When running my bakery I initially planned to solely use vegan based margarines that were dairy free. However the need for butter couldn’t be ignored since the adage “butter makes everything better” proved itself true when making french and italian styled butter creams. Soon I was baking with unfathomable amounts of butter everyday and the initial shock of it took some getting used to.
At first I felt guilty as I figured the tagline of being a health conscious, whole food, natural and from scratch establishment somehow became tainted by the usage of butter. But as I learned more about vegan margarine and researched ingredient lists I began to question the “healthful” claims of the vegan spread movement. Could butter be that bad? Is vegan margarine really healthier? The age old debates rages on but here’s what I found:
The butter debate continues to rage on…
The proof is in the pudding (or in this case the butter)
Simply put natural butter contains three ingredients:
- Milk Fat
- Milk Solids
All three of these are natural ingredients. Real butter in gluten free. Real butter comes from heavy cream. Here’s the science:
The fat globules in the cream are completely surrounded and suspended in a network of emulsifying compounds in the water. As you shake the cream, the fats get shaken out of their emulsifying network, find each other and join together. As they join together they start to solidify and the water can be drained away to a point. Voila! Butter.
What is Margarine exactly?
Margarine is totally different. It is a highly processed food that was invented to replace butter. The primary ingredient is vegetable oil along with emulsifiers, colorants, other artificial ingredients.
Vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature. This is why margarine is often hydrogenated, which gives it a harder consistency and extends shelf life. Hydrogenation also turns some of the vegetable oils into trans fats.
Earth Balance one popular brand of vegan margarine that I used prominently has 11 ingredients. It has the dubious “natural flavor. All of which are constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in a food lab. It’s a man-made food additive, a chemical. Aside from soy lecithin and annatto, two ingredients our bodies had never encountered before the 20th century, Earth Balance features a “natural oil blend” of palm and soybean oils. Simply put making margarine takes a massive amount of processing and additives.
Butter can be made with heavy cream and a churn. Literally by anyone.
It’s true that many vegan margarines can contain coconut and palm oil bases but there is controversy over the environmental devastation that occurs to obtain palm oil and others.
What the experts say
The American Heart Association suggests buying soft, trans-fat-free spreads instead of regular butter or stick margarine.
They recommend for daily use to choose a blend with the least amount of saturated fat and zero trans fats. Check the ingredients: If it says partially hydrogenated oils, it still has some trans fat (less than 0.5 gram per serving), even if the label says trans fat free.
This is not an exposé on the ills of margarine. I simply wanted to share my research into this debate and share my findings. In the end each one of us as foodies has to make the choice we feel comfortable with when it comes to what we eat and how we eat it. However these choices should be based on the facts and not myth. Additionally balance and moderation is the name of the game when it comes to our everyday diet.
No one will die from consuming butter in moderation.
In fact a diet of whole, real, and varied foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and goods fats is the best way to go. Butter certainly fits the bill when looking at it from this perspective. For those who choose a strict vegan diet butter may not be for you and that is OK.
For the rest of us, using butter in moderation will not do to much harm and I for one can’t pretend that that doesn’t mean a thing to me. Especially when I’m eating italian meringue butter cream on a cupcake.
For more insight and information on butter and butter alternatives visit: