Fat substitutes in gluten-free baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Smackdown

One of the most common questions we get from our gluten-free readers and bakers is how to make fat substitutes in gluten-free baking. Most of our recipes use either butter or vegetable oil as the primary fat, simply because they’re the most accessible for the majority of our audience. But we also want you to know that we hear your questions about using alternatives.

Most people are unsure when you can substitute different fats 1:1 for one another: what the difference would be if you used butter vs. shortening vs. oil, for example. So we decided to put one of our tried-and-true gluten-free recipes to the test: Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies.

 

Why we chose cookies

We decided to do a cookie test for a few reasons. First, cookies generally use just one fat and don’t require any fancy techniques. Second, our Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe uses butter, and many of our readers are looking for a dairy-free alternative.

Finally, that recipe is one of the most beloved on our site, with nearly 100 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. So we wanted to test versions of this cookie using alternate fats in order to enable even more people to enjoy them.

 

What fat substitutes we’re using

We had a hard time choosing which fat substitutes to try in this test, but what it boiled down to was the oils/fats that we get the most questions about from our readers baking gluten-free. Here’s what we decided on:

Butter: This is the fat used in our chocolate chip cookie recipe, and the standard that we tested against.

 

Vegan butter: This is a vegetable-based butter substitute that looks and tastes very similar to butter. It’s solid at room temperature and is usually made from a blend of plant-based oils like palm, soy, and olive. Note: We used Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, a blend of palm, soy, flax, and olive oils.

 

Coconut oil: Another non-dairy based fat, coconut oil is a bit different than vegan butter. Usually coconut oil is liquid at room temperature, but solidifies and gets rock hard when kept in the refrigerator. Note: coconut oil comes in both refined and “virgin,” which have different flavors. We recommend that you taste several before finding one with the flavor you like.

 

The fat substitute test

To make this test as fair and straightforward as possible, we kept the recipe exactly the same throughout, simply changing the type of fat. We followed the existing recipe, using our gluten-free flour, but didn’t include any nuts. The baking temperature was 350ºF.

Curious to see what happened? Here are the results.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

The results

As expected, and as you can see from the picture above, the fats that we used certainly had an effect on the final recipe. We’ll talk about each of the specific fat substitutes in a moment, but we just wanted to demonstrate how much the type of fat you use in a recipe can affect the final product. These three cookies varied in everything from texture to bake time to flavor.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Butter

Out of all the versions, this was the cookie that we kept coming back to. It had the right texture, the right flavor, and was baked to perfection, with lightly browned edges and soft, gooey centers. The cookies were a wonderful blend of chewy and crunchy, and carried just the right amount of sweetness.

Since the butter was at room temperature we were able to easily beat it with the sugar, which helped make the cookies nice and light.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Dough: The dough was sticky, but was easily shaped with a cookie scoop. The cookies also kept their shape on the baking sheet.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Texture: Chewy, soft, and lightly crisp around the edges.

Bake time: 11 minutes.

 

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Vegan butter

Our next favorite result came with vegan butter. The flavor of the cookies most resembled the original recipe, though we did notice they tasted a bit sweeter. While vegan butter doesn’t list any sugar/sweetener in its nutritional panel, we think it simply pulls out a slightly different flavor from the sugars.

Since vegan butter was also soft at room temperature, we were able to easily beat the fat and sugar together. Again, this helped keep the cookies light.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Dough: The dough in this version was a little softer than the original. When scooped onto the baking sheet, the cookies didn’t hold their shape as well, starting to spread as soon as they were scooped.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Texture: These were a bit cakier and less chewy than the butter-based recipe. The edges were crisp and golden brown, while the centers remained chewy and soft.

Bake time: 12 minutes.

 

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Coconut oil

The coconut oil chocolate chip cookies showed a marked difference from the original recipe, and were our least favorite. Since we used all coconut oil in the recipe, there was an underlying coconut flavor to the cookies.

Since coconut oil is rock hard when chilled, it’s impossible to cream it with sugar like you do with butter. And because we tested our other fats at room temperature, we also wanted to test the coconut oil at room temperature, which meant that the oil was completely liquefied. Thus when we beat the fat and sugar together the dough didn’t lighten in texture like it did in our cookies made with a solid fat. This certainly added to the coconut oil cookies’ denser texture.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Dough: The dough was much smoother than the original. It had a slight shine to it, and felt a little more oily. It did hold its texture when placed on the cookie sheet; and when baked, the cookies didn’t spread as much as the butter or vegan butter cookies.

Fat Substitutes in Gluten-Free Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookie Test via @kingarthurflour

Texture: The texture was also very different from the butter-based cookies. Coconut oil cookies were much cakier; and instead of spreading fairly flat, they had a large dome. The edges also weren’t quite as crispy and they didn’t brown as much as the butter (and vegan) butter ones. Additionally, they were very tender and soft, but crumbled a bit more than the other cookies when completely cool.

Bake time: 14 minutes.

 

Final thoughts

While it’s certainly possible to use different fats in gluten-free baking, understand that the end result won’t necessarily be the same.

It’s important to note that we tested these fats in a recipe that doesn’t require the fat to be chilled (such as pie crust); coconut oil would be even trickier to use in a recipe requiring solid/chilled/hard fat.

Our suggestion: if you’re looking for a dairy-free fat substitute in your gluten-free baking, choose a fat that most resembles the one used in the original recipe. For example, a recipe that calls for butter would be best made with a vegan butter substitute. For a recipe made with vegetable oil, you could use coconut oil in its place. In order to keep the recipes as much the same as possible, match your fat substitutions as best you can.

Finally, we recommend that you watch your baking times. We always provide time ranges for our recipes; when you’re using a fat substitute, start with the shorter time, and check every 1 to 2 minutes, until done.

 

And now we’d love to hear from you!

What’s your favorite fat substitute? Do you have any tips you can share with our readers? Please leave a comment and let us know!

 

Alyssa Rimmer
About

Alyssa grew up in Vermont, attended the University of Vermont and now lives in New York City, where she bakes and writes recipes for her blog Simply Quinoa. She's been living gluten-free for over four years. Alyssa also authors her own food blog and enjoys ...

comments

  1. Barbara

    This is interesting, since I just made GF Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, using Smart Balance with Omega. I was a little worried when scooping the cookies – the dough was soft and spready (is that a word?). The taste and texture were great – and despite my best effort to freeze half the batch, they disappeared way too fast. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      I noticed the same thing with my vegan butter batter, Barbara. But I too was very pleased with the results. Glad you enjoyed your cookies 🙂 – Alyssa

  2. Jen

    I will first admit that I don’t do much gf baking as I am not gf myself. However, I am dairy free and I have been for about 18 months now and have gotten dairy free baking down pretty well. For the record I also don’t eat soy, so 98% of margarines are out for me. Occasionally I use Earth Balance coconut blend, but for most of my baking I use a blend of coconut oil and corn oil. I find blending the two gives a much better texture than using all coconut oil. The article mentioned that the coconut oil cookies had a sheen to them and were sort of greasy; this is true for me as well when I use all coconut oil, but not when I use a blend of coconut oil and corn oil. Also, when substituting butter with something that is 100% fat, like coconut and corn oil are, you will want to use less of it. Butter is 80% fat, 20% water, so you only need to use 80% as much as what the recipe calls for if subbing with 100% fat. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup (8oz) of butter, you will want to use 6.5oz of coconut/corn oil (I round to the nearest half oz, so that is approximate.) I use about 3/4 coconut oil and 1/4 corn oil, so in that example I would use about 5oz coconut oil and 1.5oz corn oil (again, rounding to simplify.) You may also have to add a little water, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough looks crumbly, but I don’t always have to do this. Using this method, I have produced some amazing cookies that many, many people have said they cannot tell are made without butter, or are better than butter. Again, I have not tried this with a gf cookie recipe, but I would be interested in hearing how it turns out.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Thanks so much for all the tips and suggestions Jen! This will be super helpful for our readers. This test was purely to demonstrate what would happen when we replace fats 1:1 – I think there could definitely be another test showing how to replicate the same cookie using different fats. Again, thanks for such a helpful comment 🙂 – Alyssa

  3. Amy

    Alyssa, I realize that you were probably trying to keep things simple for folks, but it would have been great to see how these fats compared when substituted in a fashion that took their respective compositions into account. If your standard American butter is 19%-ish water, then the coconut oil recipe needs to include less coconut oil and a little water to replace the butter. I’m fairly sure that doing so will still produce a crumblier cookie, but one that spreads more and is less oily-feeling than the cookie you demo-ed here. (And I’m assuming that you just have to deal with the extra water in the vegan butter-substitute.)

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Hi Amy, thanks for the comment! We wanted the test to demonstrate the results of substituting the fats 1:1, but from many of the other comments, it sounds like we should do another one that adjusts for the water content 🙂 Thanks so much! – Alyssa

  4. Pat

    Never thought to make cookies with coconut oil and look forward to trying it soon. But I have to take issue with your assessment that coconut oil is either “rock hard” or liquified, with no in between. I keep my coconut oil on the countertop, and most of the time it’s the consistency of shortening. The only time it liquefies is when it’s very hot outside or I leave it too close to a burner when the stovetop is on.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Hope you give it a try, Pat. I think you’ll really enjoy the flavor of them. And thanks for pointing out the note about coconut oil – we definitely did not mean to imply there was no in between. It all depends on where and how the coconut oil is stored. At the time of this test, room temperature coconut oil was liquified for us and since we wanted to keep the temperatures of the fat as even as possible, that’s what we tested with. You can certainly use the softened coconut oil in your recipe – we’d love to hear about your results! – Alyssa

    2. MaryJane Robbins

      Thanks for sharing that, Pat. I’ve never noticed, so I’ll have to take a look at mine more often. 🙂 ~ MJ

  5. Cindy paulsen

    Thank you for your fats in baking comparison.
    I can not have wheat, eggs or dairy it nuts.
    I use your rice flour to make biscuits and cookies. I use an egg replacer- enerG egg replacer, and often I get very crumbly results. Is this because I need to always add xanthum gum as well?
    Thank you for your posts and gluten free products! They help broaden my food scope from meat and potatoes!!

    Reply
  6. Becca

    How warm is your kitchen??? My coconut oil sits in my cupboard and is in a solid form just like room temperature butter, so it blends easily with my sugars, albeit slightly differently than butter. I would be interested to know which brand of coconut oil you use so I stay away from it. Then again, the only room temp (coconut oil doesn’t liquefy until 74 degrees) coconut oil I have seen liquid is either fractionated or it is way warmer than 74 degrees. Your detailed feedback would be appreciated since for someone who routinely uses coconut oil in my baking I feel this is very misleading.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Hi Becca, thanks for the comment. As you mentioned in your note, coconut oil is liquified at 74 – 76 degrees, so it can vary greatly on where you live, how warm your house is, etc. It’s not the brand of the coconut oil, it’s just the nature of the product. In my kitchen, especially during the summer, coconut oil is liquified and I have noticed the same thing for many of the other kitchens I have visited. Butter on the other hand has a higher melting point, about 90 – 95 degrees, so when it’s at room temperature, it will be soft. We wanted to make sure this test was as straightforward as possible, so keeping all the fats at the same temperature was important. Hope that helps! – Alyssa

  7. Tari

    Did you make any adjustments in the recipes to account for the amount of water in butter versus the total lack of water in the coconut fat?

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Hi Tari, we did not make any adjustments to other ingredients as we weren’t trying to mimic the same exact cookie, we more wanted to see what would happen when you swapped the fats 1:1. That’s certainly something you could try though to get the coconut oil ones closer to the texture of the butter ones! – Alyssa

  8. Judy

    Does your company make gluten free flour?? I buy your white all purpose flour and sometimes your wheat flour for making cookies. My relatives & only liked the white flour cookies. I used the wheat flour sometimes to floured my chicken for baking in the oven, or I mix the white w/the wheat to use it up. Wish you pkg small pkg on the wheat flour. I do use your white flour a whole lot.

    Reply
    1. Diana

      The King Arthur Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour is quite good. It is not gritty and has no odd aftertaste. The only drawback is it is one of those gluten-free flours to which you need to add xanthan gum (some other gluten-free flours have the xanthan already added).

    2. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Hi Diana, thanks for the comment! We’re thrilled you like the gluten-free flour 🙂 We actually purposely did not add xanthan gum to the mix because we wanted the flour to be as versatile as possible and could easily be used for applications that don’t require xanthan gum. – Alyssa

  9. Patty

    I loved homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies. I use 1/2 butter flavored shortening and 1/2 butter. Only because when I use all butter the cookies always comes out thin and a little oily, but not when I use 1/2 & 1/2 butter/shortening combo. Why is that.? I’ve used many different brands of butter. From the high end European, Irish, premium American, cheap American and high butter fat used by bakeries. I also started using 1/2 & 1/2 King Arthur Bread flour and King Arthur AP Flour and I also started refrigerating the dough for 24 – 72 hours. Everyone loves them, but I would love to use 100% butter instead of the hydrogenated shortening. Any advice would be great. Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This is because shortening has a higher melting point than butter! This factor keeps the cookie from spreading as much. As an alternative, you could try lard. The melting point of lard is just under shortening, so you should get similar results. Jon@KAF

  10. Jenni

    The coconut oil I find in our stores is rock solid at room temperature. Please direct me to proper name for the liquid coconut oil used in your recipe test.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Hi Jenni, thanks for the comment. The brand of coconut oil actually doesn’t really matter – it’s the temperature at which the coconut oil is stored that makes it hard to liquid. To get the coconut oil to soften, you can just pop it in the microwave for 5 – 10 seconds, scoop out what you need for the recipe and melt that fully in the microwave or stove. Hope that helps! – Alyssa

  11. wren

    I use coconut oil or coconut manna and coconut oil for my cookies and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Coconut oil is not a one to one replacement for butter. A lot depends on the flour/s you use and what you use for an egg replacement. Lots of vegan butter replacements have soy and other ingredients. i make larger cookies which are a little cakey but delicious and taste better to me. I thnk it is a matter of taste, and what you are trying to achieve. Also when you make coconut oil based cookies you should flatten them before you cook them they brown better and cook all the way through.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Love all these suggestions, Wren. Very much appreciated! I haven’t experimented much baking with coconut butter – I usually use it to make sauces or glazes for my baked goods. And I agree that flattening the cookies can help, we just wanted to make this test as close as possible. And since we didn’t flatten the others, we decided not to flatten the coconut oil ones either 🙂 – Alyssa

  12. Oat&Sesame

    I wonder what the result would be if you refrigerated all of these doughs for 48 hours before baking. I love cookie dough that’s been “aged” for some time…I bet it would change the results again.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      I think you’re right! I also like refrigerating cookies – I find the flavor to be more pronounced. I think we’ll have to do some more experimenting 😉 – Alyssa

  13. Elaine Wilk

    I use Earth Balance sticks for baking all the time for friends who are either vegan or dairy sensitive. I get great results with it. When I bake for myself though, I always use butter, since it’s my favorite anyway. I also have many friends who are GF and use lots of your GF products and have had good results. My standard is that if it isn’t as good as “regular” it isn’t worth making again. So far, so good!

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      We agree with you on that one, Elaine! We’re also a fan of the Earth Balance sticks and tend to get really great results in our baking 🙂 – Alyssa

  14. Loretta

    I also have used coconut oil and do not care for the texture of the cookie. Sometime I use half the butter the recipe calls for and use applesauce for the other half. I have recently used a butter & oil replacement from Sunsweet called Lighter Bake. I do like that. My grocery store used to carry the Sunsweet but now have to order it from Amazon.

    Reply
  15. Diana

    Thanks for such a thorough article. It was very informative. (I normally use butter, or sometimes a combination of shortening and butter).

    Reply
  16. Christine

    Ii generally use coconut oil instead of butter or vegan butter or margarine. My oil is neither hard nor liquified at room temperature unless it is either very cold or very warm in my house. I do use a refined coconut oil which imo has no coconut flavor. My cookies don’t get too cake-like so I’m not sure why some of us get different results. Thanks KAF for doing this side by side comparison

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Thanks for the comment, Christine! You’re certainly right that refined coconut oil doesn’t have as strong as a flavor, so for folks who don’t want to have any coconut flavor it’s a great option 🙂 – Alyssa

  17. Kathy Krohn

    sometimes it takes a while for gluten free flours to absorb fats… maybe letting the batter sit for 15-30 mins may contribute to a nice cookie

    Reply
  18. Sandra Montello

    I appreciate that your GF flour blend doesn’t have any gum in it. It’s a plus not a drawback. I’m a pastry chef – not gluten-free but have to bake gluten-free for customers. It’s insane how requests for gluten-free products has skyrocketed! I’m always always adjusting the amount of xanthum gum – I would be miserable if your GF flour mix had gum in it. So there 🙂

    Reply
  19. Jeanie

    I had an interesting thought about the vegan butter. Many people go vegan because they do not wish to harm animals in any way. Vegan butter often uses palm oil which is responsible for the devastation of forests in Indonesia which has almost wiped out the orangutan population in some areas. How sad that we have seem to harm something no matter what we try to do.

    As far as he cookies, I wonder what would have happened if you had SLIGHTLY chilled the coconut oil.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Slightly chilling it may help, but since its melting point is quite low (76 degrees), it’s unlikely it would have held the structure once it was beaten. Try it and let us know your results! Laurie@KAF

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Yes, try it for replacing shortening or butter in a cookie recipe, noting there will be changes in the texture. ~ MJ

  20. Lari

    Last night (before I read this article) I made cookies with the KAF gf cookie mix, using a Earth blend buttery stick. Instead of an egg I used 3 tablespoons of aquafaba (liquid from canned garbanzo beans). The instructions are to flatten the dough balls slightly before baking. The cookies flattened out too much but taste terrific. Next time I will not flatten the dough balls.

    KAF THANK YOU for your accomplishments in gf baking. I bake fewer errors thanks to all your hard work.

    Lari G

    Reply
    1. Rob

      Thanks for the comment about aquafaba – I have only just found out about this, & am looking for ways to use it… : )

  21. Patty

    I sometimes bake for a cousin’s daughter who is allergic to barley, eggs, dairy, nuts, and soy as well as a bunch of other things. Ironically, she can eat wheat but can’t eat most GF products.

    I’ve had success making shortbread cookies with white flour w/o barley (most AP flour has some barley in it). I used Olivio coconut oil spread in place of the butter. The texture was perfect but without the buttery flavor. They were a hit with everyone, especially my cousin’s daughter. I added Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips to some of the cookies. 🙂

    I once substituted coconut oil for butter in a chocolate cake because I was out of butter and didn’t want to run to the store. The cake had a moister texture, more like a snack cake that the original but it was good.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      What we’ve found is that gluten free recipes tend to be very delicate when it comes to any replacers. For best success, use the recipes and mix instructions as written for predictable results. Happy baking! Irene@KAF

  22. Amina

    My biggest challenge is baking without gluten and without eggs. I feel like substituting fat is still not as bad as substituting eggs.

    Reply
  23. Erin

    I’m a professional soap maker and am very familiar with all sorts of oils. There are two different types of coconut oil: 96º and 76º. The first is unrefined. It’s got a better texture for baked goods and is great for frying. The latter is refined/fractionation. It’s better for raw uses such as oil pulling, salad dressings, skin/hair treatments, etc. Sounds like you had the won’t type of coconut oil for baking. Lard is also a great dairy free substitution for baking. It’s has less saturated fat than butter and is a healthier choice than its reputation suggests.

    Reply
  24. Tammy

    My favorite butter substitute in my gluten free chocolate chip cookies is half refined coconut oil/half vegan spread (Earth Balance soy free). My recipe calls for melted butter, so the coconut oil consistency isn’t a problem.

    Reply
  25. Charmaine donato

    My best result with making the gluten free and dairy free is using the g/f baking mix (Bisquick like) and the crisco sticks which are dairy free. I’m finding trial and error but these are by far the most like regular chocolate chip cookies.

    Reply
  26. Donna

    Although I would like to use coconut oil for health reasons, I wonder how vegetable shortening would hold up as opposed to vegan butter?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Donna, vegetable shortening is frequently called for in cookie recipes, and generally doesn’t spread as much as cookies made with butter, but should work fine. If you notice you’re not getting as much spread as you would like, you can pat the dough balls down a bit before baking. Barb@KAF

  27. Bette small

    I really enjoy KA muffin mix & use unsweetened applesauce for 1/2 the oil & occasionally
    use egg replacer & it works very well. The muffin mixes are great & convenient since I cook GF for one.
    Thanks,
    Bette

    Reply
  28. Cristine

    Thanks for the article and information, you guys are the best at discovering what really works in baking. I’ve been working with a non-fat diet which has required me to learn how to bake without all three of the items in your study. I’ve ended up using a lot of ripe bananas and applesauce. Would you consider doing a study about that??

    Reply
    1. Alyssa Rimmer , post author

      Thanks for the comment, Cristine! So glad you’ve found our information helpful. While I’m not sure our plans to do a dedicated blog post around this topic, we have enjoyed experimenting with bananas and applesauce on our own as fat replacements. While we haven’t found that it works in all of our recipes or that it can replace 100% of the results, we’re pleased to know that it people like you have had success adapting the recipes to fit your lifestyle. Keep us posted with any more discoveries you make! – Alyssa

  29. Melody Stiles

    Has anyone ever used plain yogurt as a fat substitute? I’m wondering what that would be like? Thank you in advance for your replies.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You can often times use a full-fat (whole milk) plain yogurt to replace some of the oil in recipes like muffins and quick breads. It tends to get more tricky if you attempt this swap in recipes like cakes, in which the fats can be partially responsible for creating the foundation of the cake. For recipes that call for vegetable oil, you can try replacing about 25-50% of it with yogurt to see how you like the results. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  30. Mary Young

    This has nothing to do with gluten free baking but it is an interesting sidebar about moisture in baking. I was making refrigerator cookies (remember them?). You make the batter and roll it into a tube and enclose it in wax paper and chill. Then slice and bake. I used Crisco
    shortening. Well I had a hard time slicing them and they were crumbly sort of. I noticed a 1-800 number on the can so I called. The nutritionist said that Crisco does
    not have any water in it vs. butter that is part water. She suggested that I add a T. or so of water to the mixture. She was right!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s true, Mary! Vegetable shortening like Crisco is 100% fat, unlike butter, which is about 80% butterfat. Oftentimes they can be used interchangeably in baking, but with slightly different results. If you’re curious, you can read more about the difference in baking with these two ingredients in our blog article on the topic. Happy baking! Mollie@KAF

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