Naturli’s Organic Vegan Block is a plant-based butter that tops my list of sustainable butters to buy in Ireland – and across Europe for that matter. I’ve been on vacation in Ireland for most of May and became frustrated with the lack of options. I sometimes buy dairy butter – Ireland is famous for it, of course – but there are some ethical issues with dairy that are virtually unavoidable. Most of the vegan butters sold in Ireland (such as Flora) aren’t very close to dairy butter in terms of flavor and texture and also have the downside of being made with palm oil.
Flora is not the worst option as the palm oil is certified as Segregated – a step above the lower RSPO certifications options (Palm Trace and Mixed) that you’ll probably see on the packaging of spreads sold in Lidl and Aldi stores. However, as I pointed out in a GSP post on palm oil certifications, scientists found no significant difference between RSPO-certified and non-certified palm oil plantations for any of the sustainability metrics investigated. So, complete avoidance of commodity palm oil (Malaysian/Indonesian) is the best approach in most cases. Hence my excitement at discovering Naturli’s Organic Vegan Block, thanks to comments from Tash and Frances on my GSP post 🙂
Naturli also has plans to launch product sales in the US, including vegan butter and milk as well as plant-based mince, sausages, and falafel. Unlike the other items in this blog, this particular product is not available in the Grocery Outlet yet. I’m investigating whether Naturli’ is an ethical option more for folk in Europe.
Naturli’ vegan block – taste test
Naturli’s Organic Vegan Block is one of the best plant-based butters I’ve ever had (and I’ve had plenty of them!). It’s probably as good as Miyoko’s vegan butter, which is my go-to plant-based butter in the US, although more neutral in flavor. I subjected my family to a blind test of four different butters, spread on toast. The candidates (and their main ingredients) were as follows:
- Naturli’ Vegan Block: shea butter oil (43%), water, coconut oil (21%), and rapeseed oil (11%), all organic.
- Dairygold Plant-Based spread: rapeseed oil, water, shea butter, and coconut oil.
- Flora Light: water, rapeseed oil, palm oil, sunflower oil (4%) and linseed oil.
- Olive Spread (from Aldi): water, palm oil, olive oil (21%), rapeseed oil.
A couple of things to note: Flora and Aldi’s Olive spread advertise themselves based on sunflower and olive oil content, respectively, yet both contain higher amounts of palm oil than their touted ingredients. Also note that Naturli’ and Dairygold contain similar main ingredients, just in different proportions (and they are organic in the case of Naturli’).
We scored the four spreads (blind) out of 10 and then I added up the scores. Here are the results:
1st: Naturli’ Vegan Block. Everyone’s favorite (or joint-favorite). Average score: 7.5/10.
2nd: Dairygold Plant Based spread. A very close second place, with an average score of 7/10.
3rd. Flora Lighter. Thinner and less buttery with a margarine-like taste. Average score: 5/10
4th. Olive Spread. Everyone’s least favorite, with an average score of 4/10.
In terms of texture, I found the Naturli’ and Dairygold spreads to be very appealing. They spread easily straight from the fridge and on warm toast they melted at about the same rate as dairy butter. I think both of them taste as good as an average dairy butter and, particularly with Naturli’, I think most people wouldn’t notice the difference. Most of the other spreads in Ireland, made with palm oil, taste like margarine – you would not mistake them for dairy butter.
Naturli’ vegan block – Ingredients and Nutrition Facts
Naturli’ vegan block ingredients: Shea butter oil* (43%), water, coconut oil* (21%), rapeseed oil* (11%), salt, almond* (1%), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin*), carrot juice*, lemon juice*, natural sunflower oil flavour. *Organic.
Can be frozen for up to 3 months
Naturli’ vegan block – sustainability
It’s perhaps not surprising that Naturli’ and Dairygold emerged as the winners in terms of taste and texture, as their ingredients are fairly similar. I’d never tasted shea butter before (although I’m a fan of it in soap and moisturizer) but it seems to work really well, combined with coconut oil and rapeseed oil, in plant-based butter. (Rapeseed oil is more commonly known as canola oil in North America – it’s quite commonly grown in Western Europe and easily identified by the bright yellow flowers.)
Naturli’ versus Dairygold plant-butter
I would tend to pick Naturli’ over Dairygold for the main reasons that ingredients are organic and packaging is compostable (a simple paper wrapper). There is another “spreadable” version of Naturli’ that’s packaged in a plastic tub but the block version is already easily spreadable so I would stick with that. Naturli’ provides some information on the carbon footprint of the spreadable product – 2.3 kg of CO2 emissions per kg of Naturli spread, compared to 8.4 kg of CO2 for a dairy-based spread – almost 4 times lower. The breakdown of Naturli’s carbon footprint reveals that the coconut oil comes from the Philippines and shea butter is sourced from Ghana.
Shea butter versus palm oil
Faced with the choice of shea butter versus palm oil as an ingredient, I would choose shea in most cases. There are a few situations where palm oil is acceptable – for example, mission-driven companies like Nutiva and Dr. Bronner’s source organic palm oil from family farms in Ecuador, in conjunction with Palm Done Right. However, the majority of palm oil that’s purchased by large corporations benefits nobody and shea butter is a better choice. Shea trees are an important, but increasingly threatened species in the African savanna and a key source of income for many women in countries such as Ghana.
Shea trees can live for about three centuries, bearing fruit for up to 200 years. The shea tree provides numerous benefits to local communities. – Earth Journalism Network.
Harvesting and processing shea nuts is not an easy way to make a living, so it’s good to support mission-driven companies such as Alaffia soap that purchase fair trade shea butter from women’s cooperatives. I’m hoping that Naturli and Dairygold (Kerry Group) will develop simialr relationships with suppliers, supporting community development and empowerment of women in Africa.
Naturli’ is a Danish company that has been making plant-based products since 1988, but is now owned by Norwegian conglomerate, Orkla. This complicates things a little as Orkla has a more mixed reputation – for example it ranks low on Ethical Consumer for palm oil sourcing. However, Orkla did make some moves in the right direction, starting around 2008, including the elimination of palm oil from the majority of products.
The major selling points of Naturli’, from an ethical perspective, is that it contains no palm oil, is vegan, and is made from organic ingredients. So I think that buying Naturli’ supports moves in the right direction for parent company Orkla – towards sustainable, plant-based products and avoidance of palm oil. See my GSP post for more discussion on whether to support plant-based brands owned by less ethical parent corporations.
Ethical rating for Naturli’ vegan block
Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Naturli vegan block, which I’m rating 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars:
- This butter is vegan, like all Naturli’ products, avoiding the ethical issues of dairy farming.
- Naturli’ is one of the few vegan spreads in Ireland that’s free of palm-oil, and associated ethical issues.
- Organic ingredients, supporting sustainable agriculture and soil health.
- Shea butter sourced from Ghana can (hopefully) support communities and native shea tree populations.
- Plastic-free – packaging is a simple paper wrapper.
- Naturli could do a bit better with communicating on environmental impact and ingredient sourcing.
Summary scores (out of 5) for Naturli’ vegan block:
- 5 gold stars for quality and value
- 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact
If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )