Palm Oil and Vegan Butter: The Sad Truth and a Solution

Palm Oil Free Vegan Butter

Palm oil production – even “sustainable” palm oil – is bad news for orangutans. Luckily, it’s not too hard to make your own vegan butter that’s palm oil free!

Seriously, you guys, I think Ketty from Luminous Vegans and I are food twins. Her taste in food is very similar to mine, and I feel like this isn’t the first time we’ve been working on the similar recipe ideas at the very same time. A couple of weeks ago she posted an amazing-looking vegan butter recipe, and this is something that’s been on my mind for a little while now.

It all began about a month ago when my friend Justin Van Kleeck shared some eye-opening information about palm oil. Palm oil is a key ingredient in many store-bought vegan butters, including Earth Balance, my favorite! Earth Balance uses sustainably-sourced palm oil, but the article Justin shared suggested that it’s very difficult to actually source palm oil sustainably. Here’s a peek at what’s so bad about palm oil production:

Perched atop the remains of the last tree, an orangutan looks helplessly on what was until recently the forest he was living in but is now only ruins. Armed with chainsaws and bulldozers, workers of Bumitama Gunajaya Agro (BGA), a palm oil company, have completely destroyed the rainforest for miles.

If you want to speak up against “sustainable” palm oil that hurts orangutans, you can sign the Rainforest Rescue petition here.

Vegan Butter without Palm Oil

Are you bummed? I was super bummed, but Justin isn’t the kind of fellow that just drops bad news without offering a solution. He pointed me to this recipe for vegan butter from Vegan Baking that uses coconut oil as the base.

But if palm oil is bad for wildlife, is coconut oil much better? It turns out that it really is! What’s important when choosing coconut oil is that you opt for a brand that’s Fair Trade certified, because harvesting is hard work and often involves child labor and dangerous situations otherwise.

I was not able to find Fair Trade, unrefined coconut oil at the store, but I did find Spectrum Organic Coconut Oil. Spectrum is not Fair Trade certified, but they do have a commitment to sourcing from small, family farms with good labor practices. Here’s a statement from their site:

Studies have shown that by encouraging small-scale farming in poor areas and third world countries, poverty is reduced and the hope of prosperity rekindled. Small-scale farming is one of our best hopes for preserving the deeply seeded agrarian traditions found in so many societies of the world.

Spectrum is cognizant of the myriad benefits of small-scale farming, which is why we devote ourselves to culling trusted family sources for our products. Read here about the diverse group of people Spectrum sources from. At its core, small-scale farming is about hope; and that is something we strive to support in everything we do.

I hope I made the right decision! If you know of a brand of refined organic coconut oil that definitely uses fair labor practices, I would love to know!

The other concern I had with coconut oil is that it can taste…well…like coconuts. I love coconut – don’t get me wrong – but Dave is not a fan. I asked Justin about this, and he suggested that I use refined coconut oil, which doesn’t have as strong a coconut flavor.

Let me take a moment here to thank Justin for pointing me to all of these resources. I love how solution-oriented he is! I feel like a lot of folks that bring up issues like palm oil in vegan butter just throw a problem out there without offering any way around it. Instead of just bumming me out, he was willing to go way, way above and beyond to help find a solution that will work for my family. If you want to connect with Justin, you can find his website here.

OK, so there was one last snag with this vegan butter recipe: it called for lecithin granules. I am not a fan of specialized ingredients like this, and I know that you guys aren’t, either. The recipe said that you can leave the lecithin out, so I gave that a go.

Vegan Butter No Palm Oil

Vegan Butter

I’m not going to reprint this recipe, because I don’t have permission from the folks at Vegan Baking. I’ve actually looked at DIY vegan butter recipes before, though, and felt very daunted. So! Instead of a recipe (which you can find here), I’m going to share my experience making it, in case you feel a little daunted too. This was actually very easy to make – much simpler even than making cookies from scratch. There’s a lot of measuring, but your blender does most of the heavy lifting. The hardest part is waiting the hour at the end for the butter to solidify so you can try it!

To start off, here are the ingredients that I used:

  • soy milk
  • apple cider vinegar
  • salt
  • refined coconut oil, melted
  • safflower oil

I will say this: leaving out the emulsifiers sure made this recipe come together more quickly. My butter won’t be as solid at room temperature, but you get to skip a lot of blending and scraping. There’s still a little bit of blending, but not nearly as much.

Basically, you just curdle the soy milk with the vinegar, then melt the coconut oil in the microwave. It was a little chilly in my house, so my oil was pretty hard. It took about one minute on high to melt completely.

Combine the ingredients in the blender (make sure you read the directions on this – they don’t all go in at once). I wanted to make extra sure that this recipe would work for anyone who wanted to try it, so I skipped the Vitamix this time and used my very crappy old Magic Bullet to do the blending for this recipe. It worked perfectly.

When everything is totally combined, stick it into the freezer for an hour to harden. Boom! Vegan butter!

Since I didn’t use emulsifiers, my vegan butter didn’t turn out like sticks. It was more of a tub margarine, so I’m keeping it in the smallest container that came with my set of Pyrex food storage containers. They said it will keep for a month in the fridge or a year in the freezer, but I don’t see this lasting in our house for more than a few weeks. Between morning toast, mashed potatoes, and random baking adventures, we go through vegan butter pretty quickly around here.

Have any of you guys tried making palm oil free vegan butter? I’d love to hear your experiences!

33 comments on “Palm Oil and Vegan Butter: The Sad Truth and a Solution
  1. I bought earth balance and liked the taste but it is a little hard. Before converting to vegetarian/vegan wannabe, we used country crock. Does your butter version get as hard as EB straight from the fridge? I have sunflower lecithin but no xanthem gum. If I leave out the gum as you did does is stay in a solid form? Similar to Country Crock or other spreadable margarines?

          • OK, I just made this butter but used lecithin and skipped the xanthan gum since i didnt have it. I used vegetable oil in place of olive. This tasted exactly like Earth Balance to me, but was so much more spreadable. Loved it! Thank you.

          • I forgot to mention I used Mattie’s recipe for spreadable olive oil butter, but did like you did and left out the gum, and used the lecithin. I also subbed vegetable oil for olive.I was afraid to try it without the gum till i read your post. You saved a chunk of money.

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  8. Hi, really nice article :) I’ve always been concerned about sustainability of vegan food sources. Luckily I found Nutiva, which offers “fair trade certified coconut oil in their 15oz & 23oz glass sizes”; they also donate 1% of sales to sustainable agriculture. They recently offer a refined version as well. Just thought I’d let you know!Thanks for the article and reccomendations :)

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  11. I would love to try the recipe for the vegan butter.

    Can you suggest a soy milk to use without palm oil. Also if you
    could provide the measurements of the ingredients for the
    vegan butter.



    • Any unsweetened soy milk will do. Since it’s not my own recipe, I didn’t want to include amounts here. You can click through to the original linked above for the full deal. :)

    • That is such a great idea! I am going to do that with my next batch. Maybe 1/8 teaspoon? Probably even less, like just a tiny dash.

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  13. Woohoo for vegan butter! We are definitely food twins. I too had read up on the so called sustainable palm oil in Earth Balance. It’s tough. I feel like no matter what I do, there is always something I can do better.

    We are on our second batch of the homemade butter and I can’t see us every buying Earth Balance spread again. For my two batches I used a cheapo non-organic refined coconut oil, but I’m going to look for the Spectrum stuff when we run out.

    • It bums me out, because I was such a fan of EB! I totally know how you feel. I think that all we can do it out best, and it’s hard to remember that sometimes. I beat myself up a lot for falling short for sure, even though part of me knows that isn’t productive.

  14. Oh man, that makes me so sad about Earth Balance. But it really doesn’t look that hard to make at home; I’m definitely going to have to try it out soon!

  15. Thanks for all the props, Becky! Glad it turned out well for you. We used the vegan butter recipe a lot in place of margarine to make things like frosting for cupcakes, as well as in vegan rice krispies treats. And of course melted over popcorn! It is amazing how well it works.

    Dr. Bronner’s has great organic, fair-trade unrefined coconut oil; you are right about FT refined, though. We use the unrefined for our butter, and really like it that way, though it does still have a bit of coconut flavor.

    You can also switch up the oil in the recipe and change oil-to-coconut proportions for different textures. I made it with flax oil instead of canola oil and liked the results. To make it more spreadable, you can also use more liquid oil (1 tablespoon more) and less coconut oil (1 tablespoon less) as well as leaving out the emulsifier. I also read that someone made it without xanthan gum and had a good result; I have not tried that yet.

    • No way, thank YOU! I think I’d been in denial about this issue, because there wasn’t a solution that seemed doable to me. This recipe was great even without the xanthan gum and lecithin. It even passed The Omnivore Husband Test, which is very scientific.

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