Is Butter Vegan? Is This Semi-Solid Emulsion Off Limits?

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It might seem like a simple question. But the truth is, there are so many products on the market that look and taste like butter–and which people call butter–that it can be difficult to tell the difference between spreads with animal based ingredients and vegan alternatives.

Real butter is a dairy product. It’s made from the cream from cow’s milk, and it’s certainly not fit for a vegan diet. Some butter alternatives contain animal products, even if the main ingredient is plant based. 

But there are a lot of vegan alternatives that we vegans can enjoy. 

Is Butter Vegan? Let’s Look at How it’s Made

can vegans eat butter

It’s pretty easy to make butter. So easy, that it’s a common project in nursery school and kindergarten classrooms. 

The first step is to separate the cream from the milk. If you’re making it at home, you can even start with a container of cream.

Next, the milk is churned (or shaken in a jar, if you’re doing it by hand) until it solidifies. Some recipes call for salt or other flavorings.

Finally, the solid butter is squeezed to remove excess moisture.

Watch the process here:

Commercial butter has a few extra steps.

The milk is pasteurized before separating out the cream, for example. Some manufacturers also ferment, or culture the cream. After churning, commercial manufacturers wash the butter with cold water before packaging it for shipping.

Check out how commercial butter is made here:

What About Margarine? Can Vegans Eat That?

Margarine is a butter substitute. Some types are vegan, and some are not.

Essentially, margarine is a fat combined with either water or milk, plus salt.

Originally, margarine was made with beef fat. Today, however, most margarine is made with one or more plant based fats, such as sunflower oil. It may still contain milk, however.

Some plant based margarine is vegan, therefore, and some is not.

Another thing to think about with margarine is hydrogenation. Hydrogenation means combining oil with hydrogen gas in a high pressure chamber. This results in a product that is solid at room temperature.

Partially hydrogenated oils contain a lot of trans fats, which can be unhealthy. In many places, this way of making margarine has been largely phased out. Fully hydrogenated oils, which are considered a healthier alternative, are still on the market, however. (1)

Want to know more? You can read more about margarine, its production, and its history in our article, Is Margarine Vegan?

Can You Make Your Own Vegan Butter? 

Absolutely! And it’s not difficult!

This vegan butter recipe from Loving It Vegan uses only seven ingredients, and it takes about five minutes to make. Even better, it’s great for baking, frying, and spreading on bread, too. 

Watch the process from start to finish here.

Other Homemade Vegan Butters

Nut butter is a staple of many a vegan diet. And it’s easy to make, too. Just put your nuts into the blender and blitz ’em. You can also toast them first or add your own flavorings such as cinnamon or chocolate.

Fruit butters, like apple butter, are another alternative. (2)

Apple butter is similar to applesauce, but it’s cooked for a longer time, so that the sugars in the apples caramelize. This results in a distinctive caramel flavour. You can also add cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices.

Best Butter Replacements by Usage

Some butter substitutes are better than others for some purposes. The best vegan butter alternative for baking puff pastry might not be the best one to put on bread. And when it comes to frying? That’s another question altogether.

Here are some of the best dairy free butter alternatives for each type of use.

Vegan Butter Substitutes for Baking

In many recipes, especially cakes you can substitute different types of vegetable oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil, for butter. (3)

For other types of vegan baking, though, such as pastries, you’ll want something that behaves and tastes as close to butter as possible. This is where high quality vegan butters come in.

Vegan Butter Substitutes for Frying

For frying, you’ll want a butter alternative with a high smoke point – that is, the point at which the oil breaks down. When frying, this means a smoke point higher than 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). This will protect the flavor of your food during preparation, and will protect you from some potential health hazards. (4)

Look for a dairy free plant butter made from one of the following plant derived oils:

  • Avocado oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil 
  • Sesame oil

Vegan Butter Substitutes for Spreading

For spreading on bread, it’s all about taste. So do a taste test and choose your favorite vegan butter alternatives according to what your tongue tells you.

Where to Find Vegan Butter?

It’s easier and easier to follow a plant based diet. Today, you can find different butter alternatives with plant based ingredients in most grocery stores, as well as online.

Is Butter Vegan? Answered!

No, butter isn’t vegan. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives on the market that are fit for your baking, frying, and spreading needs. 

Want to know more? Check out our roundup of the best vegan butter alternatives.

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is butter plant based
About The Author:
Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday is a vegetarian from a family of vegetarians. A recent vegan, she wants to spread the word about the benefits of plant-based eating for health, for animals, and for the planet.

  1. Medical News Today | Hydrogenated Oil: What is it? |
  2. All Recipes | 4 Ways to Make Apple Butter |
  3. Yummly | The 10 Best Olive Oil Cake Recipes |
  4. Vegetarian Health | Smoke Point of Oils |


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