Very interesting post explaining the science behind creating a faux butter suitable for vegan cooking and baking.
Butter is one of those ingredients that can be so central to baking that as soon as some people hear the term vegan baking they wonder aloud almost in a panic, “what about the butter?!” Many vegan baked items get along great with fats like canola, coconut oil or even olive oil. These types of fats work wonders for cakes, cookies, bars and breads. When designing recipes where we need something to act like butter, things start to get complicated. Solid fats like butter and margarine are integral to things like puff pastry, pie crust, shortbread, croissants, danish dough and certain cakes. This is because in these cases the fat is used to coat the flour so gluten doesn’t develop too much and also trap air bubbles to enhance leavening and texture. The only option in these instances is to turn to a margarine or similar vegan butter that is solid at room temperature and gets soft as it melts so it blends to one cohesive mass of dough.
Vegan butter options as of this writing are pretty slim. If you’re lucky, you have access to Earth Balance Buttery Sticks or Spectrum Spread (tub margarine is a no-no in baking due to its excessive water and salt content). These margarines utilize a blend of fats, water, starches and gums to mimic real butter. If you’re unlucky you only have access to other margarines which use a process called partial hydrogenation to solidify vegetable (usually soy) oil. This hydrogenation process alters the fat structure which also happens to create compounds called triglycerides that are highly toxic to the body. Toxic to the point of where finding local, sustainably raised real butter would ironically probably be a better pseudo-vegan alternative in the grand scheme of things.
Non-hydrogenated vegan margarines aren’t knights in shining buttery armor either. Lots of them use palm oil which, as of this writing, is currently associated with rainforest destruction due to its rising popularity as countries like Sumatra scramble to devote more land to its production without respecting the environment. Imagine that: a vegan option that actually leads to habitat destruction. There are efforts currently underway to sustainably cultivate palm oil but as vegans know, the best way to really know that you’re not contributing to it is to just not buy it.
I’ve never been a huge fan of margarines because I find that they’re so packed with chemicals and stabilizers that they frequently remind me of what it would be like to chew on a candle on a hot day. Have you ever done a taste test with butter and margarine? Butter dissolves away on the tongue and margarine overstays its welcome by a long shot, leaving a gummy residue lingering on. Loving a challenge, I decided to do something about this lack of quality vegan butter and give my best shot to making my own alternative. Lucky for us, this turned out to be much easier than I thought and I think I may have opened a buttery portal to give vegan bakers a little more power to innovate with the flavor of their recipes. White Chocolate Almond Croissants anyone?