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margarine substitute for graham cracker crust?

I made dessert bars (magic bars, to be specific), and it calls for a graham cracker crust. I've been using substitutes to make things healthier, such as a lower calorie substitute for the condensed milk, and I tried using applesauce instead of margarine to make the graham cracker crust. The outcome was not bad, but not what I had hoped; it was moist, which I didn't mind, but the taste was off...not very flavorful. Can anyone suggest any modifications I could make to retain a healthier version? I was thinking of adding powdered butter (like Molly McButter) but didn't have enough. And advice would be very appreciated!

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  1. Actually, something I just recently learned: put some nuts (hazlenuts work best) into a food processor and the graham crackers (not crushed) and pulse until it crumbs come together when pressed. What happens is the oils of the nuts is released into the crumbs thus allowing you to create a crust with heart health nut oils, full of omega-3 fatty acids. if that's too hard, canola oil may be a fine sub.

    3 Replies
    1. re: digkv

      This is brilliant! I'm going to try it with a lemon tart, using the low(er) cholesterol lemon curd recipe I just found.

      Oh, and I noticed a recipe on Epicurious that uses an egg white in a graham cracker crust - that might help with nuts that are less oily than hazelnuts (I'm thinking of using almonds).


      1. re: digkv

        What proportion of nuts to graham crackers should I use? i.e. cup measurements

        1. re: digkv

          neither nuts nor canola oil would be much lower calorie, though.

        2. I had a lower fat recipe that used maple syrup in the crust to bind. Not low cal per se but lower than marg, and available in reduced sugar and/or lower cal varieties, and certainly lower fat. Honey might also work in some recipes.

          I've also used water as a binder or skim milk, both with salt, if I was really cutting cals. The gram crackers do provide a lor of flavor.

          1. You could try organic, non-hydrogenated coconut oil, which looks like Crisco. I've used it with great success instead of butter in pie crusts. It has a slight coconutty flavour.

            It's sold at natural foods stores.

            1 Reply
            1. re: FlavoursGal

              I second this -- I've used coconut oil as a substitute for shortening in scones and they are very tasty. You can taste the coconut, though -- not overpowering but definitely there -- so take that into consideration.

            2. Graham crackers aren't what I'd call healthy... if it was me I wouldn't worry about finding a substitute for the butter binding the crust - I'd substitute either toasted crushed oats for the graham crackers, or crushed nuts.

              1. So right Kajikit. The graham crackers have partially hydrogentaed oils in them and that will raise your cholesterol! Try smart balance margarine in place of butter.

                5 Replies
                1. re: javaandjazz

                  I thought smart balance would be nasty because it's one of those things they push 'for your health'... but it's actually far better-tasting than the other margerines. I love it, but I've never baked with it - I use real butter for cooking and Smart Balance on my bread.

                  1. re: Kajikit

                    Make sure to use the regular SB and not the Light SB for baking. I, too, just use regular unsalted butter for baking. I do like SB on bread, french toast, etc. Plus, I feel more virtuous using it. There is no real substitute for butter though :(

                    1. re: diablo

                      I bake with smart balance all the time. And while it's not as great tasting as butter, it's actually quite tasty and bakes well. For folks who've been told they can't have butter or most margarines (and thus most baked goods) it's a real gift.

                      I deeply miss smart balance shortening - it made great pie crusts!

                  2. re: javaandjazz

                    Mi Del makes "healthy" graham crackers (evaporated cane juice, etc). I'm definitely trying some of these butter subs...thanks!

                    1. re: javaandjazz

                      Since someone has revived this thread, I'll add that a variety of cold cereals, crackers, and/or cookies can be used instead of graham crackers to make a sweet crust. It's a good way to use up the almost-empty boxes. When i first tried Samrt Balance, I too was pleasantly surprised at its good taste and texture.

                    2. I like Smart Balance, too. There are several varieties, so check out labels if you want a lower fat version. I use the SB with flax oil on toast. I've also used it in place of butter with graham crackers for a crust. It tasted just fine to me. Whole Foods has their own brand of grahams that are nonhydrogeneated. I like the idea of coconut oil as I like all things coconut. It's not a low fat tood, although the fats in coconut oil are the "good" fats..

                      1. Use butter. If you still think that butter is bad and margarine is OK, well you're probably still living in the 1960's. Margarine is borderline dangerous. I will NEVER cook with it and I will avoid it at all costs.

                        I think people need to read up on and re-evaluate what kinds of fats are actually good and bad for you. Lard often evokes a visceral reaction in most folks but, depending on where you get it and what kind it is (not hydrogenated, for example) it can actually be good for you. It can sometimes rival the health qualities of a good olive oil. Granted, most people aren't willing to learn about these kinds of things simply because once they hear the word "lard" and they freak out.

                        1. Using nuts sounds like an excellent idea to substitute out the saturated fat in butter for heart-healthy unsaturated fats of nuts. While canola oil is the healthiest type of fat available (monounsaturated), I am not sure that an oil works for a pie crust in regards to how it sets up. Coconut oil is actually almost entirely saturated fats, which raise bad LDL cholesterol and clogs arteries, as the tropical oils are the exception to the rule that most plant oils are healthy. Smart Balance is an excellent product and solution with a neutral taste similar to butter. Although some have expressed concern about margarine, this worry can easily be solved by looking for trans-fat free versions of Margarine meaning that they can by regulation have no more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. However, even this small amount can add up to harmful consequences when using large amounts in a recipe or over time. Therefore, look at the nutrition facts label on the product and make sure it is actually 0 grams per serving and that the product has no partially hydrogenated oils listed in the ingredient list.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                            my cardiologist at a nationally known hospital takes severe exception to your evaluation of coconut oil. he says that virgin coconut oil is very heart healthy and recommends it be used freely. And canola oil which you tout is very often a GMO product which many think should be avoided.

                            1. re: magiesmom

                              Sorry I think that can strongly be refuted when using evidenced based practice and high quality scientific research. I cannot in my wildest dreams believe that a cardiologist would recommend to eat saturated fat freely! Most plant oils are liquid at room temperature; however, coconut oil is a solid, saturated fat-exactly what any cardiologist, dietitian or other knowledgeable health professional should be teaching their patients to avoid. This is not my opinion or interpretation-it is a widely proven scientific fact.

                              1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                it used to be widely proven scientific fact that margarine was better than butter and that formula was better than breast milk. And my cardiologist says just that.

                                1. re: magiesmom

                                  And then we came to the present and science developed further and we now have a wide variety of teams-fat free margarines without partially hydrogenated oils-which was the concern with margarine in the first place. So that theory has since been blown out of the water.

                                2. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                  Sorry, your scientific fact is incorrect. A great deal of evidence has suggested that coconut oil is fine and even healthy even though it is saturated. It has to do with the fact it is a medium chained triglyceride rather then a long chained one.

                                  1. re: TeRReT

                                    Yes. And saturated fat has gotten a bad name even though it's likely that it is a perfectly healthy food - if I recall correctly, there was one study in the seventies (?) that lumped butter with margarine as though they were the same......this supposedly began the whole saturated fat fear-mongering. If saturated fat is so bad, why did mother nature put it in the food she created for babies?

                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      These are not even valid arguments. There are natural toxins in our environment that are lethal- why are they there? Why is the sky blue? Why not go to your cardiologist and tell them they don't know anything about the profession they studied for nearly a decade before beginning practice and are required to complete continuing education regularly to stay up to date. The problem with nutrition is that the wrong people are trying to impose what they think they know on others but typically misinterpret bits of what began as truth, things that are myths or no longer held as fact or simply take bits out of context. Of I didn't care I wouldn't spend so much time trying to point out the evidence instead of what others have heard.

                                      1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                        You should research medium chain triglycerides and find that research from 20 years ago Isn't necessarily correct and maybe a cardiologist knows what they are talking about. Its the same with aluminum being linked to Alzheimer's. Past theories get debunked. Coconut oil is good for you.

                                        1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                          I have a hypothesis, see what you think:

                                          Maybe it's the fact of BEING fat, rather than the fat you eat to get that way (or the HFCS or pick your poison) that really makes the difference between healthy or unhealthy.

                                          And if that's true, it seems like ideas to make the pie crust lower calorie (like 0225's interesting banana idea below) might be the most helpful.

                                          1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                            "These are not even valid arguments."

                                            Are so.

                                            Tell me about the extent of your cardiologist's education in health and nutrition and who paid for it. Tell me also about what he/she is allowed to recommend to patients regarding diet, supplements, etc. vs. what he/she does for his/herself and their own family.

                                            1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                              "The problem with nutrition is that the wrong people are trying to impose what they think they know on others but typically misinterpret bits of what began as truth, things that are myths or no longer held as fact or simply take bits out of context."

                                              I agree.

                                  2. There are so many things I question here that I don't know where to start. Frankenfoods should not be eaten, for one, even if they actually tasted good.

                                    Make your crust from a natural brand of graham crackers, like Midel or Trader Joe's, use minimal sugar, and real butter. Enjoy small servings and be healthy.

                                    "Smart" Balance: “Natural oil blend (soybean, palm fruit, canola, and olive oils), water, contains less than 2% of whey (from milk), salt, natural and artificial flavor, vegetable monoglycerides and sorbitan ester of fatty acids (emulsifiers), soy lecithin, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, Vitamin D, dl-a-tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), lactic acid, beta carotene color, and potassium sorbate, and calcium disodium EDTA (to preserve freshness)

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      Yep. Parking my ditto right here. Although this thread is old, this still baffles me. Why would someone trying to eat healthier even bother to make magic cookie bars, which are full of processed junk? There are so many other desserts without all the chemicals!

                                      1. re: Isolda

                                        Yikes....Magic Cookie Bars. The very thought of them makes my teeth hurt. I find that the better I eat, the less I like sweets, which is actually kind of disappointing on one level. Not the best choice for someone looking for a healthier diet....except with a massive reworking which would probably turn it into an entirely different dessert!

                                      2. re: sandylc

                                        Most consumers misunderstand what a frankenfood is. Most people have an irrational fear of genetically modified foods but yet do not realize many more foods than you think are modified in ways that actually have helped people. Some of it may or may not be linked to food allergies-there is not enough research to yet verify this either way. However, by cross breeding grains many we have increased crop yield, resistance to pests and poor growing conditions. So while yes, it'd be great office everyone had the opportunity to stay at home and cook from scratch all day everyday, I think it is naieve to believe this is possible for the majority of Anericans. I do agree that eating whole foods with minimal processing is a great practice, I would not classify a simple graham cracker as a frankenfood. As for margarine having a list of ingredients- most of these ingredients are perfectly healthy and just have long names but are not chemicals. For instance, lecithin is an emulsifier that keeps the water & fat components in smart balance from separating-it comes from an egg yolk. And yes, this product has nutrients added to it as a way to supplement the poor diet many people follow to ensure they meet their minimum essential needs. None Of the ingredients in here are unhealthy. Margarine doesn't grow from the ground, but the ingredients used to make it do!

                                        1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                          The vitamins in Smart Balance are likely synthetic, which is a whole new can of worms. Quick and easy meals can be made from real food. Genetically modified foods (which I wasn't necessarily referring to specifically here) are indeed everywhere, and they are being shown to harm wildlife. Etc.......

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            Sorry-the GMO part of the response was to another post on here-little confusing to follow this thread on a phone. This is true that GMO's disturb nature, and not that this makes it any better, but most things going on in this world in order for such a huge, growing population to survive do. But then the question becomes do we let humans starve to death or do we try to use what we know to modify what was once a natural plant and make it go further? I don't have an answer--it's just some foods that are GMO's are not unhealthy for humans to consume based on what we know up to this point.

                                            1. re: NoNonsenseNutrition

                                              There have been many brave individuals who have argued convincingly (sorry, no names come to mind right now) that the planet can be fed without corrupting the food supply by messing with mother nature.

                                              As far as "what we know up to this point" - well, I think humans know an awfully lot, but we have made a few mistakes in the past (lead makeup, anyone? Good for your lungs to smoke cigarettes? It's relaxing for a pregnant woman to have a few drinks, right?) when we were sure we were doing the right thing!!!

                                              The GMO thing is scary in that we won't be able to stop it if/when we decide it's a bad thing after all. Pollen from GMO fields is running amock!

                                      3. I made a banana cream pie that called for mashed ripe banana in the crust. It still had butter and sugar, but small quantities. It was a great crust.