I've been wondering, what makes muffins less sweet when using oil? (instead of butter?) In this case, a muffin mix tells me to use butter. The alternative (to make "american style" muffins) is to use (sunflower)oil. It would make it less sweet.

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    Are you saying the muffin mix says that'll be less sweet, or that you've actually tried it and found that to be the case? – Cascabel May 20 '12 at 19:50
  • The muffin mix says it'll be less sweet, an it actually does. It does really taste a lot less sweet. – Joris May 22 '12 at 14:15

Oil and butter don't have the same capacity to hold the sugar/sweetener used in the mix. Whatever isn't dissolved fully in the shortening will still be bound up in the final product (or maybe end up mostly in the outer crust), and you'll likely perceive the difference as more/less sweet.

The main cause is that butter has quite a lot of water bound up in it, which you wouldn't find at all in oil. You might get a closer similarity by comparing melted, evaporated butter to oil (1-to-1 proportion), since solid & melted butter have different volumes depending on how much water you've evaporated (1 cup solid /= 1 cup melted).

I've got an answer in another question that applies more generally to different phases of shortenings and perceived/actual sweetness - Does butter reduce perceived sweetness?

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  • wow, this (and the other question, nice!) contains a great deal of "cooking chemistry". However, the evaporated butter is interesting. I'm going to try, thanks! – Joris Aug 27 '12 at 10:54
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    Also exchanging (melted) butter for oil or vice-versa is going to change your crumb & crust texture/flavor a bit. Probably not in a muffin-shattering way, but it's just something to keep in mind. Some mixes are all-dry (flour, baking powder, salt), and some mixes are wet+dry (all-dry plus dehydrated milk/butter solids and/or other shortening), so if there's shortening in the mix itself that will be another variable. – MandisaW Aug 28 '12 at 14:13

I think you are looking at it the wrong way... butter makes it sweeter, so not using butter is naturally "less sweet". It isn't that the oil 'causes' less sweetness.

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  • Why would butter make anything sweeter? Butter does not contain any sugars. – Aaronut May 21 '12 at 4:32
  • Most butter contains a small amount of salt, which increases the tongue's ability to perceive sweet (ala salted caramels). Beyond that I have often heard butter's flavor described as 'sweet' in and of itself (though I am not sure it is a technically correct description, it is a common one). – Cos Callis May 21 '12 at 4:37
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    In the US most butter is "sweet cream" butter, which is I think mostly sweet in that it isn't sour. I suppose it's possible that between the salt and the butter flavor it's perceived as sweeter than oil? – Cascabel May 21 '12 at 5:14
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    The salt explanation is plausible and would make a decent answer... although only decent, it's still on shaky ground because butter only has salt if you're using salted butter, and most baking recipes call for unsalted butter (so as not to throw off the ratio of salt). @Jefromi is correct in that "sweet" butter simply comes from "sweet" cream which also doesn't contain any sugar, it just indicates cream made from milk (as opposed to whey). – Aaronut May 21 '12 at 6:27
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    Butter is sweet, I suppose due to lactose. You can taste it if you eat a piece of butter pure (noncultured butter). But I highly doubt that it will make enough difference to be noticeable in muffins. – rumtscho May 21 '12 at 7:15

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