Vortex beams (also known as beams with a phase singularity) consist of spiralling wavefronts that give rise to angular momentum around the propagation direction. Vortex photon beams are widely used in applications such as optical tweezers to manipulate micrometre-sized particles and in micro-motors to provide angular momentum, improving channel capacity in optical and radio-wave information transfer, astrophysics and so on. Very recently, an experimental realization of vortex beams formed of electrons was demonstrated. Here we describe the creation of vortex electron beams, making use of a versatile holographic reconstruction technique in a transmission electron microscope. This technique is a reproducible method of creating vortex electron beams in a conventional electron microscope. We demonstrate how they may be used in electron energy-loss spectroscopy to detect the magnetic state of materials and describe their properties. Our results show that electron vortex beams hold promise for new applications, in particular for analysing and manipulating nanomaterials, and can be easily produced.