Butter is the villain in many health-conscience and calorie-aware recipe books. It’s even more hated by the vegan crowd, being an animal-based product.
However, even the most strict vegans can’t deny they miss how this creamy piece of happiness melts on our tongues, sending the endorphins in our body a signal to start their happy dance.
The good news is, you don’t have to give up on butter since there are many vegan alternatives stacked on the supermarkets’ shelves. You just have to be extra careful not to pick one with hidden animal ingredients in it.
Smart Balance has been one of the names associated with “vegan butter” since the company took the dairy-free direction. But are their products really vegan? We got our butter knives out and dug into the topic, so read on while we let you in on what we discovered.
- Is Smart Balance Vegan? The Short Answer
- About Smart Balance
- Are Smart Balance Products Vegan?
- Butter Alternatives for Vegan Baking
- Time to Get Your Vegan Chef Hat on!
Is Smart Balance Vegan? The Short Answer
Smart Balance offers eight buttery spreads with different flavours. All of their products are free of milk, eggs, gluten, and nuts. Yet only two flavours can be considered vegan: Smart Balance Organic and Smart Balance Light With Flaxseed Oil.
That is if you’re a traditional vegan who cares about your food being completely free of animal-derived products. However, for the environment-conscious vegans, even these two flavours are non-vegan since they contain palm oil.
About Smart Balance
Owned by GFA Brands, Smart Balance is a company that specialises in buttery spreads, microwave popcorn, and peanut butter.
The company isn’t vegan and doesn’t essentially follow any vegan concepts, so even the guilt-free flavours it produces can only be considered “accidentally vegan.”
What makes people confuse it as a vegan brand is that it has a dedicated dairy-free line of products, yet that doesn’t mean it doesn’t use animal products.
In fact, the company didn’t start with that concept in mind. At first, they used to make dairy butter until it adopted the dairy-free concept, ditching milk and substituting it with plant-based materials. They still have a milk-based line of product, though under the name of “Butter Blend.”
To differentiate between the two lines, the Butter Blend products are sold in smaller plastic packages while the buttery spreads are sold in bigger tubs. However, there are no “vegan,” “dairy-free,” or any label of such kind on the packaging.
Are Smart Balance Products Vegan?
To give you a better answer to this question, let’s explore the list of ingredients of the eight flavours of Smart Balance spreads. Apart from some differences in the portions and side ingredients, Smart Balance buttery spreads consist of:
- Lactic acid
- Potassium Sorbate
- Vegetable oil blend (canola, palm, olive, and soybean)
- Vitamin D (Not present in the Original and Light With Flaxseed Oil flavours)
- Pea protein
- Natural and artificial flavours
- Beta Carotene
At first glance, none of these constituents requires sounding an alarm. However, upon a closer look, there are four ingredients that raise doubt:
Vitamin D is just a vitamin, right? Why would it be non-vegan? Because, unlike other vitamins, which are extracted from plants and fruits or prepared synthetically in laboratories, vitamin D is only present in animal-based products like egg yolks and fish liver oils.
Vitamin D in the food industry has two main sources: sheep’s wool and lichen. Vitamin D derived from the latter is the only vegan-friendly one since lichen is a complex life form that combines the traits of algae and fungi.
On the other hand, vitamin D made from sheep’s wool is unethical and completely non-vegan. Unfortunately, most of the vitamin D in the food industry is derived from it.
We’re not sure whether Smart Balance products use lichen or wool’s vitamin D, but since the company hasn’t clarified the source, we’ll assume the worst and avoid the flavours that contain the vitamin. For our luck, two of their flavours lack this ingredient, which are:
- Light with flaxseed oil flavour
Consequently, the non-vegan varieties are the:
- Omega 3
- Light omega 3
- Low sodium whipped
- With extra virgin olive oil
- Light with extra virgin olive oil
The problem with natural flavours is that manufacturers never really state their sources. For all we know, they may be made from milk, meat, poultry, or seafood. Yet, that doesn’t negate the fact that some flavouring agents come from fruits, herbs, and vegetables.
Vegan companies disclose the source of the flavours they use in their products, but since Smart Balance isn’t one of them, we can’t be so sure.
Some suggest that since there isn’t proof of whether Smart Balance’s natural flavours are animal or plant-based, we can turn a blind eye to them. Other vegans refuse to use any products unless the company is transparent about all of its sources.
It’s up to you to decide but keep in mind that all Smart Balance products contain these flavouring agents, so if you choose not to consume them, you’ll have to ditch all the flavours – not even the Original and Light with flaxseed oil flavour would be considered vegan in this case.
From its name, lactic acid sounds like a dairy product. However, most lactic acid is actually guilt-free since it’s derived from plants through natural fermentation.
Indeed, some lactic acid is made from fermented dairy, but that is in rare cases and not in the case of Smart Balance anyway, as they don’t use milk products in their buttery spreads.
Palm oil in itself is vegan as it’s sourced from plants. However, there is a debate about the effect of palm tree agriculture on the environment and how harmful it is to tropical habitats in Africa, America, and Asia, which make a home for many animals.
Excessive farming of palm oil has only resulted in many animals losing their homes and endangered animals such as elephants, leopards, tigers, and orangutans. Not to mention that it has caused soil erosion, which hinders the ecosystem and leads to adverse effects on surface water bodies.
Traditional vegans won’t have a problem with that. However, those who care about the sustainability of the products they consume might not like the fact that all Smart Balance flavours contain palm oil.
Butter Alternatives for Vegan Baking
As you can see, it’s hard to tell whether Smart Balance is entirely ethical or not. But, fortunately, it’s not your only option.
With the rise of the vegan movement, many brands are starting to devote some of their product lines to the vegan community. Not to mention the abundance of neighbourhood grocery stores where many smaller brands are selling their vegan butter.
The point is you’re not limited! Those who follow a truly vegan, plant-based diet can use any of the following products as a substitute for animal-derived butter.
Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil with Butter Flavor
If you don’t mind coconut oil, you’ll love Nutiva’s Organic Coconut Oil With Butter Flavour. This butter substitute is made from a combination of non-GMO fermented plants with no hint of any animal products or palm oil.
The plant-based butter alternative is completely ethical and tastes like heaven when used for baking or sauteing. And if you like having your butter on English muffins or toast, you’ll like how it can turn your breakfasts into tasty and healthy meals.
Califia Farms Plant Butter
For those who like heavy flavours, Califia Farms Plant Butter isn’t only a scrumptious choice but also a guilt-free one. The ethical butter is made from a blend of coconut and avocado oil along with fermented oregano, flaxseed extract, as well as nutritional yeast.
The spread is available in all supermarkets across the UK and can be used to top crackers, bread, toast and tastes just like natural butter when used to make pancakes or buttered popcorn.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
This vegan-certified butter carries a “Totally Dairy-Free” and “It’s Vegan” label, making it an obvious choice for those looking for a guilt-free alternative for their favourite creamy spreads.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Vegan contains soybean oil, kernel oil, lecithin, Vitamin A palmitate, and Beta Carotene, so it brings reassurance to those who want to spare animal lives.
However, be aware that it contains palm oil, so if you’re against the ethical methods of growing palm trees, this product might not be the one for you.
Time to Get Your Vegan Chef Hat on!
Just because you’ve taken the direction of eating green and reducing the harm that the food industry causes to animals doesn’t mean you can’t have a breakfast of butter and toast or bake cookies and cakes for your family and friends.
Although not all Smart Balance butter spreads are vegan, you can still use the Original or Light with Flaxseed Oil flavours to bake and make the most delicious, ethical breakfasts. Even if you refuse to use them due to the lack of sustainability in their ingredients, there are many other vegan brands you can pick from.
The bottom line is you’re not short on choices when it comes to vegan butter!