Vegan Butter

Before I even start I’d like to thank Matt who put the effort into developing this recipe, and who’s results I am going to share with you.

Butter is one of those ingredients people often can’t get there head round how to bake without. Margarines don’t work as well due to their high water and salt content, and many use a process called ‘partial hydrogenation’ to solidify vegetable oil. This hydrogenation process alters the fat structure which also creates compounds called trans fatty acids that are toxic to the body. Non-hydrogenated vegan margarines often use palm oil which is currently an unsustainable product contributing to rainforest destruction.

To make a good vegan butter replacement we need to understand traditional dairy-based butter. Dairy butter consists of about 78% fat, 18% water and 4% milk solids. The milk solids are responsible for emulsifying the fat and water, adding additional flavor and allowing the butter to melt softly. Dairy butter comes from cream. The fat globules in the cream are completely surrounded and suspended in a network of emulsifying compounds in the water. As you shake the cream, the fats get shaken out of their emulsifying network, find each other and join together. As they join together they start to solidify and the water can be drained away. The result is butter.

Fat:
In order to make our butter we need a fat that is solid at room temperature. For the reasons mentioned above we don’t want to use palm oil but coconut oil (organic, cold pressed) is great for this use, it is available refined (unflavored) and unrefined (with coconut flavor intact). Whilst high in saturated fat, preliminary evidence suggests that coconut oil intake may be associated with a neutral, if not beneficial, effect on cholesterol levels. It’s does not contain trans fats or cholesterol. As a bonus it contains trace amounts of iron and vitamins E and K, and antioxidant properties. It would be pretty easy to make something with the consistency of butter from an already room temperature solid fat, but flavour is an important part of butter, so we need to consider it carefully.

Curdling
Curdling involves adding acids to a liquid that causes the proteins to unravel like balls of yarn. As the proteins unravel, their strands line up, join together and tighten. This tightening causes tiny clumps in the mixture and also generates a large array of flavors that add a significant amount of depth to almost anything you bake it with.

Milk
Matt curdled a half cup of soy, hemp, almond, rice and coconut milks each in 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar for 10 minutes, then analyzed the thickness and flavor. Soy milk curdled the most and had the most complex flavor (think buttermilk), followed by hemp milk, then almond milk. Coconut milk and rice milk didn’t curdle at all.

Acid
Traditional butter doesn’t really have a noticeable acid profile to speak of but since we’re building our butter from the ground up, we need to think about acid’s subtle role in savory, buttery foods. In this case, the acid is responsible for curdling the proteins in the soy milk which creates a savory flavor, and the butter flavor is also enhanced from the acid itself. As noted above Matt originally settled on apple cider vinegar, which features malic as well as acetic acid. The malic acid delivers initial fruity notes whereas the acetic acid promotes a volatile cultured butteriness that can be easily perceived in the nose. For some the initial punch of the malic acid is too sharp though, and Matt later discovered that combining coconut vinegar provided a better subtleness and smooth lingering finish. If you can’t find coconut vinegar, feel free to use just apple cider vinegar. If you’re particularly sensitive to acidity in general, don’t be afraid to experiment with lowering the acidity to your liking.

Emulsifiers and Stabilizers
Now that we have the fat and flavor-building ingredients, we need to bring everything together into a smooth cohesive, malleable mass that can be worked into dough, creamed into airy masses for cakes and cut into pie crust dough. Emulsifiers are compounds that bind oil-based ingredients and water-based ingredients into one cohesive mixture. We will use soy lecithin for this purpose due to its affordability and effectiveness.

A stabilizer is able hold air bubbles and support structure. The original recipe calls for Xanthan gum which acts as both an emulsifier and a stabilizer. For various reasons there are many who prefer not to use this ingredient so it can be replaced with psyllium husk powder

Salt
You may laugh at the measurement of ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt in the recipe below, but you want the salt level to be sufficient enough to yield buttery flavor in most applications but not to the point of where it adds to the saltiness of baked items.

Softness
Like traditional butter, Vegan Butter is more solid than tub margarine and not as spreadable. This is so it can perform optimally in vegan baking applications. If your goal is to have a conveniently softer, spreadable Vegan Butter, swap out 1 Tablespoon of the coconut oil with 1 additional tablespoon light olive oil.

Vegan Butter

  • Servings: 1 cup (215 grams)
  • Difficulty: on the harder side
  • Print

Ingredients

    1.
  • ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons soy milk
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon coconut vinegar or another ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2.
  • 130 grams coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon light olive oil
  • 3.
  • 1 teaspoon liquid lecithin (soy or sunflower) or 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder

Directions

1. Curdle your milk Place the soy milk, apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar and salt in a small cup and whisk with a fork. Let it sit for about 10 minutes so the mixture curdles.

2. Mix your fats Measure your coconut oil (at room temperature*) and add it with the olive oil to a food processor. *Making smooth Vegan Butter is dependent on the mixture solidifying as quickly as possible after it’s mixed. This is why it’s important to make sure your coconut oil is as close to room temperature as possible before you mix it with the rest of the ingredients.

3. Add the rest Add the soy milk mixture, soy lecithin and xanthan gum to the food processor. Process for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides halfway through the duration.

4. Transfer to mold Pour the mixture into a mold and place it in the freezer to solidify. It should be ready to use in about an hour. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or sealed in the freezer for up to 1 year.

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