Is Butter Necessary For Mac and Cheese?


Mac and Cheese

Before making mac and cheese you might realize you’re out of butter. I have before and that was after I already boiled the macaroni noodles.

So I wondered if excluding the butter would ruin the mac and cheese? Maybe there was a substitute to use in place of the butter?

Boxed mac and cheese can still be made without adding butter or margarine. As the butter is used only to add additional flavor. Macaroni and cheese requires dairy or non-dairy milk but butter is optional.

You might want to know about substitutes for butter you can use. Along with why butter should be used when making homemade mac and cheese.

Does Mac and Cheese Need Butter?

Butter is not included with packaged mac and cheese because of its short shelf life. Although it does make a difference in taste, you can still have a creamy and delicious macaroni and cheese without butter.

You may have run out of butter or are looking to make a slightly healthier macaroni and cheese.

Excluding butter can lower the calorie count, by decreasing the amount of fat used. Either way butter is not a requirement. Unlike baking foods which is more of an exact science. 

The only cooking involved in mac and cheese is boiling the noodles.

Since butter is added after that is done. It has little effect on the actual cooking part. The rest is just mixing the ingredients together.

Packaged or boxed macaroni and cheese doesn’t necessarily need butter. You may even find that some brands list butter as an optional ingredient.

Annie’s homegrown for example includes six easy steps to making the brands boxed macaroni and cheese.

The cooking instructions are very similar to other brands of macaroni and cheese. As opposed to Kraft Annie’s gives an optional option for unsalted butter.

Listed as a suggestion for a richer flavor. Other than that cooking directions are nearly identical.

Not saying that Annie’s is any better than Kraft, both of them probably taste better with butter or margarine in my opinion.

So besides butter adding flavor it also does serve other purposes. These become more important when making homemade mac and cheese.

Read more: 5 Desserts To Serve With Mac and Cheese

Does Mac and Cheese Taste Bad Without Butter?

As a general rule added fats such as butter help to give more flavor to a dish. Mac and cheese will still have a small amount of fat from the milk but adding butter makes for a even richer taste. The butter has nothing to do with the cooking process it just adds another layer of flavor before serving.

Mac and cheese won’t taste bad without butter but it’s better with it. Most brands of boxed mac and cheese give you the option of adding butter/margarine. Otherwise you only need one extra ingredient not included and that is milk. I think its simply a suggestion because it does enhance the flavor but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Why Butter Is Used

As mentioned earlier butter is used for boxed mac and cheese mainly for flavor. The creaminess of the cheese comes from the added milk. Which is why whole milk is usually recommended. 

Although butter will thicken the cheese slightly. Due to the milk fats present in the butter. 

Skipping on the butter will lead to a slightly thinner macaroni and cheese. 

Because butter is mostly fat, it mixes well with flour to make a base for sauces. This is known as a roux. Which is so I could paste that can be used to thicken sauces.

In the case of homemade mac and cheese. The roux is used for the cheese. 

This is done by melting butter and adding in flour and stirring together. Cheese is then added to this mixture. 

Adding butter also helps to keep the mac and cheese from being too dry. Since the butter is more oily it will help retain more moisture.

Some butter is a flavor enhancing ingredient in most boxed macaroni. When it comes to homemade mac and cheese, butter can be used to thicken the cheese sauce. Making it a much more important ingredient.

Substitutes for Butter in Mac and Cheese

When you want to use an alternative to butter. There are some substitutes that can be used. 

The most common one is margarine which is usually mentioned in the instructions. 

Margin is very close to butter as in they’re both heavy in fats. They look and have similar texture. 

Margarine is actually made with vegetable oils and water instead of dairy. Both margin and butter are used as spreads. But can be used similarly in cooking and baking.

When it comes to macaroni and cheese margarine is one of the better substitutes for butter.

Really it’s a great substitute for butter because of the similarities. Margarine is given a butter flavor and is also packaged and sold the same way.

Substitutes that you want to use should be high in fat. You could use olive oil but it will be slightly too oily and will not help with the flavor much. 

You could use a plain yogurt, even a low-fat version. Yogurt will make the cheese creamier and the flavor slightly tangy. 

Similar to using yogurt sour cream can be a good butter substitute. When using either yogurt or sour cream you could skip the milk and butter all together. 

Any type of dairy alternative like vegan or plant-based milks will work as well. 

Check out: dairy-free milk substitutes for mac and cheese.

Margarine seems to be the best substitute for butter. Although if you don’t have any margarine you could use a slightly more common condiment.

Can I use Mayo Instead of Butter In Mac and Cheese?

Using mayonnaise in place of butter from mac and cheese. This is doable and you can find some ingredients for this online.

Claiming to be a very creamy mac and cheese. But as one recipe notes the mayonnaise actually levels out cheese flavor. That way you don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of cheese you use.

Similar to yogurt mayonnaise is not typically thought to be used in mac and cheese.

because both of them have a tangy and almost sour flavor.

You may find that these ingredients are better suited for a baked mac and cheese. Rather than a stove top quick mix version.

Butter Substitute Measurements

A butter substitute will use a slightly different measurement. It can be confusing on how much to use as a replacement. 

Using as an example a common box of mac and cheese. Each box has about 3 cups or 8 oz. of dry noodles. 

Most directions call for 4 tablespoons of butter.

If you are going to use mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt in place of butter. Instead of 4 tablespoons use one cup of either substitute.

Here is a basic recipe for baked macaroni and cheese using mayo, sour cream or yogurt.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe (Without Butter)

This is a basic baked macaroni and cheese recipe.

  • 8 ounces macaroni noodles
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • 1 cup butter substitute (mayo, sour cream, yogurt)
  1. Bring Water To Boil
  2. Cook Macaroni Noodles (8 – 10 minutes)
  3. Drain Water
  4. Combine Cheese and Butter Substitute and Mix Well
  5. Add Into A Baking Dish
  6. Bake In Oven At 350 Degrees (30 – 35 Minutes)

Eric M Wilkens

Content writer and recreational cook. I also enjoy craft beer, comedy and the outdoors.

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