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Butter vs. Margarine
The Difference Between Butter and Margarine
It is possible that you prefer either butter or margarine based on flavor alone. Butter and margarine differ in nutrition as well, which is important to consider when choosing one or the other.
There are positive and negative aspects of both margarine and butter. When the facts are weighed surrounding their ingredients, performance, and nutritional makeup, which one comes out ahead?
In general, margarine contains natural plant and seed oils, whey or lactose, salt, water, vitamin A, vitamin D, color, flavor, and additives. The manufacturers, of course, have their own recipes. Some varieties may exclude the dairy and/or additives, for instance.
Butter is generally made using cream, milk solids, water, and salt. Non-homogenized milk separates, with the fattiest portion rising to the top and the low-fat liquid sinking to the bottom. The fattiest portion that has risen is the cream used to make butter. Butter in America is 80% to 81% butterfat and 19% to 20% milk solids and water. Butter in Europe has a higher butterfat percentage, ranging from 82% to 88%.
There is bad news for both butter and margarine. Butter is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, whereas margarine is high in trans fat. Additionally, margarine contains nickel, which is used during a solidification process.
On the bright side, butter contains vitamins A, D, E, and K. Depending on the recipe, margarine may have vitamins A and D. Margarine contains a higher amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats than butter. Polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat are considered good fats because they assist in lowering cholesterol levels.
Used in Baking
Used in Cooking
It is important to consider the smoke point of oils used in cooking. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and produce smoke. Once oil has broken down, it is believed to contain a significant amount of free radicals, increasing the risk of cancer.
The smoke point of butter is rather low, at 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Unfortunately, there isn’t an accurate comparison for margarine because the type of oil that is used in margarine varies by brand. As a rule of thumb, assume the smoke point for margarine is about the same as that for butter.
Whipped butter contains approximately half the saturated fat and cholesterol as stick butter. Also with about half the saturated fat and cholesterol as regular butter are varieties made with olive oil or canola oil. Similarly, margarine is healthier as a spread than as a stick.
Options exist for vegans and people with dairy sensitivities. There are brands of margarine available that don’t contain whey, lactose, casein, or caseinate, which are dairy products.
Though they don’t fall into the discussion of butter vs. margarine, it is worthy to note that there are a number of oils with higher smoke points than butter that make excellent alternatives for cooking. Canola oil has a smoke point of 425 degrees F (218 degrees C). Safflower oil ranks among the highest smoke points, at 475 degrees F (246 degrees C).
Butter and margarine should both be stored in a refrigerator or freezer. Butter has a shelf life of 1-2 months in a refrigerator and 9 months in a freezer. Margarine has a longer shelf life, generally around 4-5 months in a refrigerator and up to 12 months in a freezer.
Conclusion… is Butter Better?
It’s up for debate which of these products is better. It depends on nutritional goals, how it will be used, and dietary restrictions. In the end, it may even be better to use oil. Which will you grab when you cook your next meal or bake your next batch of cookies?