For a long time, butter was the go-to choice in cooking and baking. But then margarine came along as a strong competitor… People were looking for something that tasted good, was healthier, and could be used in many different ways. Margarine seemed to offer all that.
But what exactly is margarine? Let’s find out!
What is margarine?
Margarine is a butter substitute typically made from vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola, or sunflower oil, which undergo a process called hydrogenation to solidify them at room temperature.
Margarine is primarily made from vegetable oils, but it can also contain other ingredients to enhance its taste, texture, and shelf life. These additional ingredients may include emulsifiers, flavorings, colorants, and preservatives.
It’s important to note that some margarine brands may contain common allergens like soy, corn, dairy, or gluten. Therefore, individuals with food allergies or dietary restrictions should carefully read the ingredient labels before consuming margarine.
How is margarine made?
The production of margarine involves several steps, starting with the extraction of vegetable oils.
These oils are typically obtained from oil-rich plants, such as soybeans or canola seeds, through processes like pressing or solvent extraction. Once the oils are obtained, they undergo hydrogenation, a process that involves adding hydrogen atoms to the unsaturated fats in the oils. This hydrogenation process converts the liquid oils into a solid form, creating the desired texture for margarine.
After hydrogenation, the margarine undergoes further processing to improve its consistency, flavor, and shelf life. Emulsifiers are added to ensure that the oil and water components of margarine are properly mixed and remain stable. Flavorings and colorants may also be added to mimic the taste and appearance of butter. Finally, preservatives are included to extend the shelf life and prevent spoilage.
What’s the difference between margarine and butter?
While margarine is predominantly made from vegetable oils, butter is derived from animal milk, typically cow’s milk.
The main type of fat also differs between the two. Butter is predominantly composed of saturated fat, while margarine typically contains mostly monounsaturated fats, depending on the specific brand and formulation.
In most recipes, butter can be used as a substitute for margarine, and vice versa, although there may be slight differences in taste and texture. They have different melting points, which is why margarine can sometimes leave a greasy after-taste.
In my opinion, it’s hard to replicate the taste of butter without a ton of artificial flavor additives, but if you’re trying to reduce your saturated fat intake, margarine may be a good alternative.
Types of margarine
Margarine comes in two main forms:
Solid margarine: Solid margarine is hard at room temperature and typically comes in stick or tub formats, making it convenient for baking. It can be easily measured and incorporated into recipes, such as pie crusts, cookies, or pastries.
Soft margarine: Soft margarine is smooth and spreadable straight from the refrigerator, making it a convenient choice for spreading on sandwiches, melting over vegetables, or using as a topping for pancakes or waffles.
Benefits of margarine
As I mentioned earlier, margarine often has lower saturated fat compared to butter, making it a popular option for those watching their cholesterol levels or looking to reduce their intake of saturated fats.
For those who are vegan, lactose intolerant, or follow a dairy-free lifestyle, margarine provides a buttery taste without any dairy ingredients (check your labels!).
Margarine is super easy to spread on your favorite bread, toast, or bagel straight out of the fridge. No more waiting for your butter to soften! It’s also very versatile for baking and cooking, which I’ll get to next!
Margarine nutrition facts
|Serving size (1 tablespoon/15mL)
|Margarine (hard stick)
The primary fat source is bolded.
How to cook and bake with margarine
Margarine generally has a higher smoke point than butter, making it suitable for cooking at higher temperatures without burning or smoking. However, it’s important to note that margarine can contain water, which may cause splattering when used for high-heat cooking methods. In that case, a high smoke point oil may be better.
To cook with margarine, simply melt it in a pan over low to medium heat and use it as a substitute for butter or oil in your favorite recipes. In my experience, margarine works well for sautéing vegetables, frying eggs, or even making a delicious grilled cheese sandwich!
When it comes to baking, margarine can be used in a variety of recipes, including cakes, cookies, pies, and bread. It can be creamed with sugar to create a light and fluffy texture in cakes or used as a fat substitute in vegan baking.
Ways to use margarine
I’ve already mentioned a few, but here are some of the best ways to use margarine:
- Spreading on bread, toast, and bagels
- Baking cookies, cakes, pastries, and flaky pie crusts
- Making creamy sauces and gravies
- Enhancing the flavor of steamed vegetables
- Incorporating into mashed potatoes
- Coating pans for baking or cooking
- Melting and drizzling over popcorn
- Mixing into scrambled eggs or omelets
- Marinating meat or poultry
- Topping pancakes and waffles
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
How to make margarine at home
Did you know you can make your own margarine at home?
Here’s a general recipe for homemade margarine:
- In a blender or food processor, combine vegetable oils (I recommend a solid one like coconut oil), plant-based milk, salt, and a bit of lemon juice.
- Blend the mixture on high speed until it emulsifies and thickens, resembling the consistency of margarine.
- Transfer the homemade margarine to a container and refrigerate until solidified.
How to store margarine
You can leave margarine at room temperature for a few days, but the oils may start separating, so I recommend keeping it in the fridge.
Because margarine is dairy-free and often has additives, it has a longer shelf life than butter. Once opened, margarine lasts about 2-3 months or longer if kept in the fridge.
What are the best substitutes for margarine?
Vegan butter is your best option for all-around use. Vegan butter is made from plant-based oils and provides a similar taste and texture to margarine, making it an excellent substitute in various recipes.
As I mentioned, margarine can spatter at high heat, so if you’re using high-heat cooking methods like frying or roasting, I recommend using ghee (clarified butter) instead. Ghee has had all of the water removed, so you won’t have this problem, and it has a high smoke point.
Butter is made from churned cream and is a natural dairy product, while margarine is typically made from vegetable oils and may contain additional additives to mimic the taste and texture of butter.
Margarine can be a healthier option than butter for individuals aiming to reduce their saturated fat intake. However, it’s important to choose margarines that are low in trans fats and contain healthier fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Margarine can be a healthier alternative to butter if it is made from unsaturated fats and low in trans fats, but moderation is key as excessive consumption of any high-fat food can have negative health effects.