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Butter, Margarine, and Plant Butter: What's the Difference?

Many people confuse butter, margarine, and hydrogenated oils like shortening because they seem so similar. In reality, they are very different. Learn all about these cooking fats, when it’s okay to substitute, and how you can use plant butter when cooking.

Margarine vs Butter

The main difference between butter and margarine is that butter is made from dairy and margarine is made of refined vegetable oil and water. Margarine is also considered to be slightly healthier than butter because it contains less cholesterol and has important nutrients like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

What is Margarine?

Coconut cake made with margarine

Margarine is a type of vegetable-based spread used during baking and cooking. It was initially created in France and has been used all over the world ever since.

While butter and margarine are nearly identical in consistency and use, margarine is slightly healthier based on calories, fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. It is also made up of additional healthy fatty acids and small traces of vitamins. When baking low-calorie recipes, try using light margarine or margarine butter with phytosterols, the plant version of cholesterol, because those two types have a lower calorie count.

Is Margarine Vegan?

Yes, margarine is vegan and vegetarian friendly. Since margarine does not have any dairy bi-product, anyone with a lactose intolerance can eat food made with margarine.

What is Plant Butter?

Plant butter is a dairy-free and gluten-free butter made with plant-based oils from olives, avocados, and almonds. With an increase in alternative diets like vegetarianism, veganism, and gluten intolerance, plant butter is a healthy non-dairy substitute for normal butter.

Cooking and Baking with Butter, Margarine, and Plant Butter

Butter and banana bread on a table

Even though butter, margarine, and plant butter all have slightly different ingredients, you can still cook and bake with all three equally. The taste will not differ too much, but the texture of the food may change a little. Use plant butter or margarine to cook eggs, veggies, or your famous cookies, just like you would use butter.

When baking with butter, much like when baking with lard, your food will have a nice golden color because of its lactose properties which allow it to brown when cooked. Margarine and plant butter, on the other hand, don’t provide as nice of a golden color, but they still give food and baked goods the same buttery crunch.


With all of this newfound knowledge for butter, margarine, and now plant butter, you can confidently cook and bake delicious food based on your preferences. Try a beloved recipe and substitute plant butter for regular butter or butter for margarine to see if there’s a difference. You might find a new favorite butter alternative!

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips | Bakeries | By Angalena Malavenda
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