Difference between Shortening and Butter

Updated on April 10, 2017

As two of the most popularly used fats for baking cookies and pastries, shortening and butter are considered staple baking ingredients. However, these two are far from being the same as they both have distinct characteristics.

Definitions

Shortening
Shortening

Shortening is solid fat usually derived from vegetable oil such as cottonseed or soybean. Initially, vegetable oil exists in its liquid state, but through the process of hydrogenation, it solidifies at room temperature. After hydrogenation, it turns into a shortening product, which is commonly used in baking cookies and other pastries.

Depending on the extent of hydrogenation methods, shortening can either be made up of 100% trans fat or saturated fat. Trans fat is produced by partial hydrogenation, whereas saturated fats are a product of complete hydrogenation.

Butter
Butter

Butter, on the other hand, is a dairy product made up of around 80% to 85% butterfat. Water and other flavorings and additives like salt and milk protein make up its remaining 15% to 20%. During production, fermented or fresh milk or cream is churned to separate the buttermilk from the butterfat. Frequently extracted from cow’s milk, butter can also be derived from the milk of sheep, buffalo, and other animals.

Butter remains in its solid state when refrigerated. When kept at a room temperature, it slowly softens and melts at around 90-95 °F. It is a common ingredient in cooking, baking and roasting and is also widely used as a spread and a condiment.

Shortening vs Butter

So what’s the difference between shortening and butter? From a baker’s perspective, these two products greatly differ in terms of consistency, texture, and flavor.

Firstly, shortening is 100% solid fat, while butter is made up of 80%-85% butterfat and is also comprised of water, preservatives, and flavorings. Butter is considered a dairy product so it follows, therefore, that shortening is the fat of choice of people who are allergic to any dairy product.

Because they have different structures and contents, shortening and butter react to heat differently. Butter melts faster than shortening mainly because of its water and milk content, while shortening adds more flexibility to baked products. Since butter has a lower melting point, cookies made with butter will spread and flatten out.

In terms of consistency and texture, cookies and pastries baked with butter are tougher and crisper because of the water content. This is mainly because gluten, a type of protein that gives dough elasticity and strength, is formed when water is present in any baking mixture. Baked products made with shortening, on the other hand, are softer. This explains why shortenings are most commonly used in baking cakes and other soft pastries.

Butter has a distinct dairy flavor, making it ideal for sweet or savory baked products. Meanwhile, shortening has no additional flavoring, but butter-flavored shortenings are now available on the market.

Comparison Chart

ShorteningButter
100% solid fat80%-85% butterfat and 15%-20% water, flavorings, and preservatives
Higher melting pointLow melting point
Softer baked goodsCrisper baked goods
No distinct flavorDistinct dairy flavor