Great question! It depends on your nutritional needs and your taste preferences. I use butter because I think the flavor cannot be beaten in baking, and I prefer a whole-food approach to my diet, but some, especially on low-cholesterol diets, may opt for margarine instead.
Let’s talk a bit more about both to help you decide what to keep in your fridge!
What Is The Difference Between Butter And Margarine?
Butter is produced from the fatty portion of milk, typically sourced from cows. It is composed of milk fat, water, and milk solids. The butter-making process involves the separation of cream from the milk, followed by vigorous agitation that causes the fat globules to break and then stick together. This transformative procedure, commonly called churning, effectively isolates the fat from the buttermilk, yielding delightful butter. You can easily make it at home with heavy cream and electric beaters!
Margarine was made initially to replace butter as a healthier and cheaper non-dairy alternative, although whether it is still considered healthier is debated among the healthcare community. It is typically made from vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, or canola. Margarine is made using a process called hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable oils into a solid form by adding hydrogen molecules to the oil.
Nutritional Profiles Of Butter and Margarine
Butter offers a multitude of nutritional benefits that make it a valuable addition to your diet. It is a rich source of essential vitamins like A, E, and K and contains healthy fatty acids that contribute to overall well-being. Butter maintains its pure and natural properties by using simple whole-food ingredients such as cream and occasional salt. However, it’s important to note that butter does contain cholesterol and is high in saturated fat.
Margarine offers a choice for those conscious of their saturated fat and cholesterol intake. It is typically cholesterol-free and boasts higher levels of unsaturated fats. However, it is important to be mindful of the potential presence of trace amounts of trans fats in certain margarine varieties. Margarine is high in nutrients like vitamins A and E and essential fatty acids.
The Fat Factor: The Different Fats In Butter and Margarine
Butter is made of milk fat, which mainly contains saturated fats and a small amount of trans fat. The primary fat in butter is saturated, at 7.3 grams per tablespoon. Saturated fat can be found in animal and vegetable products. The term ‘saturated’ indicates they have been ‘saturated’ with hydrogen atoms. This fat is often considered ‘unhealthy’ as it can raise cholesterol levels in the blood.
Margarine’s fat ratio depends greatly on what brand you buy, but the primary fat is usually monounsaturated at 5.5 – 6.3 grams per tablespoon. Monounsaturated fat is a beneficial dietary fat that can improve cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats are often liquid at room temperature but can become solid when refrigerated.
Margarine also contains decent levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are essential fatty acids. Still, there is growing discussion about the inflammatory nature of a diet too high in omega-6, so some prefer avoiding oil products high in these.
Comparing the Flavor Profiles of Butter and Margarine
Butter is rich, creamy and enhances the flavor of any dish. I prefer salted European butter, which gives my cooking a savory and rich flavor. You can also find:
- Unsalted: Unsalted butter contains no added salt.
- European style: European-style butter has a higher fat content than regular butter, giving it a smoother texture and richer flavor.
- Clarified (ghee): Clarified butter has been heated to remove water and milk solids, resulting in a rich, nutty flavor.
It is an excellent option for low-heat cooking, such as braising and sautéing meats, veggies, and mushrooms, and perfect in baking to get that light and flaky texture.
Margarine can try all it likes, but it tastes very different to butter. Some may prefer it as it is not as rich and is creamy and mild. There are a range of excellent vegan butters around these days that taste more like butter than margarine, so if I want a vegan-friendly alternative in my baking, I would opt for one of those.
What Is Best To Cook With, Butter Or Margarine?
Butter is incredibly versatile in the kitchen and can be used in various cooking techniques. Use it for light sautéing, creating flavorful brown butter sauces, caramelizing onions, and pan-frying meat or fish. However, butter is not ideal for high-heat cooking past 300-350 degrees due to its somewhat low smoke point. In this case, consider ghee!
Baking with butter adds richness and flavor to baked goods, making them tender and moist. It’s perfect for flaky pastries, cookies, cakes, and buttercream frosting.
Margarine typically has a higher smoke point than butter, meaning it can withstand higher temperatures without burning, so it may be a better choice than butter for higher-heat cooking. It is not as good in baking, though, as the taste and texture are slightly different than butter, as it is softer with a lower percentage of saturated fat.
So, when it comes to specific recipes, it’s essential to consider the role of the fat. For example, if you’re making pie crust or biscuits, butter will give you the best flavor and ability to create a flaky texture. However, if you’re making a stir-fry, margarine may be a better choice due to its higher smoke point and ability to handle high temperatures.
For me, when it comes to cooking and baking, butter is the clear winner. While it is higher in saturated fat than margarine, butter simply can’t be beaten when it comes to flavor and performance in the kitchen – just make sure not to overheat it!
Butter is a dairy product made from churning cream or milk, while margarine is a non-dairy product made from vegetable oils.
Some margarines are not vegan and contain things like milk solids or animal-derived vitamin D fortification. Read the packaging, choose a vegan-certified brand, or choose vegan butter.
Yes, butter and margarine can generally be used interchangeably in baking. However, the texture and taste of the final product may vary.
Yes, both butter and margarine can be frozen for extended storage. It is recommended to wrap them tightly to prevent freezer burn.