You probably know that butter is a dairy product made with milk from animals like cows and goats, but what about margarine? Does margarine contain dairy and is it a good butter replacement for vegans?
Well, yes and no. Margarine is typically made from a blend of vegetable oils, but some brands contain small amounts of dairy products such as whey or lactose. There are several brands that don’t however, making them accidentally vegan. Generally speaking, you will be able to find vegan butter or margarine in any grocery store; some Walmart stores even stock it. Be sure to check the label carefully before purchasing. Some non-dairy butter products will call themselves “butter substitutes” or “non-dairy buttery spreads.” Look for whey, lactose, casein, and caseinate on the label, which are common dairy derivatives frequently used in margarine.
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 Brands & Accidentally Vegan Margarine Brands
* Denotes brands or brands that have at least one variety of their products that does not contain palm oil. Please see palm oil section for more information regarding palm oil.
In my research I came across a 2013 article asking the question, “Is dairy-free Benecol Spread is suitable for vegans?” While the author of this article does state they contacted the manufacturer for verification, and received it, the Benecol website does not match this information (which was also noted in the article). I recommend checking with the manufacturer to verify that the spread is still suitable for vegans.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Today, oil palms are grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85% of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.
As is the case with animal agriculture in general, the palm oil industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat destruction, climate change, horrible animal cruelty, and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced.
“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)
Products such as baked goods, shampoo, cosmetics, household cleaners, laundry detergent, and even toothpaste. It’s cheaper than other vegetable oils and is even being used as a biofuel, which has helped boost the popularity of palm oil. And the spike in demand is one huge part of the problem. Demand has caused a free-for-all style approach to clearing forests to plant oil palms, forcing orangutans and other animals out of their native habitat. And if they don’t leave, they are simply killed.
“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 #
Cetyl Palmitate #
Octyl Palmitate #
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 this have to do with vegan butter?
Earth Balance, Nutiva, Pure Dairy Free spread, and several other of the brands listed above all contain palm oil. Earth Balance addresses this issue in this article, stating that they only use responsibly sourced and sustainably produced palm oil. Nutiva also addresses the issue in this lengthy article, Organic Red Palm Oil. Pure Dairy-Free has not addressed the issue of palm oil at the time of this writing.
There are many conflicting articles on the internet on whether or not palm oil, technically a vegan product, can really even be called vegan 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 a more in-depth discussion about palm oil.
Homemade Vegan Butter Recipes
- Cultured European Style Butter | Vegan Baking
- Coconut Butter | Vegan Baking
- Soy-Free Banana Butter | Vegan Baking
- Artisan Vegan Butter | Luminous Vegans
- 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 | Plante Pusherne
Spreadable Olive Oil Butter | Vegan Baking
Do you have a dairy-free butter that I should know about? Please contact me.
Truth in Advertising
I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. The information and data presented on Your Daily Vegan has been meticulously researched, and is based on information available at the time of publication. Guides are periodically reviewed for accuracy and updated as necessary. Update dates can be found at the end of every guide. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.
This guide is authored by KD Angle-Traegner. Last update February 2017