Margarine v butter: are synthetic spreads toast?

Sales of margarine are in decline, due to a combination of reformulated recipes, price, health and taste. Do you defend marge, or is butter simply better?

Margarine: makes wonderfully crisp shortcrust pastry. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Butter v marg: it’s a fight that has gone on for decades. On one side, there’s butter – rich, creamy, defiantly full-fat and made for millennia by churning the milk or cream from cattle. On the other, there’s margarine: the arriviste spread invented in the 1860s. It might not taste delicious, and it doesn’t sink into your toast like butter, but for decades margarine has ridden a wave of success as the “healthy” alternative.

No longer. Sales of margarine have plummeted in the last year, according to Kantar, with “health” spreads dropping 7.4% in sales. Flora has been particularly badly hit, losing £24m in sales, partly due to reformulating its recipe.

Meanwhile, butter is back in vogue. Brits bought 8.7% more blocks of butter last year, and 6% more spreadable tubs. This is partly due to the “narrowing price gap between butter and margarine,” Tim Eales of IRI told The Grocer, but also to the home baking revival led by Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and co. We’re all sticking unsalted butter in our sponges these days.

A yen for natural, unprocessed produce could also be a factor. “Since all the food scandals of the last 10 years, people are thinking about where their food comes from – butter is perceived as ‘pure’,” says food writer Signe Johansen. But is marg really out for the count? Big brands are owned by powerful multinationals such as Unilever, with huge marketing budgets.

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I use butter, basically, I don’t have margrine in the house. I do sometimes, I use it for garlic bread for BBQs, that’s about it.

I read sometime back that margarine is one molecule away from being plastic…

Think about that.

Would you melt your Tupperware and spread it on your toast?

No, me neither.


11 responses to this post.

  1. Funny thing is I eat neither butter nor margerine. Haven’t done so since I was six.



  2. I don’t eat dairy products so I use margarine, but I’m fussy about which margarine I buy. I choose margarins made with plant seed oils and without preservatives, colours and additives.



  3. Most margarine is still dairy. I use a vegan spread, but the thing that most people don’t notice is that margarine usually has more calories than many butters (even if they’re not whipped). Certainly, people should shop around.



  4. While I am a vegetarian I do allow myself butter from time to time. I was raised believing margarine was an abomination and not real food. Have never taken to the taste when I have tried it. Even my grandchildren tell everyone my butter is better tasting than what they have at home (margarine).

    I had no idea margarine was 1 molecule shy of being plastic but it does taste pretty bad.



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