Carrot Cake, Vegetable Oil or Butter?

Going to make a carrot cake for the first time. As I look through available recipes, most call for a generic vegetable oil of some kind. I have to go back all the way back to my beloved James Beard’s American Cooking to reference a recipe for carrot cake that uses butter. Does anyone know why?

  • Posted by: Linn
  • January 17, 2013


Victoria J. March 26, 2024
I’m in the melted butter camp. I have also used melted ghee and that worked well too. My husband doesn’t like dense cakes, so he didn’t like carrot cake until I replaced the oil with melted butter or ghee. I don’t add pineapple or raisins to my recipe…just toasted pecans.
Wyandotte April 19, 2020
Yes, oil is the way to go. Butter is only okay. Why? Because carrot cake is not like any other kind of cake - where butter is of course the best. Oil produces the best, cakiest, result for carrot cake (or any other cake with a lot of raw shredded vegetable) because of the way these 2 components interact with each other. Commenter "HalfPint" who made a comment here 7 years ago has it right.
Trudy January 28, 2019
Absolutely butter! I just cannot make myself eat anything I make...if I need oil, I will use clarified butter. I will fry in oil if I have to, but I will mix it with clarified butter. But absolutely never use it in my baking.
Lori February 23, 2022
Me too. I find the oil is too "oily" and heavy for me. Thank you for the information and knowledge I am not the only one who prefers not to use oil.
caris January 9, 2019
Can I put butter in instead of margarine
THE B. March 5, 2013
Forget butter. Salted or unsalted. Skip vegetable oil. Don't go near applesauce. What? Why? What's up with applesauce? ... If you're going to make a carrot cake the way to go is olive oil. You don't know me, but trust me. Olive oil.
Linn March 5, 2013
I tried a lemon glaze and I was the only one who liked it. The people sitting at my table are used to the traditional cream cheese frosting. I appreciate you letting me know I am not alone.
ChefManuela March 3, 2013
We make it with Olive oil and almonts
Lemon sugar glazing
Linn March 3, 2013
My thanks to The Bitter Chef. I have made two carrot cakes now both with olive oil and to my taste, it is right on.
Linn January 26, 2013
I'll do it with olive oil! Need to work out my ratios first, but I am going to give it my best shot.
THE B. January 24, 2013
Won't make carrot cake any other way. No need to use expensive extra-virgin. Every day olive oil does the trick. Now go make one. Now. It won't make itself.
Linn January 24, 2013
Would olive oil work okay? Butter is tough to beat, but if I were to decide to give oil a try, olive would be my first choice. But let me ask you this, THE BITTER CHEF, have you actually tried making a carrot cake with olive oil?
boulangere January 24, 2013
I've not made carrot cake with olive oil, but yesterday made gingerbread with it, and it was divine. I'll never go back!
THE B. January 22, 2013
What? No love for olive oil? Once you go olive oil in carrot cake, you'll never go back.
Bevi January 21, 2013
This is the carrot cake recipe I have used for decades, from The Bakery Lane Cookbook: Freeman Allen's Carrot Cake. Bakery Lane was a restaurant in Middlebury, VT, famous for this cake and other great baked goods.
Bevi January 21, 2013
And it calls for vegetable oil....
Joan April 21, 2019
Wow, I actually have a copy of that cookbook! I'll have to try the recipe. Thanks for the tip!
K_Squared January 21, 2013
In my experience, using butter in carrot cake really gives a more "cake-y" texture. Closer to pound cake, really. But oil results in a texture closer to moist bread (like banana bread?)
Linn January 20, 2013
Thank you all for such wonderfully informative and inspiring answers. Like so many issues of personal preference, it sounds like either one is a good choice. It just depends ...

Voted the Best Reply!

boulangere January 18, 2013
Carrot cake typically calls for oil rather than butter because in other cakes, a butter cake, for example, the way in which the soft butter and sugar are whipped together creates a nest of tiny pocket of air which help to leaven the cake. Carrot cake is more dense because of its many heavy ingredients, so this step is unnecessary, and would likely destabilize the cake, again because of all the weighty stuff in it. If you prefer the taste of butter, you can certainly substitute it, but melt it first so that you can treat it as you would oil.
ATG117 January 18, 2013
Another vote for oil. Oil gives the cake moistness and it's often what's used in carrot, zucchini, and other quick breads.
The F. January 17, 2013
I'm a huge unsalted butter fan, but oil is much better in carrot cake!
trampledbygeese January 17, 2013
I vote for butter as it makes a nicer flavour and I can't stand light, fluffy carrot cake. Carrot cake made with veg oil tastes like health food imitating yummy food.

Besides, carrot cake should be rich and dense, almost to the point of being a secret moist and naughty indulgence. It should make you feel pleasantly guilty for absconding with a slice for breakfast as you run out the door. It should be an amnesiac drug to make you forget that carrots have health benefits as well as making the cake sweet and sultry (because carrots are nothing if not sultry). That's what perfect carrot cake is to me, and in order to do all that, it needs butter, real butter.
WileyP January 17, 2013
The recipe I use calls for 1/2 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 cup apple sauce. The cake ends up light and fluffy and moist.
HalfPint January 17, 2013
Butter can make carrot cake very heavy and dense. Oil makes carrot cake (most cakes really) lighter (i.e. fluffier).
anged January 17, 2013
Better with butter
Wyandotte April 19, 2020
@anged. Yes, butter is best - for MOST cakes. Carrot cake is the exception. I have tried both. Oil in a carrot cake wins hands down. Sorry. Not trying to be difficult with you, but that is the fact.
bigpan January 17, 2013
The oil makes it moist.
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