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 what about butter? Whether you’re a seasoned chef or toast lover, butter doesn’t have to pose a potential culinary issue.
Due to its versatility, butter is a traditional dairy-based ingredient that the majority of us will previously have regularly stashed in our cupboards and fridges as a staple. After all, butter is used in a whole host of different recipes – everything from cakes and pies, rich sauces and fried mushrooms to simply spread on toast or bread rolls.
Butter is akin to milk when it comes to being versatile in the kitchen, yet is all too often overlooked when it comes to finding a suitable vegan replacement. This month’s guide to replacing butter for dairy-free alternatives is your ultimate vegan kitchen hack.
Best 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.
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.
Best for: Spreading
Use: Vegan margarines such as Pure dairy free spreads, Vitalite, Naturli’, Flora freedom 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.
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 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 – the likes of which are seldom found in UK supermarkets, and sometimes best sought from your local independent vegan shop. 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 butter alternative for the job to ensure you obtain the correct texture of pastry when cooked.
Tasting notes: Most vegan butter recipes create a very plain, flavourless and creamy base to add into 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!
Best for: 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 and 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: A lover of the sweet, creamy butter-based icing adorning traditional cakes? This recipe can easily be veganised by using a plant-based margarine. Opt for a hard-set margarine such as those made from soya, and 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 for: Sauces
Use: When making a white, cheesy or béchamel sauce, use sunflower oil margarine. The sunflower oil will impart a neutral flavour, whilst the emulsified butter-like texture will provide a perfect base for low-heat cooking of the chosen flour in your sauce base.
Recipe notes: To make enough sauce for a humongous bowl of pasta, 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 – buckwheat flour works really well here). 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 (use a plain milk such as soya or almond here) and whisk until thickened. If you need to thicken further, dilute 1 tbsp of cornflour with some plant milk into a smooth paste, and add into your mixture little by little.
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 for: 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 which 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. Anything with herbs and spices such as tapenade and Marmite is best left.
Charlotte Willis is a freelance journalist and health writer who has worked with the Vegan Society, Veganuary and other online vegan publications. Her fields of expertise and interests include vegan nutrition, holistic healthcare, mindfulness and fitness. She is currently researching and studying the links between food and psychological health while pursuing a doctorate degree in counselling.