We’ve heard mixed reviews regarding the use of margarine. Some feel it’s a healthy alternative to butter while others feel it is nutritionally deficient with negative health impacts including the use of trans fat. Margarine is a butter substitute using a vegetable oil base with butter flavoring. Margarine is typically 80% oil and is always in a spreadable form whereas butter is diary based and typically in a solid form.
Margarine was created in the 1800’s in France where butter was difficult to come across. Butter was more expensive given the need for milk in order to make it. The invention of margarine came about because Emperor Napoleon III, offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a butter substitute for the military and lower classes. A chemist developed the spread originally called oleomargarine. Eventually the patent was sold to the Jurgens company, yes the same company that makes lotion, which is now owned by Unilever. Margarine was introduced to the United States in the early 80’s.
Unlike the process for making butter (churning cream until it separates) margarine is quite the chemical concoction. It consists of “emulsifying a blend of vegetable oils and fats, which can be modified using fractionation, interesterification, and/or hydrogenation, with skimmed milk, chilling the mixture to solidify it and working it to improve the texture”. I don’t know what any of that means but it’s a long way to re-create something that occurs naturally.
When butter was expensive and a substitute was needed to feed the masses margarine’s popularity is understandable. Today butter and margarine cost roughly the same. While it’s true you can get a huge tub full of margarine for pennies compared to the four sticks of butter, it begs the question, why? Well, according to ABC News butter consumption is at a 40-year high, while margarine has been one a steady decline. The decline in margarine use could be linked to the use of trans fat which has been thought to contribute to heart disease, the leading killer of Black women. Butter contains fat but it’s natural and not created in a lab. However, that doesn’t mean that people should start chowing it down. Everything in moderation.
The return to the use of real butter also is attributed to the taste and how it performs in cooking. Why go for the simulated taste of butter when you can have the real thing? People have been willing to pay the higher price for butter especially when it’s organic and/or non-GMO. Nutritionally speaking it’s better to opt for butter than that huge tub of cheap margarine. However be careful and use in moderation. The fat in butter can still contribute to a higher rate of heart disease and cardiovascular issues. If you just prefer something creamy and smooth to the stick form of butter opt for French or Irish style butters that are in creamy form, or make your own!
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