Veganism is a dietary lifestyle choice in which a person chooses not to consume any products that are remotely derived from animals. A person who practices veganism is referred to as a vegan and does not eat meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or any other products that come from an animal. It is similar to vegetarianism, in which people do not eat meat, but vegetarians are generally not as restrictive as vegans and may eat dairy products. Many basic cooking products contain animal by-products, so vegans may have to purchase alternatives in order to maintain their diets. For a dairy-free alternative to butter for baking, cooking, or as a condiment, vegans can substitute vegan butter, a product that is processed to mimic the taste and consistency of butter.
Authentic butter is made from the milk of cows. The thickest part of the milk, typically referred to as heavy cream, is placed into a tall container and forcefully stirred until the cream thickens, in a process known as churning. Butter adds a rich flavor to cooked dishes, and can also be a main part of controlling the texture of baked goods.
Cakes generally rely on a combination of butter and sugar to add a light, fluffy texture to the finished product. When butter and sugar are mixed together in a process known as creaming, it allows air into the mixture, which prevents the cakes from being too dense or crumbly. Butter also prevents cookies from spreading too much while they bake and becoming overly crispy, as well as adding a light texture to biscuits and certain breads. Vegan butter is designed to function in the same way as dairy-based butter, but using vegan-based ingredients only.
The exact ingredients can vary depending on the manufacturer, but generally vegan butter utilizes vegetable-based oils as its base. Most of the butter will usually be made of a combination of vegetable-based oils, such as canola, olive, or soybean oils. To mimic the natural acids, known as lactic acids, found in milk products, corn or beet juices may be extracted and allowed to ferment. These fermented juices produce acid that is similar in texture to milk’s lactic acids. When the corn or beet-based acids are added to the vegetable-based oils, it can produce a semi-solid texture that can be substituted for authentic butter.
Vegan butter can generally be used in place of butter in most cooking and baking recipes, but it may have effects on the final taste and textures of recipes. It may not add the same rich flavor as butter and may also not be as helpful in making cakes, cookies, and biscuits rise as much as butter. Using the substitute as a spread, topping, or as a fat for sautéing, may generally be more successful than in baked goods.