Butter is incredibly versatile. It’s also ingrained in western cuisine as a result. Because of this, there isn’t one all-encompassing answer to vegan butter. Instead, there are several options, each suited to different uses:
- Frying & cooking
BEST FOR BAKING: DAIRY-FREE / VEGAN MARGARINE
Dairy-free margarines are the most direct vegan butter substitute and can replaced weight-for-weight, and volume-for-volume. They work well for baking, frying, and as spreads, as well as in sauces.
Most dairy-free margarine options are based on soya, olive or sunflower oil. The fat content is therefore still high enough for baking, spreading and sauces. It will hold things together in the same way as butter. Options such as Earth Balance and Pure also have the added benefit of being lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Use one-for-one with the recommended amount of dairy butter when substituting in baking. Frosting is the complicated part, as vegan margarine / butter will absorb a lot more confectioners’ sugar than regular butter. For dairy-free icing, start by using half the amount of dairy-free margarine to the usual amount of sugar, then add more dairy-free margarine as required.
BEST FOR FRYING: OLIVE OIL
Olive oil is popular for frying and cooking, and for light sauces such as salad dressings. Packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, there are loads of health benefits too. It’s been linked to lower the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.
Oil can be great for baking too. There are many delicious oil-based cake recipes around, which are usually based on vegetables. For example, chocolate cakes made with beetroot or aubergine/eggplant. Or orange, courgette and carrot cakes. To keep the consistency light and avoid a fatty taste, use only 3/4 of the volume of dairy butter stated in the original recipe. Remember this will impact the final size of your cake.
BEST FOR RAW DESSERTS: RAW COCONUT OIL
The curveball of butter alternatives, coconut oil sits somewhere between vegan margarine and olive oil in its use. It’s is solid at room temperature, though melts into a clear oil when heated. It has a higher temperature tolerance than vegetable- and seed-based oils, meaning it has a higher burning point when exposed to a hot pan. It’s therefore my ‘go to’ oil for frying, as it doesn’t cause smoke like some other oils.
Coconut oil has a distinct coconut flavour, which makes a beautifully fragrant addition to Thai curries and stir fries. If you don’t like the smell, this can be off-set by adding a pinch of salt to the pan. I always do this when frying.
You will notice that coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but don’t be afraid. These are medium chain triglycerides (MCTS), which zoom straight to the liver from the digestive tract to be used as a source of energy. Being coconut based, pay attention to its high calorie content. Only use a teaspoon at a time for a normal sized frying pan.
BEST FOR SWEETENING: APPLESAUCE
Applesauce makes a great vegan substitute for butter when making sweet cakes. Especially if they would normally have both butter and sugar as ingredients. When using applesauce as a vegan alternative, reduce the amount of sweet ingredients, and add it early where possible, to taste throughout. This will let you check the cake mix is not too sweet.
Apple sauce is relatively common in US supermarkets, though more difficult to find in the UK. Try the baby food section of the store, or place a halved cooking apple in the microwave on full power for 3 minutes, covered.
Use applesauce one-for-one as a vegan butter alternative when baking for deliciously moist cakes. They may be denser and more moist than the original recipe, but the applesauce ensures even the lightest of recipes remain soft.
NOT VEGAN? LACTOFREE SPREADABLE
Similar to milk alternatives, if you’re looking for a quick fix, Lactofree spreadable could be your answer. It’s a blend of butter (with no nasty lactose) and rapeseed oil, and behaves much like conventional butter. At 24% rapeseed oil, it’s still good for spreading and frying. If you’re a keen baker though, you will need to use less of it than dairy butter when making buttercream icing or frosting; the extra oil content adds viscosity where butter would normally bind.
Hope you liked my dairy-free and vegan butter review! For more, check out Cow’s milk alternatives: The Ultimate Guide