Any dairy-free alternative to classic butter can be called vegan butter. Margarine is the best know plant-based substitute, but some brands add ingredients that are derived from animals into it.
Unfortunately, none of the substitutes can do everything butter does in the kitchen, so you will have to learn how to navigate them and which ones are best for which task.
Why Margarine May Not Be Vegan
It truly depends on the brand, but some manufactures put animal-derived ingredients into their product. The ones that are easy to spot on the back of the tub are milk, lactose, whey, and casein, but some of the fats can also be rendered from the animals.
Also, check for gelatine – a stabilizer that is extracted from animal skins and bones, and is often used in the food industry.
Is margarine healthier than butter?
As it turns out, not so much. It used to be sold as a miracle replacement, but fat is still fat, and health issues are bound to happen if it isn’t consumed in moderation. Also, butter is just butter. Margarine is made out of a long list of ingredients that you will not find at your local farmer’s market.
What Makes Butter Special
It’s the milk solids. The butterfat is as good of a carrier of flavor as any other far, but it’s the milk where most of the flavor compounds are coming from. It’s also the reason why you can do some interesting things to it – for example, make beurre noisette, aka burnt butter.
However, while in cooking it can be more or less easily substituted with other fat, when baking, good quality butter is essential. Again, it’s all about the milk solids and that particular melting point that keep cakes and pastries rich without becoming greasy.
What You Can Make at Home
The internet is filled with vegan butter recipes and tutorials and, honestly, you can start with any of them. Choose one with easily accessible ingredients that you like.
But notice that I said “start”. The ingredients that some else is using might not be 100% the same as the ones you’re using, and since the ratio of fat to “milk” solids is so important, you will have to experiment a bit.
But always remember what you plan to use it for. The consistency is not as important if you’re going to use it as a spread, as it is when you’re baking.
Right “Butter” for the Right Task
Though most vegan recipes already managed to figure out how some things are supposed to work, you still may want to figure out what works where. If there is an old family recipe that you want to make vegan, here are some solutions.
A true test for good butter and, I’m sorry to say, it will not be the same without. For now.
But if you still want some, make sure to use the stuff that comes in a wrapper and not in a tub, or DIY some.
If the enriched dough only needs some butter, you can use any of the store-bought substitutes. But if the recipe calls for eggs and milk as well (kind of like brioche does), it’s better to reinvent it from scratch.
As with regular buttercream, high water content vegan butter will ruin the day. Since trying to figure that stuff out can get pretty tricky, steal Cupcake Jemma‘s hack – use half vegan spread and half vegetable shortening.
Other baked goods
As long as the recipe doesn’t call for the creaming method, you can use regular oil. Butter is not pure fat, so adjust the measurements by using about 25% less oil (by weight).
But if you need to cream butter and sugar to create bubbles and lift, go for the faux butter with the best fat to solids ratio.
Luckily, you can also pick up vegan ghee in health food/vegan stores and better-stocked supermarkets. If you can’t get some, just use plain oil.
BÃ©arnaise and holandaise
Both sauces require eggs as well, so it would be better to give them a pass. Find a vegan recipe that reinvents them from scratch instead.
If the flavor of butter is the star of the shown you can always reach for artificial butter flavoring. It comes in both powder and liquid form, and you’ll find it anywhere where you can pick up stuff for making cakes.
But don’t overdo it. One of the compounds that help produce that aroma, diacetyl, may increase the risk of lung cancer. Having it in your buttercream one or two times a year is safe enough, but drowning your popcorn twice a day every day, not so much.