Brace yourself for bad news: It looks like we might be heading for a butter shortage, and the timing couldn’t be worse for holiday bakers. FOX Business reports that butter sitting in cold storage facilities amounts to just over 282 million pounds as of August of this year. That sounds like a lot, but it’s significantly down from the amount stored during the same period in 2021, which was over 362 million pounds.
Here are a few of the problems plaguing our nation’s butter supply:
- Periods of extreme heat nationwide have caused cows to produce less milk
- Cow feed has grown more expensive as the price of corn has risen due to global supply chain disruptions
- The West is dealing with reduced production schedules
- The Midwest is having trouble with maintaining cream supplies for butter making
- The Northeast’s demand for butter is inching up, straining producers’ manufacturing capabilities
In real world terms, this is all wreaking havoc on butter prices. While overall grocery prices went up 13.5% in August, butter prices went up an astonishing 24.6%, making it the ingredient that suffered the biggest price hike. And there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight for the rest of the year.
Freezing butter is easy, and it works
If you’re a prolific holiday baker, you could stock up now, because being prepared now might save you a ton of future hassle, and prices might creep even higher as demand spikes around the holiday season—in which case you can consider this a money-saving investment.
Butter freezes well; take it from butter producer Land O’Lakes, who says that all you need to do is keep the sticks wrapped in their original packaging, inside the box, and put the entire box in a resealable plastic bag. Of course, this is the mild doomsday prepper in me talking, but at least it’s a practical approach.
Keep in mind, though, that if you’re going to hang onto a few sticks, there’s no need to overdo it. Panic-induced hoarding doesn’t help anything.
The best butter substitutions
Alternatively, you can consider using a butter substitute for the foreseeable future. Cooking resource AllRecipes suggests substitutes such as margarine (though it has its drawbacks, since it’s a water and oil emulsification), plant-based butter, vegetable-based oils, and (depending on the recipe) lighter products like applesauce, bananas, and Greek yogurt. Each bring their own unique qualities to the dish, and they’re not all going to give you the same results as butter, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I recommend looking into recipes that are oil-based, of which there are many!” says Takeout contributor Stacey Ballis. “Not to mention, oil-based recipes are easier and faster because you don’t have to wait to soften butter or use the creaming method.”
To that point, try this recipe for Wacky Cake, which was invented during an era in which butter, eggs, and milk were all being rationed. The use of vegetable oil results in a cake that’s plenty moist without any of those ingredients.
Keep an eye on the prices of your staple items as we head toward the end of the year. Inflation is an issue for everyone, but we all need to eat, too; it’s worth knowing how to subsist on the next best thing when it’s tough to get what you want.