Whether you’re vegan or trying to decrease fat in recipes margarine tends to be the go-to butter substitute. The composition of butter is mainly fat while also rich in vitamins such as A, E, D, and K2. Butter tends to get a lot of heat due to its high levels of saturated fat content and often is related to health conditions such as weight gain and increased risk of heart disease. Even though butter contains fat, butter itself isn’t cancer-causing while the fat you carry on you is more cancerous. While butter may not be the best for your health is margarine any better?
How is Margarine Made
Unlike its cousin butter, margarine goes through a more scientific process for its development.
The foundation for margarine is usually second-grade vegetable oils from maize, soy, sunflower seeds, and canola.
These oils are then heated under high pressure. The heat turns them rancid. Rancid oils are loaded with free radicals that react easily with other molecules, causing cell damage, premature aging, and a host of other problems.
The last bit of oil is removed with hexane, a hydrocarbon with the chemical solvent known to cause cancer. Although this hexane is subsequently removed, traces of it are inevitably left behind.
Canola oil, which is widely touted as the healthiest oil of all, has problems as well. High consumption of canola has been linked to vitamin E deficiency as well as developmental issues. For this reason, canola oil is not allowed to be used in the manufacture of infant formula.
Most of the oils used for making margarine are genetically modified.
After the oils are heated, the oils are then steam cleaned. This destroys all the vitamins and antioxidants. However, the residues of pesticides and solvents, such as hexane, remain.
Once the oils are steam cleaned, they are mixed with finely ground nickel, a highly toxic substance that serves as a catalyst for the chemical reaction during the hydrogenation process. Other catalysts may be used, but these, too, are highly toxic.
The oils are then put under high temperature and pressure in a reactor. Hydrogen gas is introduced. The high temperature and pressure, together with the presence of the nickel catalyst, causes hydrogen atoms to be forced into the oil molecules. If the oil is partially hydrogenated, it turns from liquid into a semi-solid.
What comes out of the partial hydrogenation process is a smelly, lumpy, grey grease. To remove the lumps, emulsifiers similar to soaps are added.
After the emulsified are added it goes through another steaming process but this time the focus is to remove the chemical smells. This is called deodorization and like the initial steaming of the oil, it again involves high temperature and high pressure.
At this point, the margarine looks grey and bleach is added in order to make it a more visually appealing color.
To get the ‘butter-like’ yellow color, annatto is added to margarine. Annatto (Bixa orellana L.) is derived from the seed of the tropical Annatto tree. It is linked anecdotally to behavior and learning problems, asthma, hyperactivity, urticaria, and allergies.
three Alternatives to margarine
Finding alternatives to margarine can be difficult so here are more ‘cleaner’ alternatives:
1.) Olive Oil:
For any recipes that require cooking on the stovetop, a person can often swap margarine for olive oil when sautéing vegetables and meat.
Olive oil is not always a good substitute for baking, however. Many baked goods require the fat to remain solid or return to a solid as they cool. However, people can make some baked goods, such as pancakes, with olive oil.
The main type of fat in olive oil is monounsaturated fat, which may have some health benefits that the saturated fat in butter does not have.
Research from 2014 found that consuming olive oil regularly could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in individuals at high cardiovascular risk.
Other benefits of monounsaturated fat include lowering cholesterol and improving blood sugar control.
Ghee is clarified butter with a distinctive nutty taste and aroma. The process of making ghee is melting down butter and removing the fat. Similar to coconut oil, you can replace butter with ghee at a 1-to-1 ratio in cooking and baking.
Ghee contains more moisture than butter so you may need to alter recipes. Ghee works best as a butter substitute in baked goods that require cooking at higher temperatures.
3.) Coconut Oil
Unlike olive oil, which may not be suitable for use in all baked goods, coconut oil is a good butter substitute because it returns to a solid-state at room temperature.
Coconut oil has a distinct taste, however, which could alter the taste of many baked goods.
While it is a good alternative for those looking to avoid dairy, coconut oil may offer few additional health benefits.