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Butter vs Margarine – Any Difference?

Butter and margarine—these breakfast table staples have been battling it out for decades. Let’s uncover the key differences between butter and margarine.

Butter and Margarine

Childhood Memories

Writing about this brings back a core memory of childhood. Growing up, we couldn’t tell the difference between margarine and butter. We went to the shops to buy butter, but it was mostly sold as margarine.

We would take home anything handed to us, believing they are the same. You can imagine the shock when we realized they weren’t the same. If you are like me, read until the end to learn about the difference between Margarine and butter.

What is butter?

Butter is a natural dairy product made from churning cream. It is a separation of butterfat from buttermilk, which involves churning the fatty part of cow’s milk until it’s solid. Butter consists of milk fat (about 80%), water, and milk solids, and it may also contain salt if it is salted butter. The flavor is rich and creamy. Typically, butter is high in cholesterol and saturated fats because it’s made from milk.

What is margarine?

Margarine is a plant-based, non-dairy processed food product used as an alternative to butter. It mostly contains refined vegetable oils such as soybean, palm, or canola oil, water, salt, and an emulsifier for texture. At the production stage, hydrogen atoms are added to make the oils solid at room temperature.

While butter is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, margarine has fewer calories and less saturated fat. However, this level of calories can vary depending on the brand and formulation. Lastly, margarine is often fortified with vitamins A and D, but butter contains fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. 


The Difference Between Butter and Margarine

Butter and margarine are popular spreads and ingredients in cooking and baking, but they differ significantly in origin, content, nutritional profile, and impact on health. 

Butter vs Margarine 
OriginNatural dairy productplant-based
CompositionMilk fat, water, and milk solids. (May contain salt) Vegetable oils, water, and emulsifiers
Calories and FatSaturated fat and cholesterol fewer calories and less saturated fat (sometimes Trans fats)
Vitaminsfat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K.often fortified with vitamins A and D.
Dietary PreferencesHas Lactose and non-veganLactose-free and suitable as a vegan diet (if the margarine is dairy-free)
TextureSoft and melts quickly. Requires refrigerationStable at room temperature. You don’t need to refrigerate.

Butter vs Margarine in Cooking & Baking

Depending on preference, you can use butter and margarine for cooking and baking. Most people prefer Butter for baking because of its taste profile. Margarine makes pastries softer, but butter has a rich flavor. In cooking, butter is great for sautéing and making sauces due to its flavor. You can use margarine for cooking because it has a higher smoke point but might not provide the same depth of taste. 

Serving sizes for butter and Margarine 

The standard serving sizes for butter and margarine are similar, making it easy to compare their nutritional information. A serving of a tablespoon of butter contains about 7- 8 grams of saturated fat and 0.5 trans fat. On the other hand, a tablespoon of margarine contains 1 – 2 grams of saturated fat and no trans fat.

Frequently Asked Questions 

  1. What is the primary difference between butter and margarine?

Butter is a natural dairy product made from churning cream, while margarine is a processed spread made primarily from vegetable oils.

2. Can I use margarine as a direct substitute for butter in recipes?

Yes, you can substitute margarine for butter in recipes, but it may alter the flavor and texture slightly, especially in baking. Check the specific margarine’s fat content and type for best results.

3. What are trans fats, and why are they a concern in margarine?

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that can increase the risk of heart disease by raising LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. They are often found in partially hydrogenated oils used in margarine, but many kinds of margarine are now trans fat-free.

4. How do butter and margarine differ in taste?

Butter has a rich, creamy flavor that is distinct and often preferred in cooking and baking. Margarine’s flavor can vary depending on the oils and additives used, but it generally tastes milder.


Alternatives to Butter and Margarine

Plant-Based Oils

  1. Olive Oil: Ideal for sautéing, drizzling on salads, and baking.
  2. Coconut Oil: Good for baking and cooking at medium temperatures.
  3. Avocado Oil: Suitable for high-heat cooking, baking, and as a salad dressing.

Nut and Seed Butter

  1. Almond Butter: Spread on toast, added to smoothies, or used in baking.
  2. Tahini (Sesame Seed Butter): Great in dressings, sauces, and baking.
  3. Mashed Avocado: Spread on toast, used in sandwiches, or as a substitute in baking.

Dairy Alternatives

  1. Greek Yogurt: Can be used in baking, as a spread, or in sauces.
  2. Cottage Cheese: Suitable as a spread or in baking for added moisture.

Other Alternatives

  1. Ghee (Clarified Butter): Suitable for high-heat cooking and baking.
  2. Lard: Used in baking, frying, and cooking.

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