Is butter vegetarian?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is butter vegetarian?” and will discuss the difference between plant-based and traditional butter.

Is butter vegetarian?

No, butter is not vegetarian. Butter is derived from cream, which is the higher-fat portion of milk. Butter is not vegetarian since it is made from cow’s milk, and vegetarians should not consume anything that originates from animals; hence it should be avoided by vegetarians. However, this may depend on the definition of vegetarianism that is taken. There are many types of behavior facing the consumption of meat and animal derived products. 

According to a study, vegetarians may be divided into five categories. Type I vegetarians, those who consider themselves vegetarian, yet occasionally eat red meat or poultry, typically resulting from the temporary unavailability of vegetarian food options, or from the desire to avoid embarrassment in social settings where meat is being served. Type II vegetarians avoid consuming meat and poultry, Type III vegetarians also avoid fish, Type IV also exclude eggs, and Type V exclude dairy products produced with rennet (enzymes extracted from the stomach of young calves). At the opposite end of the spectrum are Type VI vegetarians, or vegans, who consume only vegetable-derived foods, avoiding all animal-derived food products (1). This means that only vegans would avoid eating butter.

In the EU, approximately 50 % of milk is used for cheese production, though a wide variety of other products are also produced, such as butter, yogurts, ice creams, among others. In 2013, the EU produced 9.3 million tonnes of cheese, 46.2 million tonnes of fresh dairy products, 2.1 million tonnes of butter, 1.1 million tonnes of skimmed milk powder and 0.7 million tonnes of whole milk powder (6).

What Is a Vegetarian?

A vegetarian is someone who abstains from eating any type of meat, including poultry, fish, beef, shellfish, or foods that contain parts of animals, such as gelatin, animal rennet (an enzyme extracted from the stomach of animals, which is used to produce some types of cheese) and the food coloring carmine, which is made of cochineal bugs bodies and eggs. Vegetarians may eat dairy products, honey and eggs, because these do not contain parts of animals. However, some vegetarians choose not to eat either one of these (2).

On the other hand, a vegan is someone who abstains from eating anything derived from animals. In addition to meat and other animal goods, this also covers eggs, dairy items, and certain other animal products. Vegetarians, on the other hand, do not consume meat, fish, shellfish, or pig in any form. Dairy products of any type are also banned from their diet, including ice cream, milk, cheese, and butter. Eggs, which are produced by hens, are also banned. So, pizza, smoothies, cookies, and omelets—all of which include these ingredients—do not fit within a vegetarian diet. You should keep in mind that a vegetarian is distinct from a vegetarian, who abstains from all animal meats but may eat eggs and dairy.

As an adjective, vegetarian refers to foods that are plant-based, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains; anything manufactured from these foods, such as hummus, tofu, and meat replacements; and anything created from these foods that are not derived from animal products, such as meat and may also include butter, eggs and honey, depending on the definition of vegetarianism adopted by the person (1).

How Do You Make Butter?

While we may know how to use butter in a variety of ways, such as spreading it on bread, melting it in a skillet, and creaming it with sugar, do we know what goes into it? As we all know, butter is derived from cream, which is the higher-fat portion of milk. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to the definition of butter, and they are: The term “butter” is currently used to refer to a wide variety of spreadable goods, from nut and fruit butter to nearly anything else that spreads.

There are two completely different methods for manufacturing butter. These are the churning method and the emulsification method. In the churning method, crystallization of the fat takes place in cream, followed by a phase inversion in which the oil-in-water emulsion of the cream is turned into a water-in-oil emulsion by strong mechanical treatment. The fat content is then concentrated by draining off the buttermilk. The butter is finally plasticized by mechanical working. In the emulsification method, the aforesaid first three sub-processes are carried out in reverse order. First, the fat emulsion is concentrated to a fat content corresponding to the composition of the final product, then a phase inversion is carried out followed by crystallization, and finally a coherent fat mass is formed and plasticized (3).

What Is Margarine?

Many varieties of margarine may be found in supermarkets, each with a different ingredient list. For the most part, margarine is a blend of plant-based fats and other ingredients including skim milk and water, tastes, and colors. By definition, margarine has to contain a minimum of 80% fat by weight, but any edible oil or fat source may be used for its manufacture. Therefore, margarine is regarded as an emulsion of water droplets in oil (W/O). Margarine is a low-cost alternative to butter and other fat-soluble spreads. It helps to add volume and texture to bakery products and is thus considered as a suitable ingredient for bakery products, like pastries, doughnuts, and cookies, by the industry (4).

Additionally, there are margarine products without any dairy in them, such as those made with coconut oil. As a less costly alternative to butter, margarine was devised. Making butter required 11 quarts of milk to produce only one pound of butter. If the ingredients list doesn’t contain any animal products, margarine may be a vegetarian alternative for butter. As a result, it is critical to read product labels thoroughly.

So, What Is “Vegetarian Butter” Anyway?

Butter substitute vegetarian butter isn’t butter at all. It is not manufactured from milk, cream, or any other animal product. For the most part, vegetarian butter is created by combining vegetable oil and other plant-based components to make an imitation of the real thing.

Because of this, when you hear or see the term “vegetarian butter,” you will know that it stands for “vegetarian substitutes for butter” or “vegetarian butter-like products,” rather than “vegetarian butter,” which is a misnomer. These words aren’t enticing to the customer, thus vegetarian butter is the result. To prevent this misconception, many consumers call the product “vegetarian margarine,” which is more correct.

However, coconut ghee, or creamed coconut, a spread made of coconut kernel, is an alternative to both butter and margarine. It is known as “vegetarian butter”, thus it is produced from the unsweetened dehydrated fresh pulp of a mature coconut, ground to a semi-solid white creamy paste. Coconut oil has many health benefits due to its lower cholesterol content and rapid digestibility due to being made up of mainly medium chain fatty acids (5).

You may use vegetarian butter replacements in cooking and baking, depending on your preferences. To manufacture vegetarian margarine that mimics butter’s taste and texture, Earth Balance uses plant-based margarine that contains no dairy products. In addition to being gluten- and GMO-free, it has a buttery flavor and a smooth texture, and it’s devoid of hydrogenated oils. Soy-free and olive oil variants are among the options available, as well as a variety of other flavors.

Butter made from plant sources vs. conventional butter

The calorie and fat levels of plant-based butter are comparable to that of normal butter. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks and unsalted butter both provide 14 grams of fat in a single serving.

According to the USDA, one tablespoon of butter (14 g/ 0.5 oz) produces 420 kJ (100 kcal), all from fat, 11 g (0.4 oz) of which 7 g (0.25 oz) are saturated fats and 30 mg (0.46 g) are cholesterol (3). A tablespoon of butter provides 11% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A.  Plant-based butter is cholesterol-free, typically lower in saturated fat, and higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats than traditional butter, in terms of nutrition.

Although plant-based butter has a better fatty acid composition, they are equally as caloric-rich as traditional butter. As a consequence, overconsumption of either may lead to weight gain over the long term.

Moreover, the sodium content of plant-based butter might vary widely from one brand to the next. Generally speaking, plant-based butter contains better fats. If you’re concerned about your health, switching to plant-based butter over normal butter isn’t going to make a huge difference. In addition, margarine is recognized as a healthy alternative for cooking and food preparation by health professionals and consumers and makes an important nutritional contribution to the diet by representing a source of essential fat-soluble vitamins, by being low in saturated fatty acids and due to the absence of cholesterol (4).

As a result, many plant-based butters include refined oils that may cause inflammation. Butter, on the other hand, is often produced with just cream and salt.

Butter, on the other hand, may be a less-processed alternative depending on the product you pick. But it doesn’t mean that plant-based butter options aren’t out there that are better for you. Look for items that include less processed oils and artificial additives. ‘

Consider the purpose of the butter, since plant-based butter may not always be able to reproduce the flavor and texture of traditional butter.

Other FAQs about Butter that you may be interested in.

What Can You Substitute For Butter?

What can I use instead of butter?

Can you substitute butter for margarine in a cookie recipe?


In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is butter vegetarian?” and discussed the difference between plant-based and traditional butter.


  1. Ruby, Matthew B. Vegetarianism. A blossoming field of study. Appetite, 2012, 58, 141-150.
  2. Lehto, Elviira, et al. Vegetarians and different types of meat eaters among the Finnish adult population from 2007 to 2017. Brit J Nutr, 2022, 127, 1060-1072.
  3. Deosarkar, S. S., C. D. Khedkar, and S. D. Kalyankar. Butter: manufacture. 2016, 529-534.
  4. Fruehwirth, Sarah, et al. Acetone as indicator of lipid oxidation in stored margarine. Antioxidants, 2021, 10, 59.
  5. Kumarasinghe, I. L. W., et al. Development of an Edible Spread Base Using Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) Kernel Derivatives. 2013.
  6. Amaral, Joana S., et al. Milk and milk products. FoodIntegrity Handbook. A Guide to Food Authenticaticity Issues and Analytical Solutions; Morin, J.-F., Lees, M., Eds, 2018, 3-25.