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  • Writer's pictureEthan Lazuk

What is Vegan Butter? A Guide to Plant-Based Butter Substitutes

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

One of the toughest challenges for people who have a vegan diet is finding substitutes for staple food ingredients like butter. Fortunately, the options for plant-based butter are aplenty. From topping toast to baking recipes, having a vegan-friendly butter option makes life a whole lot easier for vegans.

In this article, we'll explain the ingredients for vegan butter, review which vegan butters are the best, answer common questions about vegan butter, and provide a few tasty recipes for vegan butter.

What Are the Ingredients in Vegan Butter?

At the heart of vegan butter is high-fat plant-based oil. (This is the case for many animal-free dairy products.) Common types of plant-based oil used in vegan butter include canola, avocado, coconut, olive, sunflower, and palm oil. (Many vegans are also considerate of the environment, and palm oil specifically has been controversial due to its connection to deforestation and habitat destruction.) The oils in vegan butter are often emulsified with water or non-dairy milk as well as lecithin, which is used to give texture to many plant-based foods.

Dairy butter has a distinctly creamy texture. To give vegan butter its own creamy texture, manufacturers often include a plant-based protein from beans, peas, or nuts. Soy protein can be found in some vegan butters, though soy is more commonly used in vegan cheeses. To preserve vegan butter, and give it a slightly sour flavor, preservatives like citric acid or plant-based lactic acid may also be incorporated. Salt, spices, and other natural ingredients may also be included in vegan butter to add to its taste. Lastly, some type of coloring is usually added to give vegan butter a recognizably yellow color.

Vegan butters are sold in many grocery stores and can sometimes be placed close to dairy-based butter. It's important to look on the butter's package for a label that says the product is vegan friendly or plant based. Otherwise, you can read the butter's ingredients list to ensure it's vegan.

Frequently Asked Questions About Vegan Butter

Knowing the ingredients of vegan butter may not be all you're looking for. In that case, consider these common questions about vegan butter.

Is vegan butter healthier than butter?

According to Healthline, plant-based butter and dairy butter have similar levels of calories and total fat content. However, plant-based butters are cholesterol-free and usually have less saturated fat than dairy butter. Vegan butters are also generally higher in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. That said, vegan butter is more processed than dairy butter, and the refined oils in some plant-based butters can be inflammatory. Overall, choosing vegan butter over dairy butter is less about health benefits than it is about meeting the requirements of a plant-based diet.

Is vegan butter just margarine?

No. Some people have remarked that vegan butter and margarine are similar in texture, color, and taste. However, some margarines contain trace amounts of dairy, such as whey or lactose. Therefore, not all margarines are vegan. If you intend to eat margarine as a vegan, it's important to check the ingredients label first to ensure no dairy is present.

Is vegan butter healthier than margarine?

There is not much information available about the health benefits of margarine vs. vegan butter. According to the Mayo Clinic, margarine has health benefits compared to dairy butter because margarine contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Vegan butter also generally contains these fats, which can help reduce bad cholesterol.

Does vegan butter taste like real butter?

Many vegans become vegan later in life. Therefore, they may have memories of tasting dairy butter. The taste of dairy butter may vary by brand, but the ingredients (cream and salt) are fairly consistent and therefore the taste is too. On the other hand, vegan butter can have different ingredients based on the brand, and that means the taste of vegan butters by brand can vary as well. There have been blind tastes tests done between vegan and non-vegan butter where the taste was "similar." Alternatively, some baking reviews have found differences in taste between vegan butter and dairy butter.

Can vegans eat I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!?

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! is a popular brand of margarine. The original version of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! is not vegan as it contains dairy byproducts. However, there is a vegan version available called I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! It's Vegan!

How We Use Vegan Butter in Our Household

If you're looking for some first-person perspective about vegan butter, I can tell you some of the ways Dania and I use it in our household.

  • Cooking: When we're sautéing vegetables on the stove top, we'll sometimes toss in a dollop of plant-based butter to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan, as well as add a bit of salty flavor. In many cases, though, we'll use olive oil for this instead.

  • Baking: This one sounds obvious, but when a recipe calls for butter, or a butter substitute (if it's a vegan recipe), we'll incorporate vegan butter as instructed.

  • As a Spread: Toasted bread just calls out for some type of spread, and when it comes to savory flavors, a bit of vegan butter can be delicious.

(More Information Coming!)

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