Trust a cow . . . . or a chemist?

When it comes to the debate of butter vs margarine there is a wealth of information on the internet. Unfortunately, there are times when even the professionals say things that challenge common sense, or support theories from the dark ages. For example, when they tell people that vegetable oil laden with emulsifiers, colourants and artificial ingredients commonly known as margarine is better for you than butter.
This is a topic that could potentially take over our blog so for this article, let’s simply look at how each is made:

Butter is made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk, to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. Put butterfat in a container and use.
The End

This is like a science experiment so I’ll do this in point form. Stage 1 is called refinement where the oil is extracted from seeds or beans and refined. Stage 2 is called processing where oil and other materials are added and made into margarine.

Stage 1 – refining

  • Seeds are harvested and transported to a crushing mill.
  • The oil is removed from seeds/beans by expulsion or extraction. These oils are extracted using heat under high pressure (note: heat + oil = rancidity. Rancid oil contains high levels of free radicals).
  • These “raw oils” are then steam cleaned, or “neutralised”, to remove any “free” fatty acids that may cause the oil to develop an unpleasant taste.  The neutralised oil is then washed and dried thoroughly  (destroying all vitamin and antioxidants).
  • The oil is then bleached to remove any colour or impurities.
  • Time to deodorise the oil to remove any dodgy smells and bad tastes. This process is completed by blowing steam through the heated oil where the steam and any smells and tastes are drawn off by a vacuum. The “oil” is now colourless, odourless, tasteless and a light brown. This oil is then bottled and sold as vegetable oil . . . . with not a vegetable in sight!


  • The oils are then mixed with finely ground nickel (or other chemicals such as palladium) and hydrogen gas is added at high pressure in a process called hydrogenation. As oils are liquid at room temperature, they “harden” (raise the melting point) of the oil by hydrogenating it in the presence of a nickel catalyst. This is where we can end up with Trans Fats. The relatively high temperatures used in the hydrogenation process tend to flip some of the carbon-carbon double bonds into the “trans” form. If these particular bonds aren’t hydrogenated during the process, they will still be present in the final margarine in molecules of trans fats.
  • Oh, did I mention that nickel is highly toxic? And if you want info on palladium – Wikipedia is all you need 🙂
  • Emulsifiers such as lecithin are now added to the lumpy, smelly substance left behind after partial hydrogenation. Emulsifiers help to “keep everything together”.
  • The product is once again steam cleaned.
  • Synthetic vitamins and artificial flavours are mixed in and a natural yellow colour called annatto is added to give margarine it’s yellow colour.
  • The final product is cooled to make it go solid. After the chilling process the product is ready to be packed and transported to supermarkets.
    The End

Now for me personally, I don’t need to go further as to what I’d chose. I’d take the saturated fats and cholesterol that natural butter provides over the GMO canola/soybean/cottonseed/corn/safflower oils, emulsifiers, additives and synthetic flavouring of margarine – especially if the butter is organic or made using milk from grass fed cows!

trust cows

We will take a look at the argument around the fats in butter and margarine, and their impact on our health, but that’s for a whole new article on its own! Stay tuned 🙂