The best substitutes for margarine are natural butters and purified cooking oils. Margarine was created as an inexpensive alternative to butter, and has similar properties. Although margarine substitutes can often be used at the same volume, they may have a somewhat different taste, consistency and nutritional profile.
Margarine was designed to have qualities similar to natural dairy butter. Most margarine is made by emulsifying pure vegetable oils in skim milk. The resulting mixture is then chilled to achieve a creamy consistency. Salt is often added to mimic the savory taste of salted butter.
Just as margarine can replace butter, butter makes an ideal substitute for margarine. Butter sticks can be cut to the appropriate amount or melted to measure their volume. Salted and unsalted butter varieties are available to meet the needs of the recipe. Some bakers even use a combination of dairy butter and margarine to customize the flavor and consistency of baked goods.
Removing margarine generally decreases the salt, fat and moisture content of the recipe. The ratio of margarine ingredients is typically 80 percent oil and 20 percent water. In a recipe, margarine can be replaced by adding the same volume of oil and water in an identical ratio. Oil substitutes for margarine are usually unsalted. Salt can be added or left out completely to satisfy individual tastes.
Creamy homemade margarine substitutes can be made in a home blender. Drizzling oil into a blender of rapidly churning skim milk causes emulsification. The emulsifying process suspends the fats in the liquid to create a thickened substance. Storing the emulsified fats in a cold environment further thickens the mixture. Chilled margarine substitutes spread and melt similarly to butter.
Many substitutes for margarine contain fewer trans fats and saturated fats. Flaxseed, peanut and olive oil are often considered healthy substitutions for margarines that contain hydrogenated vegetable oils. The substitute oils are usually added to the recipe at room temperature and may be accompanied by a small amount of water or skim milk. Cooks making substitutions should keep in mind that unfiltered cooking oils may burn when used in high heat applications. Also, intensely flavored oil substitutes should be used sparingly as they may alter the taste of the finished food product.
Government regulations restrict the labeling and preparation of margarine and margarine replacements in many countries. Some substitutes for margarine are labeled as spreads or spreadable oils. Ingredients and additives for commercially available margarine substitutes vary greatly around the world. These similar products may simply not meet the qualifications to be labeled as margarine under marketplace rules.