While margarine is not dairy-based, many types contain trace amounts of animal products, usually in the form of whey or lactose. If you have a dairy allergy or are a strict vegan, you will want to use only those types of margarine that are free of even small amounts of dairy. In contrast, butter is always a dairy product made from cow milk.
Dairy Ingredients in Margarine
There are a few brands of margarine that don't have any dairy-derived ingredients, including Blue Bonnet Light Margarine, and Smart Balance Light Margarine.
While many other brands and varieties of margarine are made primarily from soybean oil or a blend of oils, they also include tiny amounts of ingredients which are derived from milk. Check the label for any listing of whey, lactose, casein, and caseinate, which are dairy derivatives frequently used in margarine.
Margarine that contains small amounts of dairy is not vegan. If you want to be sure that the margarine you're using is 100 percent vegan, choose a product that is specifically marketed as a vegan non-dairy spread, such as the Earth Balance brand.
Some non-dairy butter products call themselves "butter substitutes" or "non-dairy buttery spreads". For simplicity, some call them "vegan margarine" but others sometimes call these products "vegan butter."
Best Vegan Margarine
The best vegan margarine is one you 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. It needs to be functional as well as taste good on its own.
For these reasons, the Earth Balance brand is a good choice for dairy-free vegan margarine. 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 margarine, 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.
Also look for generic or store-brand margarine made from 100 percent 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.
While coconut butter is gaining popularity, it has a unique (though certainly pleasant) taste of its own. It isn't quite the perfect vegan butter or margarine substitute, depending on what you need it for.
Using 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
Look for these brands and varieties of vegan margarine:
- Earth Balance
- Blue Bonnet Light Margarine
- Smart Balance Light