Is margarine vegan?You probably know that butter is a dairy product straight from cows, but what about margarine? Does margarine contain dairy or is it a suitable vegan butter substitute?
Most margarines are made from soybean oil or a blend of oils, but actually contain trace amounts of dairy products such as whey or lactose too. There are a few brands that don't, including Blue Bonnet Light Margarine, and Smart Balance Light Margarine. If you want to be sure that the margarine you're using is 100% vegan, you may want to use a product that is specifically marketed as a vegan non-dairy spread.
Some non-dairy butter products call themselves "butter supstitutes" or "non-dairy buttery spreads". For simplicity, I call them "vegan margarine". If you're checking labels looking for a vegan margarine, be sure to look out for whey, lactose, casein and caseinate, which are dairy derivatives frequently used in margarines.
Which brand is the best vegan margarine to use as a non-dairy butter substitute?For my money, the best vegan margarine needs to be one that I can use for any purpose, whether its to make a dairy-free vegan cheese sauce thick and creamy, to use in baking vegan cookies and vegan muffins, or just to spread on toast. In other words, it needs to be functional as well as taste good on its own.
For these reasons, my favorite dairy-free vegan margarine is Earth Balance brand. It tastes quite rich and buttery, has a smooth consistency and is reasonably priced. As an added bonus, it is also gluten-free, non-GMO, and, unlike most margarines, it has no hydrogenated oils. As a vegan product, Earth Balance is also naturally cholesterol-free.
I also like margarines that are made from 100% soybean oil and nothing else. A pure soybean margarine works well in baking, but doesn't have quite the richness of flavor that Earth Balance does when eaten alone on bread, in my opinion.
How can I use vegan margarine as a butter substitute for baking?You can use Earth Balance in any recipe that calls for vegan margarine, and in just about any recipe that calls for butter. Simply substitute the same amount of vegan margarine for the butter. Other brands, such as Smart Balance light, don't work as well in baking, and it says so right on the label, so take the time to read the label if you're unsure if your vegan margarine is suitable for baking.