their family gatherings. And, like most of us, they may be thinking seriously about those carbs.

Baked goods are a major part of those family gatherings in November and December, but the United States Department of Agriculture is warning that one key ingredient is becoming a bit more scarce.

Earlier this month in its Dairy Market Report, the USDA noted that butter demand is expected to rise during the holiday season, but limited inventory - specifically for unsalted butter - may impact those demands.

Market sentiments are mixed in the Northeast. Some in the region anticipate a decline in retail butter demand in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, others say strong holiday butter demand may remain unmet due to limited churning and tight butter inventories. Butter availability varies in the Central region. In the West, tight butter inventories persist, and some spot purchasers say loads of unsalted butter are unavailable.

attachment-butter cold storage stocks september 2022
Credit: USDA Dairy Market Report

On top of that, recent Consumer Price Index reports also show that the price of butter is rising. Combined with supply issues, one of the key ingredients for most meals even outside of the holiday season could see prices skyrocket.

Why It Matters

Baking requires butter, and usually a lot of it, because it does so many jobs. It adds flavor, can add a level of creaminess to icing, adds necessary fat to recipes, and help create light and flaky crusts for pies.

The Dairy Market Report referring to shortages of unsalted butter is especially troubling, as most bakers prefer unsalted. Most recipes call for unsalted butter because you can control how much salt goes into whatever you're baking.

However, you can buy now and freeze your stock of butter, which is something home bakers across the country recommend.

Butter Substitutes

If you're still planning to go ahead with baking, but can't meet all of your butter needs this holiday season, the good news is that there are plenty of alternatives. Here are a handful of substitutes you can use.


Probably the one substitute we all remember right off the bat, margarine is the go-to for most people, and you can use the same amount of margarine as you would butter in most recipes. Margarine is a combination of oil, water, salt, and various emulsifiers, and it is flavored to taste like butter.


Like margarine, shortening can be used in the same amounts as butter, but because it doesn't have the flavor of butter (unless you specifically buy butter-flavored shortening), people tend to use more.


Believe it or not, applesauce has become a healthy alternative to butter in recent cooking trends. Where a recipe for cookies and other smaller baked treats calls for butter, divide the amount of butter in half and whatever that amount is, use that much applesauce instead (if it calls for two tablespoons of butter, use one tablespoon of applesauce, etc.)

Coconut Oil

This is another healthier option that adds a slightly different flavor profile to baked goods, but you can use equal amounts of coconut oil instead of butter and it works just as well. You can use it for all sorts of treats, like cookies, brownies, breads, and muffins.

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