Vegan butter

If you’re looking for vegan butter, you’re in the right spot.

Published: May 2015
Last Update: September 2022

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Do vegans eat butter? What about margarine?

They're common in cooking and baking (and on perfectly toasted bread) but is butter and margarine vegan? These questions are more common than you might think. And it's easy to see why.

The answers aren't simple yes or no.

Ingredients vary widely from brand to brand, too. While margarine isn't dairy-based like butter is, some contain trace amounts of animal products. Others don't.

Luckily, getting a dairy-free version of that creamy taste you love has never been easier. This guide will introduce you to all the plant options and give you everything you need to know.

First, I'll talk to a dietitian about butter nutrition. Then we'll talk briefly about palm oil and why it matters. Next, we'll go shopping. I'll tell you the brands to look for at the store. Finally, we'll head into the kitchen with plenty of vegan recipes to inspire you.

Here's more.

1. Is vegan butter healthy?

Are there health benefits to vegan butter? Is it healthier than the dairy version? Does it belong in a healthy vegan diet? I talked to an expert in vegan nutrition for answers.

Nutrition advice from an expert

Plant-based butter is delicious, but is it healthy? How does it compare to its dairy-based counterpart?

To get answers, I turned to Anya Todd MS, RD, LD. She’s a registered dietitian who specializes in vegan nutrition and sustainable food systems.

First, I asked her if we should be eating butter at all. According to Todd, small amounts are okay.

“The amount of saturated fat we should limit ourselves to is a point of debate. That said, I’m never going to say no to a small pat of vegan butter on my baked potato.”

Is plant-based butter healthy?

But which is healthier? Vegan butter or dairy butter?

Comparatively, vegan versions contain zero cholesterol, while dairy ones contain 31 milligrams per one tablespoon serving. (1)

Neither will win health awards, she says.

“When it comes to vegan versus dairy, neither butter is healthy. Both are a source of unnecessary saturated fats and calories. While there are many views of saturated fat, research shows that it raises LDL cholesterol even when plant-sourced.” (2)

What about long ingredient lists? Vegan versions tend to have more than dairy butter. Does a simple ingredient list mean it’s healthier than one with eight components? Not really, says Todd.

“Look at the ingredient list of the favorite plant-based butter brands; they don’t contain a bunch of weird ingredients. These kinds of butter contain a pretty simple mixture of things like vegetable oil, cashews, cultures, and soy lecithin.”

The vegan advantage

It’s important to realize that vegan butter's most significant advantage over dairy butter isn’t health-related at all. When compared, vegan versions of any product will have additional benefits over non-vegan ones by default.

There are ethical and environmental concerns surrounding the production of animal products. When we live vegan, we address these concerns.

If we can live without harming animals, why wouldn’t we?

Vegan products like plant butters allows us to do exactly that.

2. What is palm oil?

You might be asking yourself what palm oil has to do with vegan butter. Good question. First, let’s talk about what it is. Then, I’ll explain why you should care.

A grove of oil palm trees.

A grove of oil palm trees / Source

Palm oil comes from trees

First, the Oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) is a member of the palm family of trees. They’re native to West and Central Africa but also grown extensively in Indonesia and Malaysia. Oil palms are an excellent source of oil.

“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.” (3)

One full oil palm fruit and another cut in half sitting on a wood table.

Oil palm fruit / Source

How is it used?

Palm oil comes from the fruit. It makes soap, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste, candles, household cleaners, and laundry detergent.

In contrast, palm kernel oil comes from the seeds. Foods like margarine, ice cream, cookies, and bread can contain this oil. Some pharmaceuticals even include it.

Eventually, the left-over solid material is pressed into a cake and fed to cattle after processing. (4)

An overhead view of a large oil palm farm.

An overhead view of a large oil palm farm / Source

Its production affects animals

Cheaper than other vegetable oils, another use for palm oil is as a biofuel. As a result, it is more popular than ever. Demand has caused a free-for-all approach to clear 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.” (3)

A bulldozer harvesting oil palm fruits.

A bulldozer harvesting oil palm fruits / Source

It has many names

Finding out if a product contains palm oil is more difficult than you imagine. Surprisingly there are many different names for it. Not to mention, it’s in a variety of products.

Look at just some of its many names:

  • 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 – ^

Legend:

# – Definitely palm oil
* – Often palm oil, but could be other vegetable oils
^ – Either palm oil or coconut oil

What does palm oil have to do with vegan butter?

Notably, several brands of plant-based butter contain this oil. Nutiva says its products are responsibly sourced and sustainably produced in its Red Palm Oil FAQ section. Melt Organic uses Rainforest Alliance Certified oil.

Unfortunately, not all brands talk about the use of it in their products.

There are conflicting opinions on this subject, too. Technically, palm oil is a vegan product. It has overlapping ethical, environmental, and humanitarian issues surrounding its production.

Deciding to consume it is a topic that vegans should be discussing. Ultimately any time an animal loses their life or home to a human, it becomes a vegan issue.

Sustainable palm oil

Why sustainable palm oil? Because it helps animals.

The fact is, the demand for palm oil has never been higher. Because of this demand, we'll see it in more vegan products. Creating a demand for sustainable palm oil effectively conveys to brands that we won't contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss with unsustainable palm oil.

Saving the orangutans and their forests means addressing the catastrophic impacts of conventional palm oil production. We can start by making sustainable palm oil the norm.

3. Shopping guide

Here’s what you need to know before you head to the store.

Find vegan butter in stores

Let's talk butter basics. You probably know butter is a dairy product made with milk from animals like cows, goats, or sheep. But what about margarine? Is it a suitable butter replacement for vegans?

Well, yes and no.

Margarine is merely a blend of vegetable oils. Some brands add whey or lactose to it, both animal-based ingredients. Not all brands do, though. As a result, some margarine is vegan-friendly.

Look for the following vegan butter brands.

U.S. vegan butter brands

Brands with at least one palm oil-free product have this ⊕ symbol next to their name.

U.K. vegan butter brands

Brands with at least one palm oil-free product have this ⊕ symbol next to their name.

Worldwide vegan butter brands

Brands with at least one palm oil-free product have this ⊕ symbol next to their name.

Disclosure: Some of the links in the shopping guide are affiliate links. I earn from qualifying purchases. See the Affiliate Policy for more details.

4. Vegan butter recipes

Ready for cooking inspiration? These recipes will surely satisfy you.

Recipes to try

  1. Vegan Butter
    Vegan Heaven
  1. Pantry-staple vegan butter
    Spabettie
  1. Plant-based butter
    The Cheeky Chickpea
  1. The Best Vegan Butter
    The Hidden Veggies
  1. Butter Substitute
    Fork and Beans
  1. Easy Butter
    A Virtual Vegan
  1. Homemade Butter
    Loving it Vegan
  1. Vegan Butter
    Nora Cooks
  1. Vegan Butter
    Simple Vegan Blog
Ultimate Vegan Butter Guide - Your Daily Vegan

Truth in advertising

I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. Meticulously researched, the topic explored in this guide contains the information available at the time of publishing.

I don’t just say it; I source it too.

Please contact me if you find incorrect data.

Article Sources

  1. American Heart Association. 5 June 2017. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Associationhttp://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2017/06/15/CIR.0000000000000510
  2. USDA Food Composition Database. Butter, stick, unsalted. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789828/nutrients
  3. Say No to Palm Oil. 2018. What’s the Issue? http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica. Oil palmhttps://www.britannica.com/plant/oil-palm

General nutrition information was provided by Anya Todd MS, RD, LD via personal interview.

Photo Credits

A grove of oil palm tree / Thinkstock
Oil palm fruit / Thinkstock
An overhead view of a large oil palm farm / Thinkstock
A bulldozer harvesting oil palm fruits / Thinkstock
Recipe photos via recipe creators and used with permission.