When I was growing up, there was always a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter in our refrigerator. We slathered it on homemade biscuits and cornbread, smeared it on our weekend morning toast, slid globs of it across hot ears of corn and plopped big dollops of it in our mashed potatoes.
When we went to my grandparents’ house, there’d always be margarine in the refrigerator there, too. If I recall correctly, Grandma preferred to buy Country Crock, and she called it “oleo”, not margarine.
But whatever you call it, it ain’t butter. And while I am nowhere near as particular about the things I eat as most food writers, I decided years ago to use real butter about as often as I possibly could. Why? Because it just doesn’t seem natural to me to eat something that is PATENTED. Let’s take a moment to study the definitions of margarine and butter, as found in the food Bible, “Food Lover’s Companion.”
Margarine: “A butter substitute developed and patented by French chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries in 1869. His creation was the result of a contest promoted by the Emperor Napoleon III to find an inexpensive alternative for the then scarce and expensive butter… In order for margarine to become solid, the oil must undergo a chemical transformation known as hydrogenation… During hydrogenation, extra hydrogen atoms are pumped into unsaturated fat, a process that creates trans fatty acids and converts the mixture into a saturated fat… To make this butter substitute taste and look more like the real thing, cream or milk is often added. Food coloring, preservatives, emulsifiers and vitamins A and D are also common additives.”
Butter: “Made by churning cream until it reaches a semisolid state, butter must by U.S. law be at least 80 percent milk fat. The remaining 20 percent consists of water and milk solids. The U.S. Department of Agriculture grades butter quality based on flavor, body, texture, color and salt… The grades, beginning with the finest, are AA (93 score), A (92 score), B (90 score) and C (89 score). AA and A grades are those most commonly found at the retail level. Butter may be artificially colored (with natural annatto); it may be salted or unsalted.”
In case you are wondering, annatto comes from the flavorless seed of a tree. So, hmmmm… although I’m pretty sure the writer of this book had her leanings when it comes to butter vs. margarine, I ask: Which sounds more natural to you?
Having said all that, I’m not going to argue that butter is good for you. It is rich, fatty and delicious, and we all know that anything rich, fatty and delicious will kill you. It is mostly saturated fat. The good news regarding margarine is that they now make cholesterol-lowering margarines that contain no hydrogenated trans fatty acids. I have tried one brand made from olive oil and found it to be quite good.
But when it comes to cooking, I’m still going to reach for something made by a cow instead of a chemist. I just try to use it in moderation and save those one- or two-stick recipes for the holidays, when we all throw caution to the wind and go whole-hog, whole- cream, whole-fat.
So what’s in your refrigerator? Butter or margarine? Or both?