Margarine is a food spread invented in 1870 (patented in 1873) by Hippolyte Mège Mouriès, and named after the Greek margiritis, meaning "pearl".

Margarine is lower in LDL and HDL cholesterol than is butter, and is relatively high in trans-fatty acids.

Canada had outlawed margarine between the years 1886 and 1949, and in the province of Québec, it is illegal for margarine producers to add the yellow colour that makes margarine resemble butter. This was a push by the dairy marketing board of the province to reduce margarine to a sickly, pale grease, truly the scourge of human health. I prefer white margarine, anyway.

Non-Hydrogenated Soya Oil 52.0%
Partially Hydrogenated Soya Oil 28.0%
Water 16.0%
Salt 2.0%
Whey Powder 1.4%
Soya Lethicin 0.2%
Sodium Benzoate 0.1%
Mono and Diglycerides 0.1%
Natural Flavour
Vitamin A Palmitate
Vitamin D3
(may contain vegetable colour)

Nutrition Information (per 10g serving):
Energy 307kJ
Protein 0.0 g
Fat 8.0 g
Polyunsaturates 2.8 g
Monounsaturates 2.0 g
Saturates 1.4 g
Cholesterol 0.0mg
Carbohydrates 0.0 g

While many believe margarine to be a healthy alternative to butter (mainly because of the high cholesterol in butter I suppose), margarine has several elements that completely negate any health benefit obtained from cutting out the cholesterol.

First off, there are two types of cholesterol: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). When one consumes butter both varieties of cholesterol are ingested. Margarine, while it does contain less LDL cholesterol, also contains less HDL cholesterol which our bodies need.

Second, margarine contains a type of fat known as trans fatty acids. This is a kind of fat that the human body has a great deal of trouble breaking down due to its chemical structure. They are also known to be an important contributing factor to heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels. This type of fat is not present in butter. Butter contains only natural fats that are more easily broken down by our bodies. So while the total fat level of butter may be higher, it is in fact healthier due to the absence of trans-fats.

It is important to consider that when I talk about margarine I am referring to the most popular variety of margarine on the market: those with hydrogenated oils (where the trans-fats come from). It is possible to get margarine without this type of oil (Becel is one). While it may not be as solid at room temperature, it's a hell of a lot better for you.

Anyway, I suggest that you check out the label on whichever brand of margarine you plan on buying next time at the store. Try to get one with no hydrogenated oils and which is low in saturated fat.

Margarine has slowly taken over the table spread market since its beginnings more than a century ago. The reasons for this are low cost, high quality taste and texture, and, arguably, nutritional value better than that of other spreads. It is interesting to many to find that margarine was invented, or that there was even a need to invent another spread. The following outlines the beginning of the margarine industry and its current state.

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution farming and cattle herding decreased significantly. This had several effects, one was the rise of butter prices and another was a rise in malnourishment. In 1869 Napoleon III commissioned French food research chemist, Hippolyte Mège Mouriès, to produce a butter substitute that would be economically efficient and nutritious. While it is commonly assumed that the substitute was primarily requested to be an affordable supply for French troops, some say that the major concern was to aid the malnourished working class.

In 1870 Mège Mouriès used margaric acid, a fatty acid that Michael Eugene Chevreul had isolated in 1813, that produced pearly white drops. Michael named his discovery after margaritis, the Greek word for "pearl". Using this acid and different fats, Mouriès perfected his butter substitute and named it margarine. His first margarines were made mostly of animal fat and small proportions of vegetable oils. Over time, through the improvement of the vegetable oil refinement process and the development of a process that turned liquid vegetable oils into solid fats on a commercial scale, larger proportions of vegetable oils were used.

Mouriès obtained an American patent for margarine in 1873. He had hoped to expand his margarine production to the United States but had died before his dream was realized.

To understand the growth of the margarine industry it should be noted that in 1930 margarine consumption per capita was 2.6 pounds versus 17.6 pounds of butter, today the consumption per capita of margarine is 8.3 pounds versus 4.2 pounds of butter. These figures include vegetable oil spreads under margarine.

Statistics found at
The introduction of margarine, or oleomargarine, as a butter substitute, did not always come smoothly. Customers were reluctant at first to use a product whose ingredients they did not necessarily know (between 1870 and 1886, 180 different patents on types of margarines were applied for in the United States). Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi includes a salesman talking about the benefits of this product: "You can't tell it from butter; by George an expert can't!" Dairy farmers called the new product "bogus butter." When butter and margarine were often sold by scoops out of large barrels in stores, customers worried over getting the right one (the only time you could really tell was if the butter had spoiled).

An article in Puck magazine sarcastically suggested that margarine be dyed pink, red, or green so that it could be identified. By 1880 a toned-down version of this idea had become popular; most U.S. states forbade margarine to be colored yellow before sale (even though butter made in winter tended to be white and often needed the same annatto coloring used in margarine) and in 1902 the Supreme Court upheld these bans. Packaged margarine was often sold with separate envelopes of coloring, and childen were frequently given the task of mixing them together. Margarine was also taxed more than butter in the U.S., and Canada outlawed margarine completely from 1886 to 1949. In 1950 the U.S. finally passed the Federal Margarine Act, which allowed yellow coloring, though it did have to be prominently labeled. Stavr0 informs me that Quebec still has laws against yellow coloring, due to lobbying by the dairy industry, though the remainder of Canada allows pre-colored margarine.

Carlson, Laurie Wynn. Cattle: An Informal Social History. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

I Can't Believe It's Not I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!

Born and raised in Germany, I am thoroughly unfamiliar with products not being butter and pretending to be a perfect substitute for it. As which, apparently, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter is marketed in the U.S. of A.. Over here, margarine is just that: margarine. Brand names usually sound terribly old-fashioned, as the advent of margarine in Germany is a pre-WWI phenomenon.

There are other brands of non-butter spreads, too, but they don't pretend any butteriness either.

German margarine brands:

As you can see, pseudo-pharmaceutical names, often ending in "-san", are very common, for some sick reason I don't want to think of (did they try to make people think margarine would make them healthy?). The only margarine with a somewhat buttery name is Buttella. Alsan margarine is the only brand that comes wrapped in foil, 1900-style, which is how almost all butter is packaged in Germany.

I conclude that it would be pretty unlikely to ever have someone shout the title of this node* at a German breakfast table, and, doing so, rest my case. Thank you for your kind attention.

*This writeup was moved from "I Can't Believe It's Not I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" to "margarine". I liked the original title better, but what the hell. (2003-06-01)

Mar"ga*rine (?), n. [F.]


Artificial butter; oleomargarine.

The word margarine shall mean all substances, whether compounds or otherwise, prepared in imitation of butter, and whether mixed with butter or not. Margarine Act, 1887 (50 & 51 Vict. c. 29).




© Webster 1913.

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