Most of us are familiar with shortening, which is used in baked foods like cakes and cookies. Shortening is a semisolid fat that is used to make the flour more crumbly, for baking. It can be either animal fat or vegetable fat, but the latter is used widely. Vegetable oils that are in liquid form are hydrogenated to solidify as fat. This flavorless fat is called shortening that is used in baking, in order to make the baked products light and flaky.
It is said that shortening hinders cross-linking of gluten molecules, which makes the dough sticky. For baking purposes, you don't need sticky dough. Apart from that, shortening contains very less water and it is perfect for baking recipes, which require a high ratio of fat to flour.
Shortening is a very broad term that includes any fat (like butter and margarine) that is solid at room temperature. Earlier, lard was commonly used as shortening. But with the invention of margarine and hydrogenated oil, the popularity of lard as a shortening, declined. Today, we have many different types of shortening, but the term is mostly used to denote vegetable shortening with 100% fat content. However, the process of hydrogenation produces trans fatty acids and saturated fats, which are not considered healthy. So if you want to avoid shortening, you may use the closest substitute. A basic understanding about shortening substitutes may prove useful, if you run out of this ingredient, while cooking. However, substitutes may slightly alter the flavor and texture of the end product. So you must know which substitute can be used in a particular food recipe, so as to avoid any change in flavor and texture.
Butter or Margarine
If you are searching for a shortening substitute, to be used in pastries, biscuits and cakes, then, butter or margarine are good choices. However, you must make sure that the flavor of butter or margarine suits the recipe. Health conscious people can opt for low-fat versions of these products. Such low-fat versions may not be as effective as shortening, as they do not melt easily.
You can substitute shortening with the same amount of butter or margarine, if the latter is measured by volume (one tablespoon butter/margarine for a tablespoon of shortening). If you measure by weight, you have to take 25% more butter/margarine. In case the recipe has salt as an ingredient, reduce its quantity slightly (while using butter/margarine as a substitute for shortening).
You can add flaxseed powder with butter or margarine and use it as a replacement for shortening. Mix fifty percent butter/margarine to fifty percent flaxseed powder and add to the baking batter. It is more suitable for cookies, which will become denser and sweet. When it comes to deep-frying, butter or margarine cannot be a substitute.
As commercially available shortening is made of vegetable oils, you can use oil as a shortening substitute. Olive oil is considered the best option for this purpose. It is also healthy. However, olive oil is not suitable for baking products that are sweet. It can replace shortening in grilled sandwiches and other such food items. But don't use it as a substitute if the recipe requires melting of shortening.
Vegetable oil is perfect as a substitute, if the shortening is meant to be used for deep-frying. Peanut oil is said to be the ideal one for deep-frying, if you like its flavor. In other words, you can use a cup of oil instead of a cup of shortening. If you want to use vegetable oil (instead of shortening) for making cakes and cookies, it will be better to use three parts oil for every four parts of shortening. In that case, slightly increase the amount of eggs and sugar.
If you are using sweetened applesauce, reduce the quantity of sugar in the recipe. You may also use half cup of pureed prunes as a substitute for a cup of shortening. But remember that this substitution will work only for baked foods. Pureed prunes are found to be perfect for baking recipes with chocolate. Even mashed bananas can be used as a replacement for shortening (the same amount has to be substituted).
Some people resort to animal fats like lard and suet, as substitutes for shortening. These are also non-hydrogenated fats, which are tasty and contain no artificial additives. However, animal fats may contain high levels of saturated fats that are not good for health. Lard is one of the ideal options, as far as shortening substitutes are concerned. But make sure that you enjoy the flavor of this animal fat and is not concerned about its high fat content.
If you are using lard instead of shortening, you have to use it in lesser amounts. For every single cup of shortening, you can use a cup of lard after removing two tablespoons from it (1 cup shortening = 1 cup lard - 2 tablespoons). Even fresh cream can be used as an alternative to shortening, but it is most suitable for making foods with a milky flavor (like milk cookies). You have to use it in the same amount as the shortening.
Though there are various options, you have to choose the one which is best suited for your recipe as well as your health. Nowadays, low-fat shortening types are also available in the market. You may also try any of those products.