What’s In Vegan Butter? Plus 6 Butter Alternatives You Should Know About

This plant-based craze is causing people to ask some questions.

By Madeline Merinuk
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If you've been to the grocery store at any time in the past few months, you'll know that plant-based alternatives are taking over the shelves. The butter aisle, in particular, is overwhelming. From ghee to vegan butter, people are asking: is a butter swap a healthy choice, or is classic butter the way to go? Knowing what's in vegan butter and other butter alternatives will help you determine the best option for you.

One thing many people agree on is that margarine is not a good option. Surprisingly, margarine is actually the generic name for vegan butter. You read that right. The trendy vegan butters you see in stores now are vegetable oil-based "butter," which is margarine. If you're in the minority of people who have been eating margarine for years, you were eating vegan butter before it was popular without even realizing it. For the skeptics out there, don't worry: margarine isn't the only butter alternative available to you. In fact, there are six butter alternatives (including margarine) that you may want to consider next time you're in the supermarket. Here's everything you need to know so you can tackle the butter aisle with confidence, and maybe even discover a whole new kitchen staple.

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Whipped Butter

According to Dr. Oz team investigator Tia Brown, whipped butter is a popular choice for those watching their weight. Whipped butter is made using nitrogen gas to create the whipped texture by adding air into the butter. The result is easy to spread, lighter, and less dense than regular butter. Since it's easier to spread, you can save calories because you will require less to cover your morning toast — based on nutrition labels, this can shave off one-third of the fat and calories usually in regular butter. According to Brown, this butter tastes just as good as regular butter and is perfect for people who want to indulge without the guilt of added calories.  

Cultured Butter

Brown says that cultured butter, also known as European butter, is made from live bacteria cultures that are added to the mixture before it is churned into butter. During the churning process, a compound called diacetyl is created which gives this butter a significantly tangy taste. Popular cooking website, The Kitchn, says that because it is churned longer than regular butter, it has a higher butterfat content, making it ideal for spreading on anything freshly baked. So if you're looking for the best butter to serve at brunch alongside warm scones, this should be your go-to.  

Ghee

Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is made by simmering butter and then removing any liquid residue. This butter is pretty trendy right now, and according to The Dr. Oz Show guest chef Charles Chen, has gained popularity in the paleo world because it is the paleo-approved alternative to regular butter. Chen also says that while ghee has the same fat content as regular butter, since most of the liquid, and therefore milk, is removed, it is a great option for lactose-intolerant people

Grass-Fed Butter

According to Healthline, grass-fed butter is a popular alternative because of its health benefits. This butter is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease as well as improve brain health. Grass-fed butter is a great option if you're following the keto diet because it's high in healthy fats and has no added preservatives. According to Chen, you can use grass-fed in all the same ways you use regular butter (baking, on bread, etc.).

Coconut Butter

Coconut butter, as the name reveals, is made from the flesh of coconuts. The coconut gets processed and ground until it forms a paste that is easy to spread. According to Healthline, this butter has protein, potassium, magnesium, and iron — all things your body needs from foods in your daily diet. It is similar in flavor and texture to nut butter, so it's perfect to use in overnight oats, tossing it with fruit, or spreading on toast. This butter is perfect for people who need a dairy-free alternative to butter and love the taste of coconut but it can be high in calories, so be mindful of portions. 

Margarine

Margarine has been subject to severe criticism in the past, but new and improved margarine brands are currently in the grocery store marked as "vegan butter". These butters contain plant-based oils that may lower cholesterol. According to Medical News Today, the main difference between butter and margarine is that butter has a significant amount of cholesterol, whereas margarine has little to no cholesterol. In fact, the American Heart Association claims that liquid margarine or spreadable margarine in a tub is the best butter choice to maintain a healthy heart. 

The main thing you need to pay attention to is trans fat. Some margarine brands use trans fat to give the product a butter-like consistency. So check the label and look for 1) Zero trans fat and 2) "Partially hydrogenated" on the label. The FDA is set to ban all trans fats in processed foods as of Jan. 1, 2020 so you wont need to worry about this soon enough. Brown notes to only get margarine and avoid margarine spreadables as wells sprayable cooking oils as these products have not been regulated yet. 

Clearly, there are many (almost too many!) different butter options to choose from. But by knowing what exactly is in each type of butter and the nutritional value you could be getting out of each, you can make an informed decision next time you're at the grocery store. 

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Article written by Madeline Merinuk