Plant oil-based margarine makes an excellent substitute for butter in a plant-based diet, but vegans beware – some margarine contains animal products! Read our guide below to learn which ingredients to avoid to ensure you're buying a suitable vegan butter substitute.
A French chemist created margarine for Napoleon III in response to his request for an inexpensive butter substitute he could use to feed his army on the cheap.
First, its primary ingredient was beef tallow, but over time the main ingredient of choice became plant-based vegetable oils, like canola. These oils are cheap and readily available, even through economic depressions, wartime rationing, and more.
So while margarine wasn't created to fit into a vegan diet but instead for cost and supply issues, vegans still get to take advantage of this handy, cheap, and delicious alternative to butter.
Can vegans eat margarine?
Usually, they can! Most margarine brands are vegan by nature, but some brands and ingredients contain animal-based products.
Read our guide below to learn more about the different types of margarine and how to find dairy-free margarine you can use in place of butter!
What Is Margarine?
What is margarine made of?
Margarine is a spreadable butter substitute made of an emulsified blend of water and fat. Usually, the fat at hand comes from plant-based oils, but as we mentioned above, sometimes the fat base comes from animals.
The most common fat bases in margarine are soybean, palm, canola, olive, or corn oils. Occasionally, you'll see salt, artificial and natural flavors, and coloring ingredients on the label, too.
So, is margarine vegan? While these don't cause many problems and are generally vegan-friendly, there are a few ingredients that may make your vegan margarine no longer plant-based!
Is Margarine Healthy?
Vegan margarine gained a bad reputation in years gone by because of one tricky ingredient: hydrogenated oils. The hydrogenation process chemically hardens the tub of margarine, but at a pretty hefty cost, as it loads the food with trans fats. Often, the healthiest margarine is the softest, as it's the least hydrogenated, containing the least trans fats.
Trans fats can wreak havoc on cholesterol levels and are linked to an increase in heart disease to the point that some countries, like the US, Brazil, and Canada, have banned them. This means that any margarine you buy in America should be trans fat-free unless you've found it on some margarine black market.
Margarine contains some unsaturated fats, which can positively affect overall health when eaten in moderation, and some plant sterols and stanols, which may positively affect cholesterol levels. You'll find 35% of your daily RDI of vitamin K, 20% of vitamin A, and 1% of calcium.
While vegan margarine has a few health benefits to offer its consumers, it's not what we'd call a superfood. Margarine without dairy or animal products is still 80% fat, which means that you should consume it in moderation, like any other fat in your diet.
Consume it as you would butter – a little bit here and there is more than enough!
Is Margarine Vegan?
While most kinds of margarine make an excellent vegan alternative to butter, some may contain some animal-based ingredients. Here's what you'll run into the most often when you're on the hunt for vegan margarine.
Is margarine dairy-free?
Not always! Although most manufacturers mix water with their vegetable oils, they'll sometimes use milk-based ingredients instead.
Watch out for these milky ingredients:
- Whey. The leftover liquid separated from milk during cheesemaking.
- Casein. The curds left over after the milk coagulation process during cheese production.
- Lactose. A natural milk sugar found in cow's milk and dairy.
And a few other animal-based ingredients:
- Vitamin D. Often, foods fortified with vitamin D3 come from sheep's wool (aka lanolin).
- Marine oil. Oil derived from fish and marine animals.
- Lecithin. A fat usually derived from animal flesh or eggs.
- Animal fat or tallow. Rarely used as the base, including beef, duck, or sheep fat.
- Suet. A hard animal-fat found around the kidneys and loins.
- Palm oil. Technically a plant-based ingredient, its problematic farming practices make it an element many vegans choose to avoid.
As with many other foods on a vegan diet, it's crucial to read your labels closely to determine which brands sell vegan margarine without milk or animal-based ingredients. Sometimes, they'll clearly label margarine as vegan on the front of the package, while with other brands, you'll need to read the label's fine print carefully.
Is Vegan Butter the Same as Margarine?
Vegan butter is margarine, with some better marketing tactics. Margarine went out of fashion for a phase, likely due to the trans fat content, while veganism is trending more than ever.
Why would manufacturers use the old, tired "margarine" when they could instead start marketing their product as hip, trendy vegan butter?
There is a little less wiggle room with vegan branded butter, of course. Vegan products must be guaranteed to contain no animal products, while technically, all margarine can use whichever animal-based ingredients it chooses. Either way, you'll see very little difference between the ingredients list in both products in the grocery store.
Final Note: Vegan Margarine Brands
Vegans can feel pretty safe eating most margarine brands after taking a quick look over the ingredients list.
Is Blue Bonnet margarine vegan?
The original Blue Bonnet margarine contains vitamin A palmitate, which may be animal-derived. Blue Bonnet Light Margarine, on the other hand, is entirely plant-based with no questionable ingredients.
A few other types of vegan margarine to try:
- Smart Balance Light Margarine
- Earth Balance
- Country Crock Plant Butter
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