What is the Difference Between Butter and Margarine? Which is Healthier?

Although used for the same purpose, butter and margarine are two different products. The most important feature that distinguishes them is the way they are obtained and therefore the types of oil they contain. Those who taste margarine and butter know how different these oils are from each other. Especially the taste of quality butter is amazing. While butter is made from animal fat, margarine is made with vegetable oil. This difference affects flavor, texture and nutrition.

Historical Background of Butter

The origin of butter goes back thousands of years. It is thought that butter was accidentally produced by shaking the milk in bags during its transport from one place to another. It has been the favorite food of societies that live on livestock in regions such as the Middle East, Central Asia, Anatolia and Northern Europe.

There are milk and churn shapes obtained from cows milked on stone reliefs from the Sumerians.

These reliefs belonging to 3500-3100 BC are currently exhibited in the Baghdad Museum. According to the reliefs, the Sumerians used dairy products and discovered how to make butter. Information about making butter is also found in Egyptian papyri, whose history corresponds to 1800 BC. These papyri mention a food that an Egyptian ate while in Sinai. According to this information, it is estimated that the Egyptians did not know about butter, but it was probably produced by the Bedouins. The first written source was found in a 4500-year-old limestone tablet showing how butter was made.

In ancient times, Europeans believed that butter was consumed by northern barbarians (Vikings). In Europe, the word butter bread started to be heard only in the 16th century, and sandwiches that were spread on 2 slices of bread and covered on top of each other became widespread in the 17th century. Butter became widespread in the Netherlands in the 8th century. The people of France were divided into those who ate olive oil and those who ate butter, and butter was produced only in certain places. Butter came to Paris in the 18th century from a small town (Gournay) located near the city of Dieppe.

Butter was more recognized and used by the public following the development in the dairy economy in the 10th century AD, it became a commercial product in the 12th and 13th centuries and began to be salted so that it could be transported without spoiling, so the use of butter in bakery products, sauces and cakes became widespread in Europe. Although the original butter was obtained in churns made of wood, butter-producing enterprises started to emerge in the middle of the 19th century, milk was preserved for a longer time by pasteurization, and it became easier to obtain butter with centrifugation. Butter factories were established in the 20th century, but were sold unpackaged until 1950. Butter took its first place on the shelves in 1950, as packaged. Today, it is produced rapidly with more modern technologies and in accordance with some determined standards.

What Kind of Food Is Butter?

Used around the world for thousands of years (about 9000), butter is a dairy product made from churned milk or cream. The churning process separates the butter (solids) from the buttermilk (liquid). The most commonly purchased butter is made from cow’s milk, but there are other varieties made from sheep, goat or buffalo milk. Butter obtained using whey, ayran, yoghurt is also available. Typically pale yellow, the color of butter can range from white to dark yellow depending on the food the animal eats and the seasons. If butter is made with sheep’s or goat’s milk, it can be lighter in color. It is possible to make butter at home.

Butter Types

Since butter is an animal fat, it contains cholesterol and is higher in saturated fat than margarine. Some of the butter that is sold in markets or dairies is salty, some without salt. Salty (at most 2%) butter will last a little longer. If salt is not used in meals, salt-free ones can be preferred. It works for all types of cooking, from baking to sautéing unsalted butter. Some of the commercial butter is sweet and some are sour cream. If the creams used in the production of butter are ripe, the pH ratio (acidity) is lower (pH between 4.7 and 5.4).

Different types of butter can be found in the market, dairy, organic market and neighborhood markets. One of them is churn butter.

Churn butter: Yoghurt is used while making it. Milk fat should be at least 80-90%. Other types of butter are below:

Organic butter: Made from the milk of cows grown without antibiotics or growth hormones and fed with herbs or 100% organic feed grown without toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It is available with and without salt and can be used like traditional butter.

Breakfast (pasteurized) butter: Milk cream pasteurized. These butter are obtained by adding special butter cultures and the minimum milk fat content should be 82%.

What is Margarine?

Margarine is not a dairy substitute for butter. Margarine is a processed food chemically created from refined polyunsaturated fats. While it was originally produced from animal fat in the 1800’s, today its primary ingredients are vegetable oil, water, salt, emulsifiers. Some also contain milk. Not all margarines are made the same. There are variations from brand to brand and therefore it is important to read the labels of the packages. Unlike butter, margarine is not something that can be made at home. Like butter, regular margarine must contain a minimum of 80 percent fat by law. Margarines less than this ratio are considered as spreadable fat. The fat content of margarine and spreads can range from 10 to 90 percent. Since the primary ingredient in margarines is vegetable oil, it lacks the cholesterol and saturated fat found in butter, and has a higher percentage of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. However, margarines may contain trans fats. The process normally used to make oil spreadable is called hydrogenation. Margarine and similar hydrogenated or processed polyunsaturated fats are more harmful to health than saturated fats. Although many brands have eliminated or reduced trans fats completely, they use palm oil and palm kernel oil instead. Although the fat content is lower than butter, margarines contain more water, which makes the products harder to cook.

Butter or Margarine? Which is Better?

Since the early 1920s, butter has been pushed aside and has been said to have deadly saturated fats that cause heart disease. However, butter, which has no evidence of its negative effects on health, has been the basis of nutrition in many cultures thousands of years ago. While heart diseases were rare in the early part of the century, between 1920 and 1960, heart disease was on the rise, becoming the number one killer of people. Butter consumption decreased in the same period. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet have been blamed for a long time because it causes heart and coronary vascular diseases. Numerous studies that cost hundreds of millions of dollars have not been able to definitively support this claim. Despite this, the view remained that a healthy diet should not contain minimum fat, especially saturated fat. Actually, butter contains many nutrients that protect us from heart disease. In America, natural animal fat intake such as butter and meat has been greatly reduced, but the processed food industry, especially the low-fat food industry, has proliferated. Worried about the health of their children, mothers started to replace butter with margarine. Manufacturers said margarine was a healthier alternative, and mothers believed them. As a result, while the average saturated fat intake of Americans has decreased significantly since the early 1970s, rates of obesity, diabetes, and associated heart disease have increased.


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