Coconut, long a favorite in raw culinary circles for its richness and versatility, has evolved into a hot topic in the culinary world at large. The vast array of coconut products on the market -- among them flour, milk, cream, vinegar, sugar, nectar, butter and oil -- have reached outside the raw-foods world and made coconut a staple for many on a dairy-free diet. Great taste and ease of substitution make organic, unrefined, expeller-pressed coconut oil an excellent raw substitute for dairy butter.
The difference in taste between unsalted dairy butter and unflavored coconut butter is minimal. The latter, according to a 2011 article in the Food and Wine section of "The New York Times," has a light coconut flavor and a delicate, natural sweetness.
Fatty Structure and Health
Coconut butter has more saturated fat than dairy butter. It is composed of about 90 percent saturated fat, as opposed to the 64 percent of dairy butter, according to the May 2011 issue of the "Harvard Health Letter," a publication of the university's medical school. However, coconut butter is not the nutritional pariah that that fact might imply. Since its saturated fats occur naturally and are not converted into an artificially saturated state through hydrogenation, there are no dangerous trans fats in coconut oil. According to a piece on healthy cooking oils on the University of Kansas Medical Center website, coconut butter holds the additional benefit of being hard for the body to store as fat, because it's composed of medium-chain fatty acids that the body converts quickly and easily into energy. The long-chain fatty acids that make up dairy butter are harder for the body to burn, so they tend to be stored as body fat.
As opposed to other oils, coconut oil remains solid at room temperature, just as dairy butter does. Both are brittle when cold. Coconut oil, however, melts at a slightly lower temperature. According to the Culinary Institute of America, dairy butter melts at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit and coconut at 75 F.
How to Substitute
As a spread, you can use coconut butter in precisely the same way as its dairy counterpart. In recipes, however, you'll need to compensate for the differences in composition to achieve similar results. "VegNews" magazine suggests that, for each cup of dairy butter called for, you should substitute 3/4 cup of coconut butter and 1/4 cup of water.
- UC Davis: Butter: Some Technology and Chemistry
- The Kitchn: How Do I Use Coconut Oil In Recipes?
- Huffington Post: Coconut Oil Benefits
- VegNews: How to Veganize Any Recipe, Sweet Edition
- New York Times: Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World
- University of California at Davis: http://drinc.ucdavis.edu/dairychem7.htm
- The New Professional Chef, 6th Edition; The Culinary Institute of America; 1996
- Harvard Health Letter: Ask the Doctor About Coconut Oil
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images