Butter – it tastes amazing on toast, is essential to baking, and it adds rich flavor to risottos and sauces. But if you’re trying to use less dairy, you might have asked yourself if there are vegan butter substitutes out there.
Cutting out butter doesn’t mean an end to buttered toast and homemade chocolate chip cookies. There are actually a lot of ways you can enjoy butter without dairy, no matter how you like to use it in your everyday life.
What Is Vegan Butter Made From?
Not too long ago, there were only a few vegan butters on the market. These days, there are a wide variety of vegan butter options to try out. But if cow’s milk isn’t the main ingredient, then what is it made from?
Earth Balance, one of the most well-known brands, makes Buttery Sticks made from a blend of palm, canola, soybean, flax, and olive oils. It also makes a soy-free version, which eliminates soybean and flax.
The company also offers a wider variety of vegan spreads packaged in plastic tubs, which includes Organic Whipped, a soy-free spread made with extra virgin olive oil, an omega-3 rich spread, a coconut oil spread, and European-style buttery spread.
Some vegans might avoid Earth Balance because it contains palm oil, which has been linked to deforestation and habitat destruction. But, the brand is certified by the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainble Palm Oil), which works towards making conscious farming practices the norm.
Is Vegan Butter Healthy?
Like meat, butter and other dairy products contain both saturated and trans fats, which are known to raise one’s cholesterol. This can raise your risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The recommended daily intake for someone looking to lower their cholesterol is 11 to 13 grams for a 2,000-calories-a-day diet.
Vegan doctor Dr. Greger advises that those looking to lower their cholesterol should avoid trans, saturated fats, and high cholesterol foods. While many vegan butter substitutes do contain saturated fat, Harvard Medical School notes that there are “good” and “bad” saturated fats. Polysaturated and monosaturated fats – the good kind – both come from plants.
According to the USDA, one tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams of saturated fat and 31 milligrams of cholesterol. In contrast, one tablespoon of vegan butter brand Earth Balance’s Buttery Sticks contains 3.5 grams of saturated fat and no trans fats or cholesterol.
Can Vegans Use Margarine?
You might think that you can use margarine – a buttery spread invented in 1869 that rose in popularity in the 1930s and 40s – because most conventional brands are made from vegetable oil. According to The Takeout, dairy lobbyists were quick to push for legislation against margarine, sensing it as a threat to traditional butter. Despite taxes and other restrictions, margarine’s popularity really took off in the 1970s, when consumers became increasingly concerned about saturated fat, which has been linked to higher cholesterol levels.
But, the margarine stocked next to the butter might also contain “hidden” dairy-derived ingredients like whey, casein, or caseinate.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, launched as a margarine substitute in the early 1980s, released its first vegan option in 2017. It’s free from artificial flavors and preservatives and contains 40 percent fewer calories, 70 percent less fat than traditional butter, and no trans fats. It’s also a decent source of omega-3 ALA. Instead of dairy, it’s made from soybean oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
What Do Vegans Use Instead of Butter?
There are a lot of ways to enjoy butter on a plant-based diet. You can opt for Earth Balance or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’s vegan spread, as mentioned above, which can be found in most major supermarkets. If you live near a vegan grocery or a health food store, you might even come across varieties made by smaller brands that you won’t find in typical supermarkets. There are also an increasing number of brands that are becoming widely available in grocery stores that can typically be used as a 1:1 replacement.
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Dairy-free brand WayFare makes whipped vegan butter with a light, airy texture. It comes in thee varieties – Salted, Garlic, or Cinnamon – that are made from a blend of non-GMO, organic butter beans, coconut and safflower oil, and konjac root powder. It’s gluten-free, soy-free, cholesterol-free, and Kosher.
Brooklyn-based startup Fora Foods makes FabaButter, a dairy-free butter that uses aquafaba – the viscous liquid in a can of chickpeas – and coconut oil. The company sources its aquafaba from hummus manufacturers, so no chickpeas go to waste. FabaButter has a light texture than can substitute for traditional butter in baked goods and complicated pastries like croissants. Vegan chef Terry Hope Romero, co-author of the cookbooks “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar,” “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World,” and “Vegan Pie in the Sky” personally tested FabaButter in her kitchen leading up to the launch.
Nutiva Buttery Coconut Oil
Coconut oil, both refined and unrefined, make great substitutes for dairy butter when it comes to baking all kinds of treats like cookies, crumbles, brownies, cakes, and more – you can even beat it with confectioner’s sugar to make a healthier frosting. Refined has a neutral flavor while unrefined works in sweet recipes that pair well with coconut – or, if you don’t mind the subtle flavor. But, regular coconut oil is missing the classic buttery taste.
Nutiva’s Organic Coconut Oil With Non-Dairy Butter Flavor is a vegan alternative for when plain coconut oil won’t do. According to the brand, it’s made from a blend of “pure certified organic non-GMO plants including sunflower, coconut and mint.” Like regular coconut oil, it can be used for baking or sauteeing, but it tastes great on toast, bread, English muffins, and bagels. You can also use it instead of ghee to make vegan Indian recipes.
As for other vegan butter options in the US, California-based vegan cheese brand Miyoko’s makes a coconut oil and cashew-based European-style butter that can be used to replace regular butter in baking or as a spread on crackers and bread. It’s available in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fairway, Target, and in smaller grocery stores across the nation.
UK-based brand Melt Organic makes vegan butter sticks, spread, and a probiotic vegan butter spread, all made from coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, and flax seed oil. It has a rich, creamy taste like traditional butter and is free from dairy, soy, and nuts. It also contains half the saturated fat of dairy butter and also contains plant-based omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid. It can be used to replace butter as a spread or in baking sweets like cookies and brownies.
Tesco Vegan Butter Options
Tesco has more than 3,400 stores across the UK and the dairy aisle is stocked with several vegan butter options for all your baking and buttering needs. Vitalife Dairy Free Spread is made from sunflower oil and contains 75 percent less saturated fat than traditional butter. It’s great for spreads, cooking, baking, and freezing. Pure Dairy Free is also made from sunflower oil and contains 72 percent less saturated fat than butter. Flora Dairy Free, made from palm and rapeseed oil, is also available at Tesco.
The same butters can also be found at Sainsbury’s, along with palm oil-free spread made from almonds by Denmark-based brand Naturli’.
Healthier Substitutions for Vegan Butter in Baking
Those who are mindful about their cholesterol or who follow a whole food, plant-based diet can swap vegan butter in baking with any of the healthier alternatives below. Before swapping butter, it’s best to do a bit of research to find out which butter substitute works best in which recipe. For example, what works in cookies might not work in brownies. Joining a vegan baking group on Facebook is a great way to get answers from more experienced bakers.
There are a number you can join, like Vegan Baking or Vegan Cake Decorating, All Types of Baking & Resources, where you can ask questions or see the creative ways that other people have managed to bake without animal ingredients. Baking is a science and many have figured out other ways to do without ingredients like milk, eggs, and butter outside of opting for vegan products.
In many cases, you can substitute equal parts avocado for vegan butter in baking. While avocado contains saturated fat, this creamy fruit contains monosaturated fat, which can help lower bad cholesterol. It works best in recipes that mask its flavor, like fudgy brownies and decadant vegan chocolate cake. It can also replace butter or vegetable shortening to make a healthier, dairy-free chocolate frosting like in this Chocolate Covered Katie recipe.
Avocado also makes a great replacement for butter on toast or bagels.
Swap butter with half the amount of applesauce to cut down on fat and add healthy fiber to your baked goods. It typically works best in cake or breads like zucchini, banana, or pumpkin. If you use applesauce, you might want to consider reducing the sugar content in your recipe, since it’ll add natural sweetness. Unsweetened applesauce is available in almost any grocery store and online – Trader Joe’s carries organic unsweetened applesauce for a low price.
Vegan Greek Yogurt
Unsweetened vegan Greek yogurt can be used in place of eggs in some cake recipes. Dairy-free brand Kite Hill makes high-protein Greek-style yogurt from almonds and almond milk. Daiya’s Greek yogurt is made from coconut. Ripple, the brand that makes pea protein-based vegan milk and protein powders, plans to relaunch its dairy-free Greek yogurt later this year.
While not Greek yogurt, the brands Anitas and CoYo make coconut yogurt that has a rich, creamy texture that could be used in baking.
Pumpkin, Squash, or Sweet Potato Puree
Keeping a can of pumpkin puree in your pantry can be handy for vegan baking – it also works with pureed butternut squash, sweet potato, or any similar squash, like Bubbard. Just roast until tender and then blend it using a food processor or high-spreed blender like the Vitamix. Use 3/4 puree per cup of dairy butter. Not only does it cut down on oil, but it also adds fiber and a healthy dose of vitamin C.
Aside from applesauce, other types of pureed fruit can do a good job standing in for butter in hearty baked goods like bread, muffins, and baked oatmeal. It works best with bananas, prunes, and even dates – gooey dates like Medjool work best in this case. Just add to a high-speed blender and pulse until you have a uniform texture. As mentioned above, it’s best to consult a vegan baking group to ask for best practices if you’re not entirely confident in your skills.