Is Margarine Vegan?

Woman hand spreading butter on sliced bread
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Is margarine vegan? This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions that visitors to this site email me to ask. The confusion perhaps lies in the fact that while margarine is not dairy-based, like butter, it often does contain trace amounts of animal products, usually in the form of whey or lactose. Those with dairy allergies and strict vegans will want to use a product that is completely free of even small amounts of dairy. So, is there such a thing as a 100% dairy-free and vegan margarine? Read on to find out!

But first - what is a vegan? If you're not sure what a vegan is, you'll want to check out this simple vegan definition, and if you're looking for vegan recipes, you'll find plenty of vegan recipes here. 

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? And what exactly, is margarine?

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.

As most margarines contain small amounts of dairy, they are not actually vegan. However, 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 substitutes" or "non-dairy buttery spreads". For simplicity, I call them "vegan margarine" but others sometimes call these products "vegan butter". 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 it's 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. Earth Balance vegan margarine substitute comes both in stick form and in a tub, and there are several different flavor varieties (though I prefer the classic "Original", which comes in a golden yellow, er, butter-colored tub.

I also like some generic or store-brand 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. And, while coconut butter is gaining popularity, it has a unique - though certainly pleasant - taste of its own, and isn't quite the perfect vegan butter or margarine substitute, in my opinion, depending on what you need it for.

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 of dairy-free vegan margarine, such as Smart Balance light, don't work as well in baking as Earth Balance does, and it says so right on the label. So, when in doubt, take the time to read the label if you're unsure if your vegan margarine is suitable for baking.

Brands of Vegan Margarine

  • Earth Balance 
  • Blue Bonnet Light Margarine
  • Smart Balance Light

See Also