Butter vs. Margarine: Which is Better?

margarine and butter

I’m a margarine user unless a recipe specifically calls for butter.  I have nothing against butter except its price.  I can get 4 sticks of margarine for $1.00 but 4 sticks of butter are anywhere from $3 to $4.  That’s quite a difference on a tight budget.  So I always opt for margarine when I’m cooking.

When I’m spreading, I use something called Brummel & Brown which is made with nonfat yogurt.  My husband uses spreadable butter.  Yes, we’re a two margarine/butter family.

Recently there was some discussion on my Facebook page about butter vs. margarine.  Unfortunately there’s a lot of incorrect information out there about both butter and margarine so I decided it was time to do some research and find out once and for all if margarine is the villain it’s made out to be.

I decided the best place to start would be with the ingredients list.

butter

Butter

  • Pasteurized cream (milk),
  • Salt

Saturated Fat:  7 grams per tablespoon
Trans Fat:  0 grams per tablespoon
Cholesterol:    30 mg per tablespoon

margarine

Margarine

  • Liquid and Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Soy Lechithin
  • Vegetable Mono & Diglycerides
  • Citric Acid, Calcium Disodium Edta Added to Protect Flavor
  • Natural and Artificial Flavor
  • Beta Carotene (Color)
  • Vitamin A Palmitate Added
  • Whey

Saturated Fat:  2 g per tablespoon
Trans Fat:  3 g per tablespoon
Cholesterol:  0 mg per tablespoon

Research

Then I did a bunch of reading from reputable sources about butter vs. margarine.  The result:  I have no clue.  My head was spinning after doing all that reading.  There’s really no definitive answer.  Every article I read said something different.  So here are a few thoughts:

Thoughts

1.       Michael Pollen, in Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, says:  “Avoid food products that contain ingredients a third-grader cannot pronounce.”  He also says:  “Avoid ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry…”  Butter definitely wins if you’re using this criteria.

2.       Maybe we should be eating less butter to start with.

Resources

If you want to do some reading on this topic, here are five articles I thought were really informative:

And now, I would love to know whether you use butter or margarine and why.

Comments

  1. Cassandra says:

    Butter. We keep it natural here and stay away from man manufactured fake stuff.

  2. We use Land-O-Lakes butter/canola oil spread when we want to butter (ie toast, French bread etc). But for everything else, we use real butter. We stay natural as much as possible, and most of what we eat is from scratch.

  3. Butter. Same thing Cassandra said.

    • Another butter. I’m kind of surprised. With all the stuff I read indicating margarine was better, I really thought there would be more margarine users. But butter is the clear winner.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Definitely butter: all the ingredients in margarine makes me cringe.
    I buy when butter is 1.75/lb on sale at store or costco’s price is usually 1.88/lb and I freeze a lot at one time.

  5. Josh LaPorte says:

    We only use butter, but I would say primarily for taste reasons. That butter has less ingredients is also nice.

    I try to save money on things like utilities and transportation, but food is not something I economize on. That said, when butter is on sale for about $2 per pound, I buy 4 or 5 and freeze them. I take one stick at a time out of the freezer.

    I use quite a lot of butter and cream in my cooking, but balance that by cooking entirely from scratch and using the best ingredients I can. I grow lots of my own veg and buy a large proportion of our food from farmers’ markets.

    • You sound like my husband – he doesn’t want me to skimp on food either. We save everywhere else but we eat well!

      How long do you allow the butter to thaw before using it?

      • Josh LaPorte says:

        Hi Patty,

        I don’t necessarily thaw the butter at all… If it’s going in something hot I just use it frozen, but it’s hard to cut. It thaws very quickly on the kitchen counter, maybe in 30-40 minutes? It takes much longer to get soft but is ready to use quickly. By keeping the butter frozen until use, it prevents odd taste from odors in the fridge. In winter I leave the butter in a tupperware butter dish (covered) in a cool corner of the kitchen counter. In summer I tend to keep in the fridge.

  6. Suzanne Saunders says:

    We use primarily butter. I confess we have some Country Crock in the frig because my husband thinks it tastes better and my daughter uses some sort of concoction that is gluten free, dairy free, yadayadayada. But we aim for butter because we are trying our best to only eat real food! I look for it on sale. At Christmas it is usually pretty cheap and that is a good time to stock up!

  7. I mainly use butter but I do have a small container of Brummel & Brown in the fridge mainly for making cinnamon toast since it will spread easier on the bread. I noticed my mother in law had something called a butter bell at Christmas that keeps the butter soft. I do need to check into that although I don’t think a tiny bit of Brummel & Brown here and there will hurt that much. I also usually stock up on butter when it goes on sale and freeze it.

    • I’ve never heard of a Butter Bell. I’ll have to check on that. The spreadable butter doesn’t spread nearly as well as the Brummel & Brown. That’s my main objection – besides cost, of course.

  8. Butter! I have gone back and forth. I think I grew up on butter, but my husband wanted margarine. Now we’re back to butter.
    I did want to say, though, that this came up with my friends recently, too. Someone pointed out that margarine really needs to be 65% (something?) to be good for baking. Well. With the bad economy, the percentage is steadily dropping in most retail margarines. So it isn’t a good option anymore for baking.

    • So true about the baking. I learned that the hard way! Now I only buy the brand of margarine that says “good for baking” on the box. Since I mainly use it for baking, it’s no good if it doesn’t work!

      I occasionally use shortening and I learned that about shortening, too. I accidentally got a “lighter” version. I was making a pie crust and it was so soft I couldn’t roll it out without tearing it to pieces. I finally threw it away and did it over. Same problem. I was so frustrated. I was about to decide it was me – I had lost my touch. Then I checked the can I saw that it was “light”. I switched to regular and my pie crust came out just fine.

  9. I just recently found a super simple recipe for making my own butter in a homesteading book. You can’t beat fresh butter and you get to control how much salt you add.

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