Is Butter Better?

In short, YES!

With the latest guidelines for school canteens released, margarine has been identified as spread of choice. It is for this reason, and the many people who ask how it’s possible to select from the sea of spreads in the supermarket this article is written.

How do you know? Standing in front of an aisle faced with a seemingly endless selection of spreads all with ‘pick me’ packaging, phrases and pictures claiming to be the superior choice, it can be daunting and a little frustrating. It begs a choice – close your eyes and pick one, choose what’s nearest or, on special or, who cares? OR, the better choice, find out what sets them apart and choose deliberately.

So if you’re not a churn your own type of gal/guy, or haven’t found the fabulous farmer at your local market, then this article is for you.

Specialty butters are designed to provide a superior result in pastries and in baking. Ghee or clarified butter is the preferred choice for some and value added, flavoured butters with garlic, parsley or another ingredient take you a step further. But what to choose for everyday? There are only a few facts to be aware of, and you’ll be confident in making the right choice for you and your family…

Margarines were introduced as a cheap alternative to butter, and designed to be spreadable at room temperature. A food engineering feat, it also allowed companies to include other benefits like making it splatter less when frying, etc.

Important points to note here are that the hydrogenation of vegetable oils (a process to make oils solid at room temperature) is a toxic process creating trans fatty acids – not safe to humans. We should appreciate the type of vegetable oil used. An extra virgin olive oil, properly handled is a good fat for us, Processed vegetable oils and those using GMO grains and seeds are fats we want to avoid.

Additives and processing aids – colours and flavours are used by the food industry to give their product a superior look and taste to competitor products. They do this because as a society we have grown to expect this – colours and flavours are not healthful under any circumstances, unless of course, they are chemical free, herbs and plants enhancing our eating experience.

Butter is regaining it’s rightful place as the better spread option after being on the outer during the years when society was led to believe that fat was bad. Now we understand how important good fats are to our daily diet, how many critical processes in the body require good fats, and that it’s only those with impaired means of metabolising and assimilating fats that would need to take supportive advice on dietary approach.

Cultured butters are produced with a fermented cream and have a beautiful flavour that is not found in other butters. Most butter is made using around 85% cream and 1-2% salt can be used for preservation purposes. Water is the only other ingredient required, and this ratio of moisture throughout the fat ensures a reasonable shelf life. Butter can be stored in fridge or in freezer but will require softening to spread. Moderate to cool climates are suitable for butter to remain out of the fridge but it is susceptible to air and to light – so a cool and dark environment, in an airtight container is recommended. Also, making sure there is no food residue left in or on the butter helps it to last longer (only clean utensils, please!).

Softened butter has been flushed with a nitrogen gas to create air pockets and weaken the butter structure – making it easier to spread at room temperature.

It doesn’t matter how good a fat is, any fat that is rancid is toxic to the body. So when taking a few moments to make your choice, ensure the use by date reflects a fresh product.