What’s the Difference Between Butter and Margarine?

by on November 8th, 2010
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Margarine is a spread and butter is too, but they are different condiments. The difference between the two doesn’t go far beyond flavor and texture, and learning which one is best for diet and health is important for making an informed decision between the two. To know what the differences are, it’s important to understand what each is first.

What is Butter?

Butter is beaten cream that is primarily comprised of the fat globules from the top part of the cream skimmed from milk, usually from cows. Most butter is all natural, and some has salt added while others are salt free. Butter must be refrigerated, and it can be kept in the freezer to store it longer.

What is Margarine?

Margarine is a man-made invention consisting mostly of hydrogenated vegetables or animal fat oils, coloring agents and flavoring added. The coloring agents and flavoring might or might not be natural. Margarine tends to separate when it’s been frozen and then thawed, so it doesn’t keep as long as butter in that respect, but it can be melted and refrigerated against without losing much of its consistency.

What Are the Differences between Butter and Margarine?

Unless someone’s palate is particularly discerning, when cooking or baking, there might be no noticeable difference in flavor or consistency when butter or margarine is used in a recipe, with the exception being items like butter cookies, which rely heavily on the cream aspect of butter containing whey or milk products.

When cooking in a frying pan, margarine tends to separate the oil and water content and loses a little flavor that way, so butter stands up better when frying.

As a spread on breads or other items, the biggest difference is the ease of spreading and the flavor. Butter tends to be thicker and have a richer flavor while margarine spreads easier and have a more subtle flavor.

Which is Healthier, Butter or Margarine?

As far as the human body is concerned, neither full-fat margarine nor butter is particularly healthy for the body, but when either is used in moderation, neither can cause any serious health concerns. The key here is: moderation.

While the fat content of butter and margarine are both high at about 80% fat content, moderate use of a small pat or two of butter or margarine per day isn’t usually enough fat to worry about. However, drenching foods in butter or margarine changes the health aspect of both condiments.

Nutritionally, most butters and margarines are nearly identical to the body. There are, however, low-fat and reduced sodium or reduced cholesterol margarine spreads that might be healthier when used in combination with a healthier low-fat or low-cholesterol diet. These slight benefits should be discussed with a health care professional or nutritionist about which is best for any given dietary and health needs.

Which Tastes Better, Butter or Margarine?

To answer whether margarine or butter tastes better one simply needs to try both. Butter has a creamier and fuller flavor while margarine is smoother and has softer consistency. It likely comes down to personal taste, since all other things nutritionally are similar.


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