All my life, I've always preferred margarine over butter (and gotten some harsh criticism for it). But I never really knew what I was eating (seriously, what is margarine even made of?) As more and more of my friends turn to vegetarian and vegan diets, they want to know: is margarine vegan? I wanted to find out.

History of Margarine

Margarine was created in France in 1869 by the French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. He created as part of a competition funded by the French Emperor Napoleon III, who wanted a cheaper butter substitute for his army and his poor subjects.    

It was originally made using beef fat, but a new process developed shortly after allowed it to be made from solidified vegetable oil instead. It naturally has an unappealing white color, so it's often dyed yellow to make it more appetizing and butter-like.

Margarine quickly rose in popularity thanks to its low price, and surpassed its arch rival, butter, in sales. According to the Huffington Post, however, butter is currently more popular than margarine in terms of per capita consumption due to health fears over the trans fats in margarine.

Margarines containing trans fats should probably be avoided. Although some research has shown that very small amounts of natural trans fats may be beneficial, most government health agencies recommend staying away from trans fats altogether, due to its negative effects on the heart. Many margarine manufacturers are trying to move away from using trans fats, but the association still remains. 

Is Margarine Vegan?

For vegans, margarine appears to be the answer to the inability to indulge in butter's delicious-ness. But is margarine vegan? 

The answer: Well, it depends...

Classical margarine is mainly made from a combination of vegetable oil, salt, and water. However, it usually still does contain animal products, including lactose and whey. This information may be disappointing to vegans worldwide, but there are other options available. 

Most manufacturers of margarine also put out vegan-friendly alternatives without the added animal products. These alternatives are technically different than margarine but are often called the same thing. Usually, they are clearly marketed as vegan and called, "Butter-alternative vegan spreads," or something similar. 

Many brands now produce vegan spreads. Some of the most popular varieties include those put out by Becel, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!,  Earth Balance, and Miyoko's Kitchen.

Vegan, margarine-like spreads made of things other than vegetable oils are also gaining popularity. One variant  is coconut butter, although it has a unique taste that doesn't match perfectly with regular butter or margarine. 

If you're looking for ways to incorporate margarine into your cooking try these five-ingredient vegan cinnamon rolls to help you start your morning off right. If you like your breakfasts on the savory side, try using vegan margarine to make hollandaise sauce to go with some vegan tofu Benedict.

For a butterless snack, try these vegan chocolate chip cookies, which use coconut butter, or this vegan pretzel bread to embrace your inner German.

Go forth and explore the wide world of recipes using vegan margarine and butter. Indulge your taste buds. While regular margarine may not be vegan, there are certainly other alternatives for the vegans of the world to enjoy.