Faking Dairy

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I’m not vegan. I feel that I probably should be, but I’m not ready to make that jump for myself and my family. Just like true vegetarianism sneaked up on me 8 years ago, I’m sure true veganism will do in the future. I feel like I try to balance my concerns for animal welfare with my concerns for a natural and wholesome diet and lifestyle, whilst also being mindful of other ecological and ethical issues such as the scale and method of production of food and other goods, packaging, durability and biodegradability. I feel that a quick jump into veganism, would compromise some of these other ethics and I prefer to use organic dairy produce sparingly and mindfully (for now)… And continue to collect eggs from the happy hens in my garden.

However, I find myself being increasingly interested in finding dairy free solutions to traditional dishes. We have not used cow’s milk in our household for about four years now, my husband prefers soya milk, the girls and I like oat milk, and this substitution has only enhanced our tea/porridge/hot chocolate/rice pudding etc. We also began to switch our organic butter for dairy free spread, which was adequate. But then I began to read the ingredients and I started to be concerned, that while what we were eating was indeed kinder to the cows, was it ultimately going to be kinder to our bodies? How have these oils been hardened? Can my body process this? Does it even recognise this as food? Is this food? And where was that palm oil coming from?

So gradually we switched back to butter, but with greater mindfulness and greater resourcefulness to limit our consumption… Coconut oil on toast with marmalade is wonderful. Nut butters used in baking and sauces, avocado, humous or fresh mayonnaise (made with our own eggs) on oatcakes or spread on my sandwich bread… There are a lot of creative alternatives out there.

But what about butter.

I can’t quite kick the butter, my traditional cooking background won’t let me, there are just some things that avocado and pure coconut oil can’t quite replicate (a bold statement to make, but it’s true) and although my journeys into new worlds of dairy free baking have been exciting and creative and revolutionary to me in some ways, good old butter has it’s place, in a light sponge cake, or on top of a hot crumpet…

I went on a shopping trip today to find some ingredients I’ve never used before. Xanthan gum and soy lecithin. I’m not really sure what these things are, I see them written on packaging and they seem to appear in a lot of processed food.  And now I have some in my kitchen. I’m pretty sure they don’t feature in a true whole food diet, and again I find myself weighing up the health advice, the production methods and the amounts I’m going to use, against those poor dairy cows and their offspring. These ingredients are the two unknowns in a dairy free butter recipe I’ve been coveting for a while. So I read a bit more, about the poor orang-utans, about the devastation caused by palm oil production (an ingredient which seems to be in all the major dairy free spread brands including Pure and Vitalite, where it’s listed as vegetable oil) and I decided that these two small ingredients, in their tiny quantities can help me find a better butter for my family.

I used this recipe*, but I doubled the quantities to make a larger yield (beginners misguided confidence)…

I am very happy that this recipe calls for a good proportion of coconut oil (albeit the refined odourless and flavourless type) which boasts virtually infinite health and nutritional benefits as well as being ecologically and ethically sound, unlike the ubiquitous palm oil. Palm oil is found in virtually everything from biscuits to dips and bread to fake butter. Reading the above blog/recipe prompted a conversation with my nearly 3 year old daughter about the plight of the orang-utans and their habitat at the hands of palm oil producers. We looked at the WWF website and talked about all the endangered animals. We talked about how some people are destroying the orang-utans homes, making them very poorly and sad. She told me

“We have to look after all the animals mummy.”

Nancy wants to help look after the orang-utans, so for her birthday next month I have set up an adoption through the WWF.  And I’m going to stop buying fake butter with palm oil in it.

My first batch of home made dairy free butter turned out pretty good, the consistency was perfect, but the taste was too acidic, not unpleasantly so, just not like butter, and upon close inspection I’d mistaken 1 tsp for 1 tbsp of vinegar. It tasted fine when I fried an egg in it, and when I spread it on the toast to eat with the egg. Despite the mishap, I was sure I was onto something good.

Batch number 2, I made sure the quantities were correct this time, and as I gained more confidence (I’ve always had a problem sticking exactly to a recipe) I added 1/4 tsp of turmeric for colour and a tbsp of nutritional yeast flakes for flavour. It looked perfect, It spread exactly like butter, not a dairy free spread, but actual butter, and it tasted great.

I’m yet to try baking with this but a bit of internet research tells me that it behaves just like the real thing in cookies and cakes.

This is just the beginning. I’ve also been experimenting with dairy free ‘cheese’, and I’ve found an almond feta which stands up to scrutiny. But that’s for another post.

I feel I’ve made a tiny step today towards ending suffering for cows and orang-utans, what more can you ask of your butter?

* I bought soy lecithin granules rather than liquid, it seems to work fine, but I did crush the granules a bit before adding them just to make sure, I also substituted the canola oil with organic rapeseed oil – which I believe is similar.  All soya products I sourced as organic, to appease my guilt.

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