• Jen Hettenhouse

Butter? Margarine?


Hello ZubCakers! Recently, there has been some debate on cake forums I am a part of. Butter? Or Margarine?


Oh dear...this might get drawn out. But before I go into any detail, just know that the answer is no. Margarine was not, in fact, invented to fatten up turkeys only for them to die of clogged arteries later. Not even sure where that myth came from. I mean, I guess if you force fed the turkey 30 pounds of margarine or dropped a case on his head, then yes, it would in fact kill him. So would butter. And rocks. And water. Margarine, in fact, was invented in 1869 by Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. You see, Napoleon III needed a food source that was filling, cheap, and would not easily spoil so he could feed his troops. Margarine was that food source. Margarine is not one molecule away from plastic either. Many substances share similar chemical structures or compositions, but it’s the variations in these structures or ways they are arranged that make a difference in their properties and to the end product.Most types of margarine are blends of vegetable oils, while plastics are usually a polymer (chain of repeating molecules) of ethylene molecules (four hydrogen atoms and two carbon atoms). Even if they were both made from vegetable oil the variation in their chemical structures would result in different end products. So adding another molecule to margarine does not turn it into plastic. Here is the simple truth about margarine: *It has the same amount of calories as butter. *Margarine is slightly lower in saturated fat (this is why it seems to be softer at room temperature.) *Very high in trans fats. *Margarine increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol.) *Lowers the quality of breast milk. *Decreases immune and insulin response. *Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study. Now that the facts are out of the way, I'll touch on my personal opinion. I've never been a butter or margarine eater. I don't like the stuff. The greasy film left behind, that tangy, salty residue that you can taste for minutes after you are done eating. I am simply put, not a fan. However, as a baker, I have to embrace fats. Fats are what makes a cake tender and biscuits flaky. Fats are what provide moisture to breads and cookies. Fats are what make an icing soft and delicate and melt in the mouth. Margarine is made up of mostly water (something like 60-65% water.) Butter on the other hand, not only is it natural, it is 80% fat. Butter, because it is natural, is easy to determine if it has soured by smell alone, not to mention taste, and pretty quickly too. Margarine, not so easy. It might smell fine. Might even taste fine. But if rancid, you can get sick. Butter firms up better at room temperature since it is mostly fat, margarine stays relatively soft. That can have a huge impact on my frostings, my baked goods, and glazes. For "health reasons," my family eats butter. Due to its high saturated fat content, it has been blamed for increased risk for overweight and heart disease. However, several studies point to the contrary. Moderate consumption of butter may actually have a number of health benefits. So in other words, less risk of heart disease, and this one is important to us since I was born with a heart defect. And even then, very rarely. (Let's face it, I make cakes, how healthy can my family really be?) And for baking? I still only use butter. Unsalted butter at that. You really can taste the difference. Look, butter is a saturated fat. This means all its carbon bonds are filled, mostly with hydrogen. While previously villainized as evil, saturated fats have been cleared of wrong doing and are essential to good health. Did you know that butterfat is 30% monounsaturated fat? That's the same kind of healthful fat found in olive oil and canola oil. Besides being irresistibly flavourful, butter is a source of vitamin A, a nutrient important for healthy skin and eyes, as well as for strong bones and teeth. And where as I would never try to make a claim that my cakes are healthy, I will make the claim that they are all from scratch and they are all made with minimal processed ingredients. If you choose margarine for your family and your baked good, more power to you. Seriously. Some people really enjoy the taste of margarine over butter. And in the end, what is one unhealthy habit such as eating margarine when there are so many worst alternatives out there? For me though, I value the taste butter gives my baked goods. I value the look it gives my frostings. So, my cakes, made with love, from me to you, will always be margarine free.


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