Why would you eat butter made from bean water when you could just eat delicious butter churned from milk? Well, for people who eat a vegan diet, aquafaba butter is pretty close to the taste and texture of dairy butter, and cooks better than margarine. And some people who aren't vegan turn to plant-based butter because they think it's a smarter choice than dairy butter.
Why is aquafaba butter suddenly big? Vegan aficionados have been making their own aquafaba butter at home for a while, but recently a plant-based food company launched packaged aquafaba butter, called FabaButter. As the story goes, Aidan Altman and Andrew McClure "grew up just eating crap," and decided to go vegan a year and a half ago. They were drawn to a vegan diet because it's supposed to be more environmentally responsible — and the fact that it got them to eat more vegetables didn't hurt, either.
Many people who eat a vegan diet just use margarine, which is a butter-like spread made from vegetable oils. But coming from a background in the food industry, Altman and McClure wanted to make a butter substitute that would be more functional for cooking. Their FabaButter uses recycled chickpea water they get from hummus manufacturing communities, a coconut oil cream base, plus a little salt. "It's really high in fat, which gets us the extremely high smoke-point of 450 degrees, which is over dairy butter," Altman says. For comparison, extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 325 degrees, and the smoke point for coconut oil is 350 degrees.
If you're looking for a plant-based, dairy-free butter alternative for cooking, aquafaba butter might be better than other options. But Altman says that, from a health perspective, aquafaba butter really is for everyone. "It's interesting because our product technically is healthier than majority of butters out there," he says. It is still a high-fat product (consisting of 80% fat), but it does have slightly less sodium per serving than dairy butter. But everyone is different, and food decisions are way more nuanced than saying one food is "healthier" than another.
"Of course if a person has an interest in following a vegan diet for ethical or environmental reasons, obviously this stuff would be a great option," says Kathleen Meehan, MS, RD, LDN, an anti-diet registered dietitian in Houston. If you enjoy the taste, and you find that it satisfies you, then go for it, she says. On the other hand, if you're worried about the amount of fat in standard butter and think that this will be a better choice, then you might want to re-think that. Because remember: just because a product is "vegan," doesn't mean that it's necessarily healthier for you.
In the past couple years, there has certainly been a push towards eating more sustainable foods, Meehan says. "But what I find is that our culture sort of muddies that a little bit, and acts as though there's a morality involved in terms of nutrition or quality of the food you're eating," she says. So, sometimes that can get challenging, and make you think that a sustainable or "plant-based" food is inherently a better choice, or that you're a bad person for eating regular butter. Think about how everyone thought coconut oil was the miracle cooking oil a few years ago, just because it was new. Now we know coconut oil is not all it was hyped up to be. Aquafaba might be hyped up right now, but knows what we'll think in a few years time.
TL;DR If you eat a vegan diet and want to use aquafaba butter, that's your call, but plain butter from cow's milk is totally fine as well. You should just eat whatever butter you please — no buts about it.