In search of a suitable dairy-free butter or margarine, I have turned to Earth Balance, not to be confused with Smart Balance. (I seriously didn't know these were two different brands until I did the research for this post.) Earth Balance has created a line of natural, oil-based spreads that the company says promotes healthy cholesterol levels. As a non-dietitian I don't exactly know what to make of the company's claims. However, as a mom of kids with food allergies, I'm very happy to have Earth Balance as a safe option for when a recipe calls for that buttery taste and texture. It's not a perfect substitute for real butter (because stores I visit never seem to carry the stick form) but I think it's the best dairy-free butter substitute on the market and at a reasonable price for our family.
Earth Balance has many varieties of spreads -- some with dairy, some without, at least one without dairy or soy. Trust me, it can be confusing. So read and reread the labels before you buy it. I've made the mistake of buying the wrong kind but, luckily, I've conditioned myself to check labels right before I break open anything so I caught my oversight before giving any to my kids.
Out of the big grocery chains in my area, Trader Joe's has the best price for vegan Earth Balance. (I haven't seen the dairy-free, soy-free version there, though.) For more information on Earth Balance and their products, check out their website.
If you are dairy-free, what butter substitutes do you like?