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We seem to use butter and margarine interchangeably these days, and there are a mind boggling array of spreads available in the supermarket for us to choose. In the days when many of us 'Cant Believe its Not Butter' we are inundated with a variety of spreads in addition to butter that are low in all sorts of fats, reduce cholesterol or offer a variety of other health benefits.
The key difference between butter and margarine is that butter is derived from animal fat whilst margarine is derived from vegetable oil.
Butter is produced from the fatty cream of milk, usually cows' milk. This milk is churned causing the fat molecules suspended in the cream to cling together, which they settle to form a thick mass of butter. Salt may be added to the butter at this stage.
Butter has a creamier, fuller flavour than margarine, and is the more expensive product. However, because it is a dairy-based product, butter can become spoiled or rancid without the proper storage and refrigeration. This means that it is more difficult to spread butter when it has been refrigerated.
Churned butter is composed almost entirely of saturated fat, along with a significant amount of natural cholesterol.
Margarine was first a manufactured in 1869 as a substitute to butter. Liquid vegetable oil is solidified by passing hydrogen gas bubbles through the mixture. This produces a solid, buttery spread. Margarine has no cholesterol and tiny amounts of any saturated fat, instead containing polyunsaturated and trans fatty acids.
Many health experts consider trans fatty acids contained in margarine to be unhealthy due to their artery-clogging tendencies.
Margarine has a more subtle flavour than butter. Because margarine remains stable much longer than butter it retains its solid form much longer, although it should be refrigerated between uses. This means that it is easier to spread than butter which is the big advantage of margarine.
There are low fat, low salt or reduced cholesterol margarine spreads available that are healthier when used in combination with a low fat or low cholesterol diet. However, excess amounts of any margarine (or butter) is not healthy and will have an adverse effect on your health.
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