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Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Can't Believe it's Butter.

I have a butter problem, I love butter, but that is not the problem. The problem is that I like my butter to be spreadable. Because I don’t like spending $7 on 300gms of boutique super soft butter I usually end up buying margarine. Margarine is not butter, it is not even remotely like butter. But at 6.30am when everyone is hungry and we are in the middle of a Dunedin winter which turns even the semi soft butter mostly rock hard, I want spreadable ‘butter’ and I do not want to play microwave roulette with a small knob of greasy butter which will either still be hard after 10 seconds or turn into a pool of melted sadness.

And then of course there is the health aspect. Half of the internet tells me that butter is seriously bad for you and will kill you in the end, and the other half of the internet inform me that margarine is a silent killer and not only does it kill turkeys it’s bound to kill me in the end too. If I had to pick a grisly death by spread I’d take butter any day of the week, yet week after week it is margarine that I put in my supermarket trolley with a sigh of regret. The obvious option is to not use either. However, an addict doesn’t take kindly to having her diet of toast threatened.

I’m convinced that margarine is not actually a food, I feel that it has another unfulfilled and vastly more successful existence as axel grease or weed killer.  Yet it is supposed to be the healthier choice.  At least that is what the advertising tells us with lovely little slogans such as ‘zero cholesterol’ ‘zero saturated fats’. Yet margarine has a dirty little secret. Not only is it not tasty like butter, it’s not all that good for us either.  Margarine for the most part is hydrogenated fat, which is not good. Hydrogenated fat is also known as ‘transfats’ and has been shown to increase the "bad" cholesterol (Low Density Lipid), and to lower the "healthy" (High Density Lipid) cholesterol. In addition to this, transfats make our blood platelets stickier, which is a component of heart disease. One tablespoon of margarine has approximately 3 grams of trans fat and 2 grams saturated fat. However on the upside margarine also has higher levels of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which scientists tell us are good.

While butter is essentially a saturated fat and is therefore, well… fattening, it also has a load of good components which can make reasonable amounts of it part of a healthy diet. Butter contains lauric acid, lecithin, beta carotene, antioxidants, selenium, Vitamins E, D and K, conjugated linoleic acid, arachidonic acid and anti stiffness factor. It is also delicious. And remember at the beginning of the paragraph I said that butter was fattening? Think again! Butter is mainly comprised of short and medium chain fatty acids which are not stored in the adipose tissue, but are used for quick energy instead. Proponents of butter attribute it with such qualities as being a cancer preventative, a muscle builder, and immune system booster and good for childrens brain development. Aside from this it is important to remember that butter is one of the most saturated fats around, which scientists tell us is bad.
When it comes to bean counting though they are both calorie for calorie equivalent.

So where do I stand on the butter vs margarine evil slow death instigator showdown? Neither is particularly great for your health in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol but in terms of adjunct nutritional value butter beats margarine around town. Did I mention it was delicious? All of this however does nothing to solve my spreadable butter problem. This recipe however, does, and it is amazing.
Homemade Spreadable Butter
1 part butter
1 part  healthy oil (I used ricebran oil)
Soften your butter and chop it into your food processor, beat it until it is creamy and pale, slowly add your oil in a thin stream until it is completely incorporated. Scoop into wide necked glass jars and refrigerate. I divided mine into 3 handy sized jars and froze 2 of them for future use. 

A little note on rice bran oil, it is often recommended as a healthy high smoke oil. The truth is a little more complex than that. Rice bran oil  contains 7 grams of monounsaturated fat, 3 grams of saturated fat and 5 grams of polyunsaturated fat per tablespoon it also contains components of vitamin E that may benefit health.
Scientists found a compenent of ricebran oil (tocotrienol rich fraction)  not only lowered cholesterol significantly  but also boosted the activity of liver enzymes that clear toxic substances from the liver. However, the flipside of this is that ricebran oil is often subjected to intense processing using chemicals and heat. To get the benefits of ricebran oil it needs to be cold pressed, the primary brand of ricebran oil is not cold pressed. They advertise as cold filtered but this is not the same thing. However for high heat cooking and baking I still use ricebran oil because it has a nice buttery flavor and it is cheap. To make this butter healthier the best option would be to use olive oil.

Some other healthy fats that can replace butter and bulk processed vegetable oils are:

  • Red palm oil - unrefined and fair trade please.
  • Fish oils  - mercury tested please
  • Coconut oil - unrefined and organic please
  • Seed and nut oils


  1. I have made this spread myself, using butter and olive oil, it works a treat!

    and... cool blog, like it