Butter, Margarine, and Shortening a Comparison

Dear Home Ec 101,

What is all the hoopla about butter, shortening, and margarine. Does it matter if I substitute one for the other?

And lard? Ew!


Baffled Baker

Heather says:

I’ll address lard at the end. There are many differences between the other three, but I’ll try to keep this short rather than delving into the many nuances. In baking the top concerns are melting points and flavor. Commercially the chief concerns are price and shelf stability. From a nutritional standpoint one considers the type of fats involved.

Butter has the lowest melting point, which causes baked goods to spread before the binding agent, such as egg or gluten becomes firm. Margarine’s melting point is only slightly higher than that of butter. Shortening’s melting point is significantly higher, reducing the spread of baked goods in the oven.

Commercially hydrogenated vegetable oil is extremely cheap and shelf stable. The taste is “improved” with extra sugar. Draw your own conclusions.

Research is changing the nutritional view of butter, margarine, and shortening. As a consumer label reading is crucial. Margarine is a term that includes a lot of different manufacturing processes some contain partially hydrogenated oils.

New processes for creating shortening use fully hydrogenated vegetable oil which does not contain trans fat. Fully hydrogenated shortening alone is too solid for cooking, so it is blended with oils such as safflower and cottonseed to produce the proper consistency. This is being touted as a more healthful approach, but for years margarine was said to be more healthful than butter.

Now about lard. Lard is simply rendered pork fat. Suet is beef or sheep and Kosher varieties can be used when necessary. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It is a marvelous fat for certain types of baking. It produces beautiful crusts for savory pies (tomato pie anyone?). When properly rendered it is a flavorless fat that is solid at room temperature, it does not contain water, like butter, which improves the texture of pie crust. It also does not contain trans fat. While lard is a useful fat, be careful to label baked goods as containing animal or pork products if you may be serving vegetarians or those who practice Kosher or Halal diets.

My personal view is that baked goods should be a treat and not a staple. I prefer moderate consumption of real foods over indulging in more artificially created products.

Submit your question by sending an email to helpme@home-ec101.com 


  1. dodi on January 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Just popped in to say interesting ,now I have another question .To use the product half marg.half butter as it is sold does it replace at same measure as some of each as are in some recipies.I wanted to find real difference between marg,and shortning are they not both made from veg.oils?Thank you for your space time

    • HeatherSolos on January 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      That's a great question. I'll research it for you and get a post up in the beginning of February.

  2. JAZ on November 30, 2009 at 3:30 am

    I am all about using real butter when I bake cookies. It makes them taste yummy. Vanilla is another ingredient that I never go cheap on. Artificial, yuck. Real bourbon vanilla? Yum.

  3. MA on November 30, 2007 at 9:12 am

    When I make my chocolate chip cookies, I only use butter and other high-quality ingredients. The cookies taste so much better!

  4. Cyndy on November 30, 2007 at 7:15 am

    Love the blog! Great tips & info.
    Here’s my input on the lard situation….

  5. Margolis on November 28, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Heather, I TOTALLY agree with the last 2 sentences!
    However, I have been using the new shortening that’s fully hydrogenated. I use it mainly for pie crusts, but the women in my family also swear by a 1/2 and 1/2 blend of butter and shortening for drop cookies. The butter just tastes better, but the shortening keeps the cookies softer and shapelier.

  6. chocolatechic on November 28, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I would strongly encourage you to look at coconut oil as well. It has many health benefits. It does not turn to fat in your body, it lowers cholesterol, etc…


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.