For many people, margarine is a kitchen staple. But for others, it’s an ingredient they’d rather stay away from. If you’re in the latter group, there are plenty of foods you can use as a margarine substitute. There are even a number of dairy-free and vegan options.
In this post, we’ll take a look at margarine, discuss how it’s different from butter, and offer suggestions on what to use in its place.
What is margarine, and how is it different from butter?
Margarine was designed as an alternative to butter. Although it looks and tastes similar to butter, the process of making margarine is far different than butter.
Butter is produced by churning cream, which makes it a dairy product. On the other hand, margarine is a processed food that typically does not contain dairy. It’s made with hydrogenated vegetable oil and some food additives. As a result, most margarine on the market is vegan (although some have milk or other animal byproducts).
Some doctors and nutritionists prefer margarine over butter because it’s made from vegetable oils, which contain healthy unsaturated fats. This is in contrast to butter, which has higher levels of saturated fat.
Why would you need a margarine substitute?
With more good fats than butter, margarine should be the healthier option, right? Unfortunately, there’s a bit more to the story than that.
Some types of margarine contain harmful trans fats, which boost LDL cholesterol levels (“bad cholesterol”), while also reducing HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”). They can also drive up your risk of heart disease.
During production, margarine goes through hydrogenation. This process solidifies the vegetable oils inside margarine to give it a more firm, spreadable consistency (like butter). The hydrogenation process causes harmful trans fat to form in the margarine. In general, firmer margarine (like sticks) has more trans fat than liquid or tub margarine.
What is a good margarine substitute?
If you’re comfortable with consuming dairy products, butter is an obvious margarine substitute. Use the same quantity of butter as you would margarine, depending on what your recipe calls for.
Not only is butter less processed than margarine, but it could even have health benefits. A recent Harvard Medical study found that if women were to consume butter instead of margarine (in the same quantities), they would reduce their risk of heart problems by 53%.
Not a big fan of butter? Try cream cheese or cottage cheese in your recipes instead. You’ll still get the fat content and rich flavor (although it will taste slightly different).
If you’re vegan or don’t consume dairy in your diet, you have other margarine substitute options as well. For baking or frying, you can swap olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or similar products for margarine.
For other food where you would typically use margarine (like toast), look for a vegetable oil or olive oil spread that doesn’t include trans fat. You could also try a nut butter (such as peanut butter or almond butter) or coconut butter.
Other vegan-friendly margarine substitutes include unsweetened applesauce, puréed avocado, and mashed banana.
For more recipe ideas and ingredient substitute tips, check out the Tastessence blog.