The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

substituting palm oil for shortening

whoops's picture

substituting palm oil for shortening

HI all,

I have a recipe for molasses cookies that has been in the family for years. It is the favorite of the older generations (which now includes me!?!?!). I love the recipe we have, BUT it calls for Crisco(well, not by name, but that is what I have used, it says vegetable shortening) . In this day and age of trying to go organic/non-gmo/ no transfats-hydroginated things, I have been trying to come up with something to use in place of that.

The receipe actually calls for MELTED shortening. I attempted to use oil once, way back when - and as you can porbably guess- BAD MOVE. I am assuming there is some sort of chemical reaction that makes the melted shortening work and creates the wonderful crispness of the cookie. Since coconut oil is solid at room temp, I have thought about using that, but I am not sure how it translates to using it melted.

I did find some organic no transfat shortening- actually never even looked at the label,  but I hate to be dissapointed in my trials. Do any of you have experience with using a substitute for the shortening? And are any of you able to tell me in simple layman terms how/what happens with melted shortening that causes the wonderful crispness?

Thanks for your help!


PaddyL's picture

Palm oil comes mainly from Madagascar, and the harvesting of the palm oil is destroying the habitat of the lemurs.  We always try not to buy anything that contains palm oil.  There is something in melted shortening that gives a different texture and flavour, though I'm not sure exactly what it is; you could try lard, something that's making a huge comeback with chefs around the world.

thihal123's picture

There are larger producers of palm oil including Malaysia and Indonesia. In the Africa continent, there's Nigeria, Benin, Ghana. I have not heard of Madagascar being a primary or major producer of palm oil.

baybakin's picture

Like PattyL said, most palm oil is bad for the environment (if you care about that, like it sounds you do) because of deforestation.  However, palm oils from west African countries are much more sustainable, as they don't need to chop down rainforests in order to plant the palm, being native to that region.  Palm oil actually has a very particular flavor, which you may not like in baked goods.  Coconut oil I've found is a good replacement, (raw it is even more stable at room temp), you could also try Lard, which depending on where you get it from can be quite neutral. 

My family has a similar sounding molasses cookie, and we use good old butter.  Works like a charm. Good luck!

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea


All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... when you say,

"Palm oil actually has a very particular flavor"

Sure does, baybakin. One I loathe! Butter would get my vote any day over Palm Oil. They make a Grenadian version of chocolate ice-cream out here, but the overpowering oily tang of palm oil smothers the chocolate flavour very unpleasantly.

Might not be so noticeable perhaps in cookies, I guess.

All at Sea

yozzause's picture

Hi Whoops

It seems that the message about palm oil and the environment has been getting home which is probably a good thing  but not a lot of help to you trying to find a substitute or a good alternative to use in your recipe.

Shortening is solidified oil products usually created by hydronation, infusing hydrogen into the product. Melting points differ with different product. With your solid fats Butter is often the premium choice because of its flavour and is a dairy product, then there are the veg oil margarines some have a percentage of dairy others are all veg oil based both these products contain some water up to 20%. Then there is lard and dripping, animal fats, you should be aware that especially the use of lard which although a great product (pig fat has a number of cultural preclusions jewish and muslim)  as well as vegan and vegetarian followers.

In my bread making  i have tried all the above and it doesn't seem to be a problem, the one thing i usually like to do is taste whatever is i am going to use, if its yukky (technical term) i am not going to add it.

If you google SHORTENING you will get some good descriptions of the process as well as quite a few alternatives some of which are obviously for the US market rather than here in AUS  

At the college where i work at, they buy in a product called BREAD FAT it is a hydrogenated white fat that is probably bought in especially, we also train chefs  and they use lots of butter and oils  such as sunflower, olive, macadamia etc which we probably get at a good price especially the butter as it is on a government contract.

I tried to explain that the BREAD FAT is used in commercial enterprise and its greatest attribute is as an aid to lubricating the mechanical slicing machines, which we dont have at the college. No one has taken up the challenge to match me eating a spoon of butter against them eating a spoon full of bread fat. 

There was a very good programme on tv last night  SBS1 (austarlian tv) "food additives an edible adventure" that dealt with additives in our food and it was dealing with E number additives, emulsifiers and stabilizers and a very good piece on the development of cheaper alternatives to the trditional butter,  lard and beef dripping that were the order of the day at the beginning of this century. ( i think the link is only available for 1 week)

regards Yozza

whoops's picture

Thank you all for your responses. I wrote palm oil, but actually meant coconut oil. LOL. I am glad I got the tip on teh taste, as I do not want the flavor of my favorite cookie marred. I did ask my mother once why we didn't use butter (or margaine, as we often did back in the day when money was tight and the average person knew no danger of hydrogenation) and she said they "did nto turn out right when you use butter". She did not elaborate on how they did not "turn out right" but, as she was my mother, and taught me how to bake, I simply never tried.

I have changed her chocolate chip cookie recipe, which called for half margarine and half shortening to all butter. I think they are MUCH better, but I have never attempted to make any changes to the sacred molasses cookie.  If it is helpful to anyoen in making suggestions, here is the recipe:

3/4 c shortening, melted, but cooled slightly

1 cup sugar

1/4 c molasses

1 egg

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp baking soda

2 c flour

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp salt

powdered sugar for topping

beat egg and mix in sugar, add molasses and shortening, then dry ingredients until well mixed. roll into 1 in balls, place on cookie sheet and bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 8-10 min. They will darken and harden as they cool. Once cool, sprinkle.shake, or dip in powdered sugar. Store in a lightly covered container. An air tight container makes them soft. Do not store with other cookies, as they ahve a strong spice taste and he flavor will leach out.

I usually put the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling into dough, just because it makes it easier to roll. I do not notice any change in the end result, as by the time I am through rolling them all they are room temp.  

So, when they come out of the oven, I have to leave them on the pan for a minute or two as they are too soft. Then I transfer to a rack to finish cooling. I have a shaker can thingy with a wire mesh lid that I use for applying the powdered sugar.

I have Monday and Tuesday off, might try a batch with both the butter and the organic shortening. Might splurge and get coconut oil too.

Any ideas on how switching from regular old Grandma's Molasses to unsulphered organic molasses will impact./change the end product?


This is a very forgiving recipe, as even if they get a bit dark, they are still delicious.