If you’ve recently started following a dairy free diet, you might be wondering: is butter dairy-free? Butter not only adds delicious flavor as a spread and in cooking, but it is an ingredient used in many baked goods like cookies, bars, and pastries. In this post, we will explore what exactly butter is and share some dairy free butter substitutes for cooking, baking, and spreading.
Is butter dairy?
Yes, butter is considered a dairy product because it is made from cream. The cream is churned until the fat molecules stick together and form a clump - butter. The remaining liquid from the process is buttermilk.
Even though butter contains only small amounts of the proteins casein and whey, common allergens in milk, it is considered a dairy product because it is made from milk.
Does ghee contain dairy?
Yes, ghee is another type of dairy butter, also known as clarified butter, so it is not dairy free.
It is made similarly to regular butter by churning milk and separating the butterfat from the buttermilk. But the process goes one step further by heating the butterfat so that the water and milk solids are removed.
This gives ghee a richer flavor, a higher smoke point, and longer shelf life.
Do people with a dairy allergy have to avoid butter?
Yes, people with a dairy allergy typically have to avoid butter. Even though butter contains only small amounts of these proteins, it can still trigger an allergic reaction in people with a dairy allergy.
Can people with a dairy allergy have ghee?
While ghee or clarified butter contains even smaller amounts of milk protein than regular butter, these trace amounts can still cause an allergic reaction.
If you are unsure whether to avoid butter or ghee, it is best to consult your doctor or allergy specialist to determine if you can tolerate small amounts of butter.
Do people with lactose intolerance have to avoid butter?
First, let’s clarify the difference between lactose intolerance and dairy allergy. If you are lactose intolerant, your body has difficulty digesting lactose, a short-chain carbohydrate.
For people with lactose intolerance, eating high-lactose foods may cause gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. But people with lactose intolerance often can have small amounts of lactose without symptoms.
This is very different from a dairy allergy - even tiny amounts of the proteins in dairy foods can cause a serious allergic reaction.
So, do people with lactose intolerance have to avoid butter? Because butter has only trace amounts of lactose per serving, people with lactose intolerance can usually tolerate some butter. If your GI tract is very sensitive, however, you may need to avoid it altogether.
Some commercial brands of butter may contain small amounts of lactose if they have added milk solids or flavors. If you are lactose intolerant, always check the ingredient label and make sure there are no other additives to the butter you are having.
Is margarine dairy free?
Margarine can be dairy-free, but it depends on the brand and specific product. Some margarine may contain milk or milk derivatives, such as whey or casein, as part of their ingredients, which would make them off-limits for someone with a dairy allergy.
Luckily for those needing to avoid dairy, there are many margarine brands that are specifically marketed as dairy-free and do not contain any milk or milk derivatives which I will share later in this post.
It’s really important for those with a dairy allergy to read ingredient lists carefully when choosing a margarine or butter substitute because some are completely dairy free and others contain small amounts. And, with a dairy allergy, even small amounts can cause an allergic reaction.
Choosing a butter substitute
While many dairy free butter substitutes can serve multiple purposes, it’s worth considering several factors when choosing a substitute:
Taste and texture
People love butter for its delicious flavor and creamy texture. While I haven’t found a dairy free butter that tastes exactly like butter, most have a nice flavor in my opinion. This is based on individual taste so you may have to try a few to see which one you like the most.
Consistency and Fat Content
Some dairy free butter substitutes have less fat and more water than regular butter. While less fat might make it somewhat healthier and make it more spreadable, it can throw off the texture of a baked good.
So, if you want your treats to turn out perfect, it's important to pick a substitute with a fat content that's similar to butter.
Type of fat
When choosing a butter substitute, keep an eye on the saturated fat content. Butter is high in saturated fat which is generally a less healthy fat than unsaturated fats found in many plant-based margarines. Some butter substitutes do contain coconut oil which is high in saturated fat.
Of course, read the ingredient list carefully to be sure there aren’t other allergens or additives that you are avoiding.
Keep in mind that all margarine is not dairy free. While they are usually made with plant-based oils, many have some dairy-derived ingredients making them unsafe for someone with a dairy allergy.
Finally, consider the price of the substitute. Depending on what you need the substitute for, you can use cooking oil which is less expensive than a dairy free margarine.
Ultimately, the best dairy-free butter substitute for you depends on your personal preferences and dietary needs. Don’t be afraid to try a few to find your favorite go-to substitute.
Substituting butter with dairy free alternatives is easier now than it has ever been. With new vegan butter options hitting the market all the time, there are many options for replacing it.
Following is a list of several dairy free butter substitutes for people avoiding dairy due to an allergy or intolerance.
I have included ingredient lists from the product websites and noted if the product contains any of the top 9 allergens (this includes dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and sesame).
*Disclaimer: Food labels can change so always be sure to check the ingredient list on the product before you buy it/eat it to be sure it is safe.
Earth Balance Buttery Spreads
Earth Balance has been my dairy free butter of choice for many years. It tastes good, is spreadable, and works well in cooking and baking as a one-to-one substitute. It comes in sticks and tubs and there’s even a variety that is dairy AND soy free (which can be challenging to find).
- Ingredients of the dairy free variety: Natural Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Canola, Soybean, Flax and Olive Oils), Filtered Water, Contains Less than 2% of Pure Salt, Natural Flavor (Plant Derived from Corn, No MSG, No Alcohol, No Gluten), Pea Protein, Sunflower Lecithin, Lactic Acid (Non-Dairy), and Naturally Extracted Annatto for Color.
- Ingredients of soy free variety: Vegetable Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Canola, Safflower, Flax, and Olive Oils), Water, Contains Less than 2% of Salt, Natural Flavor, Pea Protein, Sunflower Lecithin, Lactic Acid (to Protect Freshness), and Annatto Extract (Color).
- Contains: The dairy free variety contains soybean oil but the dairy AND soy free variety does not contain any of the top 9 allergens.
- Uses: Spreading, cooking, baking
- Where to buy: Widely available at grocery stores including Walmart and Target. Find a store near you.
I recently found this butter substitute at my local Fresh Thyme market and decided to try it (it was on sale!)
I found that it tasted good and worked just as well in cooking and baking. It comes in tubs and sticks (salted and unsalted). There is even a variety with pre and probiotics for added gut benefits.
- Original buttery spread ingredients: Expeller-Pressed Organic Oil Blend (Coconut, Sustainable Ethical Palm Fruit†, Canola, Hi-Oleic Sunflower, Flaxseed) Water, Sea Salt, Sunflower Lecithin, Organic Natural Flavor, Tocopherols, Organic Annatto Extract Color.
- Contains: Coconut oil. No other ingredients from the top 9 allergens.
- Uses: Spreading, cooking, and baking
- Where to buy: Find a store near you
Miyoko’s Vegan Spread
Miyoko’s is a very popular vegan butter substitute that, unfortunately for those with tree nut allergies, is made with cashew milk. If you don’t have allergies to tree nuts (cashews in particular) it’s definitely a favorite among dairy free butter lovers. It comes in two varieties: unsalted and a hint of sea salt.
Miyoko’s also has oat milk butter that does not contain cashew milk. It is unclear from the website what practices are in place to prevent cross-contact with cashews, an important consideration if you are avoiding them.
- Ingredients of the cashew milk butters: Organic Coconut oil, Organic Cultured Cashew Milk (Filtered Water, Organic Cashews, Cultures), Filtered Water, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt
- Ingredients of the oat milk butter: Organic High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Organic Cultured Whole Grain Oat Milk (Filtered Water, Organic Oats, Cultures), Organic Coconut Oil, Contains less than 2% of: Organic Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Mushroom Extract, Natural Flavors Derived from Oregano, Flaxseed, and Plums, Organic Fruit and Vegetable Juice (Color), Organic Turmeric (Color)
- Contains: Two varieties contain tree nuts (cashews). All three varieties contain coconut oil.
- Uses: spreading, baking, cooking
- Where to buy: Find a store near you
Wayfare whipped butter
Wayfare is one of the lowest fat of all of the butter substitutes listed but the brand says that it can be used as a 1-to-1 substitute in baking despite this. It gets its buttery texture from butter beans, is whipped, and contains sea salt.
- Ingredients: WayFare Dairy Free Base (Water, Butter Beans), Coconut Oil, Natural Flavor, Sea Salt, Sunflower Lecithin, Konjac Root Powder, Annatto and Turmeric (For Color).
- Top 9 allergens: None. This product does contain refined coconut oil.
- Uses: Spreading, baking, cooking. The higher water content may require more “cooking down” in sauces.
- Where to buy: Find a store near you.
Country Crock Plant Butter
Country Crock is a margarine brand that has been around for many years but it now offers two varieties of plant-based butter: one with avocado oil and one with olive oil. The avocado oil variety also comes in sticks which makes it very convenient for baking.
Because there are Country Crock margarine varieties that are not dairy free, make sure you are grabbing the right one and reading the ingredient list carefully.
- Ingredients with avocado oil: Blend of plant-based oils (soybean, palm kernel, avocado, and palm fruit oil), water, salt, faba bean protein, soy lecithin, lactic acid, natural flavor, calcium disodium edta (to protect freshness), vitamin e acetate, vitamin a palmitate, beta carotene (color).
- Ingredients with olive oil: Blend Of Plant-Based Oils (Palm Kernel, Canola, Palm Fruit, And Olive Oil), Water, Salt, Pea Protein, Sunflower Lecithin, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (Color)
- Top 9 Allergens: Soy lecithin, soybean oil
- Uses: spreading, cooking, baking
- Where to buy: Target, Walmart, HyVee
Good & Gather Buttery Spread
If you’re a Target shopper (and who isn’t?) you can look for the Good & Gather brand vegan buttery spread. This spread is free from soy, dairy and pea protein so it’s a great option for people with those allergies.
- Ingredients: Water, Organic Refined Coconut Oil, Organic Palm Oil, Organic Canola Oil, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Flaxseed Oil, Sea Salt, Sunflower Lecithin, Organic Natural Flavor, Tocopherols, Organic Annatto Extract (Color).
- Top 9 allergens: None but does contain refined coconut oil.
- Uses: Cooking, baking, spreading
- Where to buy: Target (not available at all stores).
Blue Bonnet Plant Butter
This dairy free spread is one of the few options that does not contain coconut oil making it low in saturated fat. It also seems to be widely available at grocery stores.
Blue Bonnet is another brand with margarine containing dairy, so be sure you are grabbing the right one and reading ingredient lists carefully.
- Ingredients: Vegetable Oil Blend (Canola Oil, Palm Oil), Water, Less than 2% of: Salt, Pea Protein Isolate, Monoglycerides, Sunflower Lecithin, Olive Oil, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (Color), With Potassium Sorbate, Lactic Acid, And Calcium Disodium EDTA To Preserve Freshness.
- Top 9 allergens: None
- Uses: Cooking, baking, spreading
- Where to buy: Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Cub Foods, and Harris Teeter, to name a few.
I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter! Vegan Spread
ICBINB has been in the butter and margarine aisle for a long time but the vegan version of the margarine has entered the aisle more recently. Reviewers say it tastes as good as butter and is just like other ICBINB varieties.
As with other mainstream brands, make sure you’re grabbing the right (vegan) option as others will have dairy-derived ingredients.
- Ingredients: Purified Water, Soybean Oil, Palm & Palm Kernel Oil, Salt, Lecithin (Soy), Natural Flavor, Vinegar, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta Carotene (Color)
- Top 9 allergens: soy
- Uses: cooking, baking, spreading
- Where to buy: Find a store near you.
More dairy substitutes and recipes
Also, be sure to check out all of the allergy friendly recipes here. They're all dairy free and most are free of the top 9 allergens!
These are some of our favorite desserts using dairy free butter:
Butter is made from milk and is, therefore, considered a dairy product. If you have a dairy allergy, avoiding butter is generally recommended because it contains small amounts of milk protein.
But luckily, there are many dairy free butter substitutes that you can use to add flavor to your food and to cook and bake with.
Have you tried any of the substitutes listed in this post? Please share your favorite in the comments!