The Great Big Vegan Butter Guide
By KD Angle-Traegner | Updated Jan. 21, 2018
Is butter vegan? What about margarine? They’re common in cooking and baking — and on perfectly toasted bread — but do butter and margarine contain animal ingredients? This question is more common than you might think. It’s easy to understand why; the answer isn’t a simple yes or no.
While margarine isn’t dairy-based like butter is, some contain trace amounts of animal products. Others don’t. Ingredients vary widely from brand to brand, which means it’s important to check the label before buying.
Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Palm Oil?
You might be asking yourself what palm oil has to do with vegan butter and why I am talking about it first in this guide. Good question. First, let’s talk about what it is, then I’ll explain why you should care.
The Oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis)is a member of the palm family of trees that is cultivated as a source of oil. They’re native to West and Central Africa but also grown extensively in Indonesia and Malaysia.
“In total, 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40 – 50% of household products in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England.” (1)
Palm oil, from the fruit, is used to make soap, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste, candles, household cleaners, and laundry detergent. Palm kernel oil, from the seeds, is used in edibles like margarine, ice cream, cookies, and bread. Some pharmaceuticals even contain palm kernel oil. The solid material left after processing, the cake residue, is then fed to cattle. (2)
Cheaper than other vegetable oils, palm oil is also used as a biofuel, which has helped boost its popularity. Demand has caused a free-for-all style approach to clearing forests to plant oil palms. Not shockingly, this is bad for animals.
“According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.” (1)
Finding out if a product contains palm oil is more difficult than you might imagine. There are many different names for palm oil and it’s used in a variety of products.
Here are some names that are used for palm oil:
- Vegetable Oil – #
- Vegetable Fat – #
- Palm Kernel – #
- Palm Oil Kernel – #
- Palm Fruit Oil – #
- Palmate – #
- Palmitate – #
- Cetyl Palmitate – #
- Octyl Palmitate – #
- Palmolein – #
- Palm Stearine – #
- Palmitoyl Oxostearamide – #
- Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3 – #
- Palmityl Alcohol – #
- Glyceryl Stearate – #
- Elaeis Guineensis – #
- Hydrated Palm Glycerides – #
- Stearic Acid – #
- Steareth -2 – *
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate – ^
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – ^
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate – ^
- Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate – *
- Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate – ^
- Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye – ^
- Sodium Kernelate – #
- Sodium Palm Kernelate – #
- Cetyl Alcohol – ^
What Does Palm Oil Have To Do With Vegan Butter?
Earth Balance, Nutiva, Pure Dairy Free spread, and several other brands listed above contain palm oil. Earth Balance has created an information page on their program to use only responsibly sourced and sustainably produced palm oil. Nutiva also addresses the issue in this lengthy article, Organic Red Palm Oil. Melt Organic uses Rainforest Alliance Certified palm oil. Unfortunately, not all of the brands listed have addressed the use of palm oil in their products.
There are many conflicting articles on the internet on whether or not palm oil, technically a vegan product, can be considered vegan-friendly given the overlapping ethical, environmental, and humanitarian issues surrounding its production. Deciding to consume palm oil is definitely a topic that vegans should be talking about. Any time an animal loses their life or home to a human, it becomes a vegan issue.
Visit the website Say No to Palm Oil for an in-depth discussion about palm oil.
Vegan Butter Brands Shopping Guide
Let’s talk vegan butter basics. You probably know that butter is a dairy product made with milk from animals like cows, goats, or sheep, but what about margarine? Does margarine contain animal ingredients, and is it a suitable butter replacement for vegans?
Well, yes and no.
Margarine is merely a blend of vegetable oils, but there are some brands which add whey or lactose to it, both of which are animal-based ingredients. Not all brands do though, which means some margarine is vegan-friendly. Generally speaking, you will be able to find vegan butter or margarine in any grocery store; even Walmart stocks it.
Make sure to check the label carefully before purchasing. Common names for non-dairy butter products are “butter substitutes” or “non-dairy buttery spreads.” Also look for animal-based ingredients like whey, casein, and caseinate on the label.
Buyer’s Note about Vitamin D: There are two forms of vitamin D. One, vitamin D2, comes from plant sources and is suitable for vegans. The other, D3, comes from lanolin (washed lamb’s wool).
Vegan Butter & Margarine Brands
- Earth Balance
Products: Original, Soy-Free, Organic Whipped, Olive Oil, Omega-3, Organic Coconut Spread
- Nutiva *
Product: Organic Buttery Coconut Oil
- Miyoko’s Creamery *
Product: European Style Cultured Vegan Butter
- Wayfare *
Products: Salted Whipped Butter, Garlic Whipped Butter, Sweet Cinnamony Whipped Butter
- Smart Balance
Products: Light with Flaxseed, Omega-3, Light Omega-3, EVOO, Light with EVOO, Organic
- Melt Organic
Products: Original, Probiotic, and Buttery Sticks
- I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
Product: It’s Vegan Spread
- Ellyndale Organics
Product: Coconut Infusions Non-Dairy Butter
Product: Soya Spread, Sunflower Spread
- Biona Organics
Product: Organic Cocomega Coconut Spread, Olive Extra Spread, Vegetable Margarine
Product: Becel Vegan
Product: Vitalite Dairy-Free
- Flora Freedom
Product: Flora Dairy Free
- Suma Spreads
Products: Olive Spread, Soya Spread, Soya Spread Organic, Sunflower Spread, Organic Sunflower Spread
Product: Tomor Vegetarian Margarine
Product: Olivani Olive Oil Spread
Product: Original, Olive, Lite
- Alfa One *
Product: Rice Bran Oil Spread, Coconut Spread
Palm Oil Free Butter Brands
Brands that offer at least one palm-oil free product are denoted in the lists above using the ” * ” symbol. Please see the palm oil section for more information.
Do you make a dairy-free butter or margarine that isn’t listed here? Please contact me.
Homemade Vegan Butter Recipes
Delicious, spreadable vegan butter isn’t just found premade at your local grocery or health food stores, it can also be made at home. Here are a few easy recipes to get you started.
Spreadable Olive Oil Butter
Recipe by Vegan Baking
Recipes to Try
- Cultured European Style Butter
- Coconut Butter
- Soy-Free Banana Butter
- Artisan Vegan Butter
- The Ultimate Vegan Butter
Bryanna Clark Grogan
- Sweet & Simple Vegan Butter
Waking Up Vegan
- Easy Vegan Butter
A Virtual Vegan
- Vegan Butter Substitute
Fork and Beans
- Vegan Aquafaba Butter
Do you have a dairy-free butter recipe that isn’t listed here? Please contact me.
Truth in Advertising
I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. Intensely researched, the topic explored in this article contains knowledge available at the time of publishing. Reviews and updates happen when new material becomes available.
Please contact me if you find incorrect data.