Tag Archives: dairy substitutes

Butter Substitutes

16 Aug

Updated Feb 2014

One of the main problems in dairy-free cooking is substituting butter. Restaurants don’t know how to work without it, and baking gets… complicated if you use the wrong substitute. Some taste like chemicals when spread on bagels, and others melt if you look at them funny, turning chocolate chip into lace cookies.

You can’t just go over to the Dairy section and grab just anything labeled “margarine”. A lot (and I mean a lot!) are made with milk derivatives. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, with all sorts of fancy milk-derived chemicals; Land O’ Lakes, which has now replaced the “sweet cream” variety my grandmother preferred with a margarine that uses buttermilk; or the generic “Store Brand”, with who knows WHAT in it.

As if all this weren’t complicated enough, a few years back, people became aware of the concept of trans fats. By which they mean… margarine. So what’s a dairy-free girl to do to eat well and keep her health? I need a dairy-free butter replacement, free of trans fats, that melts at the appropriate temperature during baking and tastes great on a bagel.

Gee, that should be simple.

For those of you looking for the quick answer, Ben and I use Earth Balance Organic Whipped for bagels, pancakes, and the like. But its melting point is very low, which makes it next to useless for baking. For baking, we prefer Earth Balance Original, (in sticks or a GIANT tub) which melts at nearly appropriate baking temperatures (see below), but I think it tastes a little waxy on its own.

Smart Balance

If you can’t find Earth Balsmart balanceance in the stores near you, you can probably find its bigger mass-market brother, Smart Balance. The most important thing to know about Smart Balance is that not all of their spreads are non-dairy. That means every time they change their packaging, double check the ingredients. Currently, I believe the non-dairy spreads are the Light with Flaxseed oil and the Organic.

Spread on bagels, it gives that lovely margarine/butter flavor with a touch of salt. Its lower melting point means that it sinks into all the bagel bubbles and is super spreadable.

When I’ve tried baking with it, I’ve found that the melting point is just too low. The cookies always spread too far, so unless your goal is lace cookies (which, really, isn’t such a bad goal either), I’d say skip it for baking.

Verdict: Our household choice for a spread. Do not use for baking.

Earth Balance

EB_ORGANIC_lgThis is the closest dairy-free alternative to butter in terms of chemistry that we’ve found. Its melting point is slightly lower than butter, but within a close enough range that your altitude and climate affect the baked goods more. I tend to cut baking times a little shorter than recommended (except for hard meringues — those get a little extra time), but that might also be because we live in a sea-level swamp. It’s also nice that it comes in sticks, which makes measuring a lot easier. Although I do wish the wrapping machine they used was a little more precise; I’d say 90% of the sticks I get have the tablespoon markings not centered.

We’ve gotten it in tubs when we couldn’t find the sticks, and we’ve used it as a spread. Ben doesn’t mind the flavor, but I think it has a slight waxiness to the flavor. It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t come through in baking, but it makes my bagel feel a little artificial and potatoes end up a little less desirable.

Verdict: This is our household baking choice. I’m not a fan of it on bagels, though.

Olivio Coconut Spread

My mother brought this to a recent family dinner as a non-butter alternative for me. Not only did we try it, she sent it home with us, so we’ve had a good chance to give it a shake-down.

First, a word of warning. You know how you’re probably used to that vaguely butter color that all margarines are dyed? Yeah, this one’s white. Also, it’s a coconut oil base, which means all the saturated fat you usually find in coconut oil.

We used it on bagels and french toast, as well as melting it down with a little lemon to go with crab. It’s quite nice, although I found it to be a bit sweet and you get a definite hint of coconut. By the time we’ve finished breakfast, it’s starting to look pretty melty, so I haven’t tried baking with it.

Verdict: Good as a spread, although not my favorite.