I care a lot about butter. It is something that I always have in my fridge, no matter what, often in multiple forms. I usually have two, in fact, one kind of butter for baking and cooking, and one for spreading and using where the flavor really matters. Last year, I tried 14 kinds of fancy butter to find the best one and got to try a $60, extremely rare butter that is almost entirely bought up by Thomas Keller. Butter is one of those small, relatively inexpensive luxuries that makes food taste measurably better. I often think I would rather give up cake than bread and butter sprinkled with a little sea salt. But I also understand why not everyone loves butter quite as much as I do, whether's it's concern for animal welfare, avoiding dairy in your diet, or just plain aversion to the stuff. So you can understand that I was both intrigued and skeptical when I saw the news that a new vegan cultured butter might be a real contender in the ranks of fancy butters.
The butter in question is Miyoko's European Style Cultured Vegan Butter, a spread made out of coconut oil, cashews, sunflower oil, and sea salt. It "melts, browns, bakes, and spreads phenomenally," per the package, and is gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and palm oil-free. At Bon Appetit, writer Kyle Beechey liked it so much that he replaced his beloved extra-virgin olive oil with Miyoko's, and at New York Magazine, Katheryn Erickson noted that she likes the stuff so much that she found it "addictive." Both these writers, it's worth noting, weren't eating regular butter when they got into Miyoko's so they weren't making a one-to-one comparison necessarily, but still, that is really high praise for vegan butter, an often unloved category of the refrigerator aisle.
I picked up some Miyoko's from Whole Foods, where it ran $7.99 for a block of eight ounces. For comparison's sake, I also grabbed a packet of Vermont Creamery's Cultured Butter with Sea Salt, since Miyoko's claims to replicate the taste of European cultured butter, and Vermont Creamery makes a dang good cultured butter.
At first glance, Miyoko's butter doesn't look all that much like butter—more like a block of cream cheese. It's white rather than yellow. But the packaging does make it look similar to the blocks of foil-wrapped European butter, not the sticks of wax-paper covered American butter. It softened at about the same rate as regular butter into a nicely spreadable texture, and gave me no trouble on a slice of sourdough bread.
The taste of the Miyoko's vegan butter is pleasant. It has the unctuous fattiness that you want in a butter, and if someone spread it one a piece of toast and gave it to me blind, I'm not sure that I'd initially notice that it was plant-based rather than dairy. It even has a hint of the same nice tang that cultured butter has, a slight umami note in the background.
But when I compared it to the Vermont Creamery butter on the same bread, the difference was clear. The Miyoko's has a sweetness that hits you somewhere on the palate that the Vermont Creamery didn't, something I suspect comes from the cashews. The finish on the two was different too—Miyoko's seemed to coat my mouth for longer than regular dairy butter. If you gave me the vegan butter without a side-by-side test, I'd probably be fine. But in a side-to-side comparison, you're not going to mistake it for the real thing.
Still, even if it's not exactly replicating the experience of eating a good cultured butter, Miyoko's represents a great advance in vegan butter. Previous vegan butter spreads I've tried were much more in the zone of a margarine—oily, fatty, waxy, and lacking the nuance of butter made from cream. Miyoko's had a lot more going on, and even if I wouldn't necessarily reach for it over my beloved Kerrygold, I certainly wouldn't kick it out of the fridge. If I wanted to cut back on dairy, for whatever reason, there's no doubt that this is the vegan butter I'd want to eat.
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