Margarine was best known as a substitute for butter early on in its history. There was a time when it was considered the healthy butter alternative. Only after it started to outshine butter towards the end of the 20th century did scientists reveal the truth about its health effects. At that point, many began to look for safer fats. Whether you need a margarine substitute for health reasons or just need a replacement because you have run out, here are some of your best options.
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Your best bet: Butter
Because margarine was invented to be a butter substitute, butter is actually the best possible margarine substitute. Butter will have the richness and creaminess that margarine makers try so hard to emulate. Moreover, it looks like margarine and will work similarly in many baking recipes. Butter has the benefit of being easy to find and is the same everywhere while margarine formulas can differ from brand to brand.
Butter won’t be a good substitute if you are trying to find a spread with healthy fats or if you are looking for a vegan option. For healthy and/or vegan spreads, try one of the other substitutes on this list. Another drawback with butter is that it is impossible to spread when cold. It must be kept at room temperature to be at a spreadable consistency, but that will also shorten its shelf life. Many margarines are spreadable right out of the refrigerator.
A decent second choice: Coconut oil
If you want a natural, vegan alternative to margarine — which often contains milk or other dairy products — coconut oil is a good choice. It is solid at room temperature just like margarine. You can use it in many baked goods that require margarine, and it can be melted and used in a liquid state.
Refined coconut oil will be the best kind to use as a margarine substitute in baked recipes because of its neutral flavor. Your cakes or cookies won’t take on a coconut flavor as they would with unrefined coconut oil. Once a specialty item in the US and many parts of the West, coconut oil is getting easier and easier to find. You will be able to find it in many grocery stores.
The drawback to using coconut oil as a margarine substitute is that the two don’t taste much alike. This might not be a big deal in baked items, but coconut oil won’t be a great margarine substitute if you need a spread for your toast.
In a pinch: Mayonnaise
As an emulsion, mayonnaise consists of two liquids that would normally separate. This makes it similar to margarine, which is a blend of oil and water. The liquids in mayonnaise are oil and vinegar, which is mostly water. The two are combined with egg yolk, which is an emulsifier.
Mayonnaise can act as a margarine substitute for frying because of its high oil content, and it is traditionally used as a spread on bread.
Olive oil is one of the healthier margarine alternatives available. Whereas margarine can contain trans fats, olive oil won’t and is better for heart health as a result. Also important is the fact that olive oil naturally contains antioxidants.
Vegan butter is a version of margarine but without any animal products at all. Typical vegan butter formulations use avocado, olive or another vegetable oil to get a product similar in consistency to margarine.