Here’s the Actual Difference Between Butter and Margarine

Shutterstock / Sea Wave

Butter and margarine are certainly very similar products—they often look alike and have comparable consistencies and functions—but the differences that exist between them are critical.

What is butter?

Butter is a dairy product made from milk or cream. It’s created when cream is vigorously churned, which causes its solids (butterfat) and liquids (buttermilk) to separate, and ultimately results in the firm product we all know and love. The flavor of good butter is second to none, and because of its basic ingredients and straightforward processing, it can easily be made at home. Butter must be at least 80% fat to be sold commercially, and the remaining percentage consists of water and milk proteins.

What is margarine?

Margarine, on the other hand, is made from oil, water, salt, and a few additional ingredients such as emulsifiers. It’s flavored to taste like butter (and it must be said that there was a time when coloring margarine to resemble butter was outlawed in some states!), but usually contains no dairy products at all. Margarine is formed through a complicated chemical process and is therefore not something you can make at home. By law, it must also be at least 80% fat, though manufacturers can get away with less by calling their product a “spread.”

The key difference

It all comes down to the kind of fat involved. As an animal product, butter has high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats that aren’t present in margarine. Margarine, on the other hand, has more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (the good kinds!) but also often contains trans fats (the very bad kind!). Their respective compositions explain why butter is so much firmer than margarine at room temperature—the saturated fats make tightly packed bonds that stay rigid until heat is applied.

Though most bakers and cooks prefer butter for its unparalleled taste, margarine does have its place. Because of its high water content, baked goods made with margarine will often have a softer texture. Be wary when trying to make substitutions—many recipes from old cookbooks call for margarine, and since those have likely been developed to account for that additional water, it’s probably best to follow them to the letter if you can. Butter is ideal for treats like cookies and frosting, however, since those are recipes where its flavor is important and extra water could be detrimental.

Butter and margarine may have their similarities, but they’re fundamentally different. Knowing how each is best applied will result in more kitchen successes and lots of good eats!

Related Links:

 Article by Grace Mannon from Taste of Home. View the original article here.

Americans Eating More Butter Than They Have in the Past 40 Years


There was a funny tumblr post I read recently that goes a little something like this:

“My doctor just told me to eat more Taco Bell. Well, actually he said ‘less McDonald’s,’ but I’m pretty sure I know what he meant.”

Healthy-eating loopholes make the world go-round, and according to the Los Angeles Times, it seems our fuddy-duddy little American heads have managed to logic out a “healthy” reason to eat more butter than we have in the past 40 years. Namely, because butter, unlike margarine, is “all natural.”

“Consumers are changing their perception of food and looking for healthier alternatives,” the executive director of the American Butter Institute Anuja Miner told the LAT, which reports that per-capita butter consumption rose to 5.6 pounds in 2012, up from 4.1 pounds in 1997.

Americans have come to understand that products like margarine tend to be higher in trans fats, which are known to raise bad cholesterol — as opposed to the saturated fats found in butter, which are said to be heart-healthy and raise good cholesterol. Thus, the national increase in creamy butter lovin’.

Check back in 40 years when someone inevitably runs the inverse of the story, because that’s just how the world works.



This Video Settles the Margarine vs. Butter Debate with Science

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 2.32.00 PM

The science-savvy people over at AsapScience have taken the differences between butter and margarine and broken them down on a molecular level. Turns out that butter’s excessive hydrogen bonds are responsible for its high levels of saturated fat, and thus the corresponding risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, the elaborate processing that margarine has to go through to turn it from plant oil to the butter-esque spread means it’s more processed and has more trans fats, which increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

So basically, if you’re a butter person, this video shows you how to explain margarine’s inferiority by dissing its chemical composition and increased trans fats. If you’ve always preferred margarine over butter, you can describe butter’s overcommitment to hydrogen bonding and the corresponding heart stoppage that every doctor warns you about. Or you could always just use olive oil instead. That’s what AsapScience would prefer, anyway.

Peep the video to decide:

H/T LaughingSquid