Deciding between margarine and olive oil is a situation that I’ve certainly come across before, especially for cooking. Created as a plant-based alternative to butter, margarine is a great way to add creaminess to any recipe. Meanwhile, olive oil has a reputation for being heart-healthy and versatile, making it a winner in many dishes. If you’re at a crossroads, read on to learn more about the differences between olive oil and margarine!
Comparing margarine vs olive oil
|Margarine (hard stick)||Margarine (soft)||Olive Oil (Light/Pure/Regular)|
|Solid or Liquid?||Solid||Solid||Liquid|
|Smoke Point (Fahrenheit)||410 – 430 degrees||410 – 430 degrees||390 – 470 degrees|
|Good for Cooking…||Raw, low heat, medium heat||Raw, low heat, medium heat||Raw, low heat, medium heat, high heat|
|Common allergens||Soy, corn, etc.||Soy, corn, etc.||Olive, olive pollen|
|Paleo?||No||No||If it is not refined|
Differences between margarine and olive oil
The key differences that distinguish the two most are their composition and origin. Margarine is plant-based and derived from vegetable oils, while olive oil is extracted from olives and is a natural product that has been enjoyed for centuries. Its distinct flavors will differ depending on factors like the variety of olives and where they were cultivated. Margarine is a processed product that often has added emulsifiers and flavorings to mimic butter.
If we’re looking at dietary considerations, both margarine and olive oil have the benefit of being dairy-free and, thus, vegan-friendly. They’re additionally both keto-friendly and gluten-free, and unrefined olive oil can even be paleo-friendly. But if you have any allergies relating to soy or corn, it’s best to stay away from margarine.
At 390 – 470 degrees, olive oil has a varied smoke point. If you’re looking for a higher smoke point, go for refined or light olive oil. They’re less prone to burning at higher temperatures, which means you can use them comfortably for high-heat cooking methods like pan frying and roasting. Margarine has a medium smoke point, so it’s best to reserve it for non-high-heat cooking techniques.
Baking and cooking with margarine vs olive oil
As I mentioned, margarine is better suited for low to medium-heat cooking, like low-heat sautéing and baking. I don’t recommend margarine for frying, as it contains too much water, which is what makes it spreadable. That said, it’s great for adding a rich and creamy texture to cookies, muffins, and flaky pie crusts. I recommend using sticks of margarine for baking, as they are more similar to baking with butter. It’s essentially a great swap for anything that calls for butter – personally, I enjoy using it for basting meats and creating sauces.
Olive oil isn’t typically my go-to for baking, but it can give a wonderfully moist and tender crumb to recipes that need it – think cakes and muffins, for example. For cooking, though, olive oil is my favorite. It’s incredibly versatile, and I use it for everything from sautéing vegetables, searing meats, and making stir-fries.
Can margarine and olive oil be substituted for each other?
Substituting margarine and olive oil for each is possible in certain situations, but you’ll clearly notice a difference in flavor, texture, and overall outcome. While olive oil does have a generally neutral flavor, it can provide slightly fruity or peppery notes that you might not want in some recipes. You also won’t get the richness and creaminess you’d get with margarine, as olive oil has a lower solid-fat content.
The best substitute for olive oil is avocado oil, as it’s good for regular and high-heat cooking. For margarine, vegan butter is the best all-around substitute and is additionally paleo-friendly, while ghee is the top choice for high-heat cooking.
Nutrition: Margarine vs olive oil
Both types of margarine and olive oil have monounsaturated fats as their main fat – olive oil with a hefty 10g per tablespoon. That’s good news, as they can lower bad cholesterol and provide plenty of nutrients to benefit your body’s cells.
Interestingly, the more solid a margarine is, the higher its concentration of saturated fat. While soft margarine contains 1.6g per tablespoon, hard stick margarine contains 2.1g. Margarine is usually made from partially or fully hydrogenated vegetable oil, which may contain trans fats. It was previously considered a healthy alternative to butter because of its lower saturated fat content, but that has been debated more recently.
Although monounsaturated fats are good for you, always use any cooking oils or fats sparingly.
|Per tablespoon (15mL)||Margarine (hard stick)||Margarine (soft)||Olive oil|
|Polyunsaturated||3.4 g||3.0 g||1.5 g|
|Monounsaturated||5.5 g||6.3 g||10 g|
|Saturated||2.1 g||1.6 g||2 g|
|Trans||0 g||0 g||0 g|
|Total Fat||11.3 g||11.2 g||14 g|
The primary fat source is bolded.
How to store margarine and olive oil
Olive oil should never be left out on your counter. To keep olive oil fresh and make it last, store your bottle in a cool, dark place, away from light and heat sources. It’s typically found in an opaque bottle to block out sunlight. Unopened, it can last around 18 to 24 months, while an opened bottle should be used within six months. Margarine has more additives than regular butter, so it has a longer shelf life. Opened, it should last around 2 – 3 months, while unopened, it will last up to 4 – 5 months past the “best by” date.
Margarine vs olive oil: Which is better?
So, which is better? Personally, I find myself gravitating to margarine for baking. It’s such a versatile and reliable plant-based substitute for butter for every recipe under the sun. I see olive oil a lot like how I see margarine but for cooking. It’s versatile and can be used for virtually anything, with the benefit of being healthful and elegant. There are so many cooking oils and fats that can drastically change your baking or cooking, so why not add some new ones to your roster?
There are likely a couple of margarine options made from olive oil. My two favorites are soft Becel with Olive Oil and Earth Balance. They both contain zero trans fats, which is a bonus. If you’re looking for hard stick margarine, Country Crock makes an excellent product for cooking, baking, and spreading.
Neither is objectively better than the other. Margarine has its own advantages in baking, for its ability to mimic the richness of butter, while olive oil has strong nutritional benefits and an ability to elevate dishes. Both have plenty of unique qualities that make them more suitable for certain situations, so it’s all up to personal preference.