Is butter vegan? Best vegan butter alternatives

Read Time:   |  11th December 2018

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Wondering whether butter is allowed on a vegan diet? In short, no! But here are the best vegan butter alternatives you can use instead.


You’ve mastered swapping eggs for Aquafaba and finally started to get to grips with vegan cheese. Replacing animal-based staples in your diet with plant-based ingredients so far… well, it’s a huge success.

But have you been wondering whether butter is vegan and if not what can you use instead? Whether you’re a seasoned chef or toast lover, butter doesn’t have to pose a potential culinary issue when you go vegan. 

Why isn’t butter vegan?

Due to its versatility, butter is an ingredient many of us will previously have considered a kitchen staple. Butter is used in a whole host of different recipes as it helps to add flavour to a range of dishes from cakes and pies to rich sauces and fried dishes.

Veganism is a lifestyle that tries to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of animal exploitation. This means that vegans do not consume any animal-based ingredients such as dairy and meat products.

Because butter is made from the fat and protein components of milk or cream from a cow, butter is not suitable for vegans. 

What is vegan butter?

Thankfully vegans don’t have to miss out as swapping to dairy-free butter is easy as there are plenty of options readily available in stores. These days we’re used to switching out cows milk for dairy-free alternatives such as oat milk. But if you take a trip down the butter aisle, you’ll find there are just as many options when it comes to vegan alternatives! 

Vegan butter does not contain dairy but is made from plant-derived oils such as olive, avocado, coconut, and palm oil. These oils are blended with water, salt, flavours and emulsifiers to create a butter substitute that looks and tastes like butter.

But what about margarine, that’s vegan right? Unfortunately not always! While many people assume that margarine is vegan, some may still contain a small amount of dairy. It’s important to always make sure you read the label and opt for a plant butter if in doubt.

Find the best vegan butter to use in different recipes using this handy guide to replacing butter with dairy-free alternatives. It’s your ultimate vegan kitchen hack! 

Best vegan butter for frying

Use: Cold-pressed olive oil for lighter frying, rapeseed oil and coconut oil for higher temperatures.

Why use it? These oils can withstand a higher temperature of heating (up to around 180°C) without creating potentially harmful fatty acid chains due to rapid oxidation reactions. These fatty acids have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and higher cholesterol levels.

Nutrition notes: As with all oils, use cold-pressed, organic options where possible. Buying organic will reduce the amount of pesticide residue you are exposed to during cooking, while cold-pressing the oils preserves the nutritional quality.

Olive and rapeseed are rich in omega 3, aiding skin health and hormone circulation. While coconut oil has been found to benefit heart health in certain studies, use it sparingly when cooking.

vegan butter alternatives

Tasting notes: Olive oil will impart a slightly fruity flavour, coconut oil is a little creamier and sweeter, while rapeseed oil is savoury and tasteless.

Don’t use: Extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oils, corn and sunflower. These contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which oxidise at high temperatures to produce harmful compounds called aldehydes.

Spreadable vegan butters 

Use: Vegan margarines such as Pure dairy-free spreads, Vitalite, Naturli’, Flora plant spreads, Aldi’s coconut oil or avocado spread and Suma’s range of spreads.

Why use it? These free-from margarines are fantastic as a butter alternative to use on toast, sandwiches and to spread lovingly atop scones and crumpets. Our personal favourites are the various avocado oil spreads such as those by M&S, Waitrose and Aldi.

vegan butter alternatives

Nutrition notes: While these fats are highly processed, most of these spreads will have the benefit of containing a source of vitamin D, which is added into the spread to help enhance the nutrition of the spread. Aim to use approximately 1 tbsp per day to avoid over-consumption of these highly processed foods.

Tasting notes: The flavour of each of these spreads will vary slightly based on the oil(s) they are manufactured with. A good all-round savoury option would be an extra-virgin olive oil spread or a sunflower oil spread.

Don’t use: These spreads would not be suitable for frying, and we would use caution when cooking with them at higher temperatures and when baking in cakes.


Best vegan butter for pastry

Use: The type of alternative you will need for baking will depend upon the type of pastry you want to create. Shortcrust pastry works well with olive, rapeseed and vegetable oils.

Puff pastry, which requires layers of fat lamination between sheets of dough, will require a firmer vegan butter.

For a rough puff pastry, chunks of cooled, hard vegan margarine may do the trick. Dairy-free margarine or plain oils such as rapeseed can be used for crumble toppings.

Why use it? Using a harder butter or margarine alternative for both puff and rough puff will help create the crumbly and flaky texture you are looking for.

It is important to select the correct vegan butter alternative for the job to ensure you obtain the correct texture of pastry when cooked.

vegan butter alternatives

Tasting notes: Most vegan butter recipes create a very plain, flavourless and creamy base to add to your dishes. You must remember that the enemy of pastry preparation is heat, so be sure to use your butter alternatives at the coolest temperature possible.

Don’t use: Don’t expect puff pastry success if you’re using liquid oils in your recipe, as this will just create a shortcrust texture. If in doubt, make Jus-Rol your secret weapon!

Enjoying this article? Find more easy vegan swaps here:

Best dairy-free butter for making cakes & desserts

Use: Like pastry, the type of butter alternative you choose will depend on the recipe. Certified vegan recipes will most likely use canola/rapeseed and vegetable oils, specifying a particular type of fat to use.

If you are attempting to veganise a recipe, you should replace the butter with a suitable vegan margarine made from soya or sunflower oil. It’s also important to ensure the margarine is at a cool temperature. 

Subbing a recipe’s solid or semi-solid fat such as margarine or butter with a liquid fat such as vegetable oil will often offset the balance of wet and dry ingredients in the mixture. This could result in a soggy bottom or a very dense, wet cake.

Topping notes: Do you love the sweet, creamy butter-based icing on traditional cakes? Luckily buttercream can easily be made vegan by using a plant-based margarine.

Opt for a hard-set margarine such as those made from soya. Be sure to refrigerate the icing for 20 minutes before piping to ensure a thick and luxurious layer on your cake.

Don’t use: Olive oil. Unless you want a very distinctive flavour to your cake, or unless stated in the recipe, avoid using olive oil as it can impart a savoury and salty flavour to most sponges.


Best vegan butter for sauces

Use: When making a white, cheesy or béchamel sauce, use sunflower oil margarine. The sunflower oil will give the sauce a neutral flavour, whilst the emulsified butter-like texture will provide a perfect base for low-heat cooking the flour in your sauce base.

Recipe notes: To make pasta sauce, use approximately 3 tbsp of sunflower margarine, melted over a medium heat until liquefied. Add in 2 tbsp of white, plain flour or a gluten-free alternative.

Use a wooden spoon to combine the fat with the flour, and cook off the flour for approximately 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of your chosen plant milk and whisk until thickened.

If you need to thicken further, dilute 1 tbsp of cornflour with some plant milk into a smooth paste. Add into your mixture a small amount at a time and stir until your sauce thickens. 

Don’t use: Coconut oil isn’t suitable for making the base of a béchamel sauce as it will often impart its own flavour into the mixture. 

Best healthy butter alternatives

Use: Perhaps you are looking for a healthier alternative to traditional margarine and butter alternatives to adorn your toast? Luckily, there are a variety of different buttery alternatives for you to try!

How about blitzing cooked butternut squash and avocado together, and using as a nutritious spread on bread? You could even use a dollop of hummus. Even better, a little tahini will do the trick, with ample seasoning and lemon juice on top for good measure.

Get creative with blitzing peas, cooked beetroots and various different vegetables into a purée.

Don’t use: When experimenting with butter alternatives, simple is best. For example, try to use a vegetable spread that contains few, or even just one, ingredient. This will prevent the butter alternative from overpowering the flavour of your dish of choice.

Avocado smash is a subtly flavoured option, whilst being rich in healthy fatty acids. 

Now that you’ve got to grips with vegan butter, celebrate by baking one of these tasty vegan cheesecake recipes

Written by

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis is an Assistant Psychologist at the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and has a MS degree in Clinical Neuropsychiatry from Kings College London. Charlotte is also a marketer for ethical brands, author of Vegan: Do It! A young person’s guide to living a vegan lifestyle, and a regular contributor to sustainability and plant-based publications.

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