Why It's A Mistake To Try And Make Brown Butter With Dairy Alternatives

Bliss is a saucepan of browning butter. Between its sweetly nutty perfume and its caramelized richness, the golden dairy product is capable of elevating any recipe. Whether you work it into chocolate chip cookies, use it to dress freshly made gnocchi, or add it as a final touch to top roasted vegetables or seared scallops, brown butter is a one-ingredient wonder that makes anything and everything taste more delicious. Unfortunately, however, not everyone can reap the benefits of brown butter. For those with dietary restrictions or severe allergies, the dairy-based delicacy is a no-go, unless you experiment with plant-based alternatives. But, even then, browning these "butters" is often easier said than done.

Non-dairy butter is generally made from plant-based oils or fat sources such as nuts, in addition to various emulsifiers and stabilizers. Available in both tubs and sticks, these alternatives often boast a rich taste and spreadable texture similar to that of traditional butter. Yet, there is a catch when it comes to how they behave when melted. Much like milk-free margarine, plant-based butter does melt, but it doesn't brown. The reason is that these alternatives lack the milk solids necessary to carry out the browning process.

Essentially, as water evaporates, sugars and proteins within the butterfat undergo the Maillard reaction, causing them to darken and become fragrant. Given that plant-based alternatives have a vastly different composition to that of traditional butter, non-dairy alternatives void of vital milk solids just aren't capable of producing the same iconic browning.

Making non-dairy brown butter isn't a lost cause

Don't abandon the idea of non-dairy brown butter, yet. The reality is that there are a few vegan butter brands that promise to caramelize slightly as they melt, thanks to additions like cultured nut-based milk that makes browning less of a challenge. The only drawback is that non-dairy butter isn't always accessible. But, the good news is that you can easily take matters into your own hands. As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way.

Let's get one thing straight: Dairy-free brown butter will never taste like classic brown butter. That said, you can still achieve a pretty similar result all while forgoing dairy. Rather than simmer butter alternatives to the brink of burning, the trick is simply to infuse plant-based butter (or even oil) with a handful of toasted nuts. Despite that you can use anything from sweet pecans to earthy walnuts, buttery hazelnuts will best live up to brown butter's French namesake, beurre noisette. Bearing an equally roasted fragrance and nutty decadence, the brown butter dupe makes a suitable stand-in for both sweet and savory applications. 

Since no one should be robbed of enjoying the tantalizing pleasure of complexly flavored brown butter, do yourself a favor and brown non-dairy butter with nuts — it's the next best option that will leave all who taste it in total awe.