Should I butter up my boyfriend?
June 1, 2014 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Margarine vs butter: who wins?

My boyfriend has been happily eating margarine at my place for months, until he realized that it was margarine. Now he insists that it's far inferior to butter, and refuses to eat it. Until now I only had a vague notion of the difference between butter and margarine. My mother always bought Imperial margarine, and we called it "butter." I do the same. (Although admittedly, it's not necessarily a good idea to emulate my mother in all respects. In fact, I avoid doing so whenever possible. But that's a subject for a different AskMeta ....)

Childhood trauma aside, I wondered if you good people could chime in on this friendly debate. The questions are as follows:

Is the butter vs margarine thing a Thing? Is there really a notable difference in taste? Do normal people abhor margarine, as my dear boyfriend would have me believe?
How is it that my dear boyfriend was able to consume two full sticks of margarine without detecting that it was NOT BUTTER, but now that he knows it is in fact NOT BUTTER, he insists that it's an inedible abomination?
Will my boyfriend die of a heart attack if he has too much butter? That would really suck, because he's the best boyfriend ever. Even when he's being ridiculous.

Many thanks to all.
posted by phoenix_rising to Food & Drink (79 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
According to this doctor on the Mayo Clinic website margarine wins so long as it's doesn't have trans fat.
posted by chrchr at 10:31 AM on June 1, 2014

Well, they are different things. One is made of milk fat, one is made of vegetable fat. (It's kind of like solid vegetable oil.) Margarine was invented because it was cheap, especially during milk shortages.

I can 100% tell the difference, but I can also imagine that if I wasn't focusing on it and just grabbing a slice of butter and jam toast on my way to work, I might not put two and two together.

No one is gonna get a heart attack from eating the same amount of butter as they would margarine.

With all that being said: If your boyfriend cares so much, he can provide his own butter. I would, in this situation!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:33 AM on June 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Butter all the way for me.
posted by peacheater at 10:33 AM on June 1, 2014 [16 favorites]

Is there really a notable difference in taste?


Do normal people abhor margarine, as my dear boyfriend would have me believe?

Some normal people do, some don't. I use margarine and butter for different purposes and both live in my fridge. I would not put margarine on a slice of bread or to finish off a sauce. For baking cakes margarine is fine.

Would it bother you so much to have butter in the house? You can even divide it up in tiny pieces and freeze it, so your boyfriend can have it whenever he comes over.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:33 AM on June 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have to say that I have been the the same situation as your boyfriend, but I could tell it wasn't butter right off the bat. Margarine and butter have noticeably different tastes to me, and I really don't like margarine. I am assuming it has to do with the fact that we only ate butter, not margarine, growing up. But yeah: only a data point of one, but I can taste the difference, and I really dislike it.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:34 AM on June 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes, there are differences in taste and texture and suchlike, but most people can't really tell (sure, they can in a formal taste test where they know they're being judged, but not like putting down a regular piece of toast and saying "Something is wrong with this!"), and it sounds like he's one of them.

However, just because he can't doesn't mean that he now has to consume margarine if he doesn't want to. Knowing that it's margarine appears to be affecting his enjoyment of it, so buy some butter for him.

Will my boyfriend die of a heart attack if he has too much butter?

Switching from "two sticks of margarine over the course of months" to "two sticks of butter over the course of months" won't be the only thing that prevents him from living a long life.
posted by Etrigan at 10:34 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Margarine and butter differ in both taste and texture, in my experience (margarine loses all around). Stick margarine also generally has high levels of trans fat; it's probably a wash vs. animal fats in butter for heart health, but I'd personally rather go with the option that has a longer history as a human foodstuff.

Do a side by side taste test over your various "applications". There might be some middle ground.
posted by janell at 10:34 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tastewise, there is a big preference for butter over margarine among many people. Unilever makes a brand of margarine called "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!". They wouldn't do that if people didn't think the taste of margarine was worse.
posted by Thing at 10:35 AM on June 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

I believe there is a noticeable difference in taste: I grew up eating margarine but started buying butter instead a few years ago and I definitely notice the difference. Though it varies by brand: Earth Balance tastes a lot like butter to me, and I actually prefer it for cooking because it doesn't burn as easily.

From what I've read, butter does have a slight edge healthwise if it's from grass-fed cows (like Kerrygold) because of the Omega 3s.
posted by lunasol at 10:36 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The disgusting reek of margarine used for cooking is enough to keep it out of my fridge. I don't start to retch when offered an otherwise tasty sandwich that has a little layer of margarine, but having an aversion to it seems totally reasonable to me.
posted by kmennie at 10:38 AM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Definitely butter. Margarine is a frankenfood that ants won't even recognize as food. Besides, saturated fat isn't going to kill you-- or, at least, that claim has recently come under more scrutiny.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:38 AM on June 1, 2014 [40 favorites]

I eat butter only for the simple reason that margarine doesn't do very well in most baking recipes. The extra water content in margarine prevents it from being a one-to-one substitution for butter. Since most recipe authors use butter, most recipes specify butter.

Will my boyfriend die of a heart attack if he has too much butter?

To a first order, fat is fat - margarine and butter both have equivalent calories (almost all from fat). To a second order, certain types of fat have different effects on the body. However, those effects are not well-understood.
posted by saeculorum at 10:39 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can tell the difference, but I agree that a lot of people can't, and that if it's not a ridiculous amount you're eating then eat whichever you like.

I like this spreadable butter as a compromise, since cold butter sucks for spreading.
posted by cabingirl at 10:39 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also grew up with margarine (for eating and baking), and also called it butter. Then, in college, one of my roommates bought real butter, and when I tasted it on my toast for the first time I almost became angry at having been ripped off for the first 18 years of my life. Haven't touched margarine since.
posted by scody at 10:40 AM on June 1, 2014 [41 favorites]

As a side note, the waxing and waning popularity of margarine reflects cultural ideas about food like no one's business: our boomer parents may have started eating it in the 50s or 60s because it was new! and modern! compared to old-fashioned butter. And if they didn't start then, they probably started eating it in the 80s because butter was full of saturated fats, and margarine, made from vegetable oil, was seen as healthier. Now butter is back in vogue, as long as it's from grass-fed cows, as its seen as being more natural, and as trans fats have become the enemy and Omega 3s are seen as healthier.
posted by lunasol at 10:40 AM on June 1, 2014 [18 favorites]

I love butter and abhor margarine. I can absolutely tell them apart. It is not about health, because as this thread has illustrated, there is no clear consensus either way. You asked: is this a thing? And my answer is emphatically YES. If I were your boyfriend, I would go so far as to buy my own butter and keep it at your house (assuming he's eating over there often enough to have use for it).
posted by telegraph at 10:42 AM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is definitely a difference in taste to me. I keep some margarine on hand since I occasionally bake for a vegan friend. I have on occasion used the margarine for myself when I ran out of butter and there's a distinct difference, but I can certainly believe that it's one I might not notice immediately depending on what I was using the margarine on or how much attention I was paying to my food.

Assuming he's not eating a stick of butter-substance a day or anything, chances are eating butter over margarine is not a significant health risk compared to a million other things he probably does every day. And it makes him happier. Let him keep a stick of butter in the fridge.

(Or, eventually, one of you may come around to the other's way of thinking. At some point, the years of My Skim Milk vs. His 2% Milk taking up half the fridge gave way to a shared agreement that 1% milk is fine for both of us, let's just drink the same damn milk.)
posted by Stacey at 10:50 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Margarine was banned from my fridge years ago - it's just not the same (to me) when it comes to texture, taste, appearance, and 'how well it works in a recipe'. But then, I'm a cooking snob.

In matters of food preparation I usually just ask myself, "What would Julia Childs do?"

Answer: She'd kick you out of your own kitchen if she found margarine in your fridge.

Rebuttal: You're not Julia.

Conclusion: I agree that margarine is a frankenfood, which is and of itself enough to keep me from using it. It's really not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it's a 'feel-good' issue about what I'm putting in my body. Maybe your boyfriend feels similar?
posted by matty at 10:50 AM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

the waxing and waning popularity of margarine reflects cultural ideas about food like no one's business

Very good point -- also illustrated in the waxing and waning popularity of lard.

posted by scody at 10:53 AM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

How is it that my dear boyfriend was able to consume two full sticks of margarine without detecting that it was NOT BUTTER, but now that he knows it is in fact NOT BUTTER, he insists that it's an inedible abomination?

Same reason that my friend's grandfather threw a massive disgusted fit when he realized he was eating sweet potato pie, rather than pumpkin pie - even after praising the sweet potato pie all day until that point. Your boyfriend can't actually tell the difference, and is using butter vs. margarine as a status or identity marker that is important to him for reasons that have nothing to do with flavor or nutrition.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:53 AM on June 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

I don't like either, didn't grow up eating either, and continue to not consume either substance naked.

Piggybacking on lunasol's statement, your boyfriend is probably embarrassed that he'd been eating this old-fashioned, low-class frankenfood and couldn't tell. So now of course he insists that butter is better because he thinks himself modern, etc. etc.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:54 AM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I try to get the highest quality butter i can. I love the flavor of good butter. Also grass fed cow butter isn't bad for you, it has CLAs so it's good for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:54 AM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Earth Balance buttery spread is a more expensive, less margarine-tasting butter substitute which bakes relatively well and works well in sauces (as long as they are not, like, browned butter or something). If you really want a better butter substitute, that's the one. It is okay on toast.

I grew up on a product I don't think they even make any more - a half butter/half margarine stick product from Land O'Lakes that we got because it was cheaper. (Many non-middle class people such as my family when I was growing up don't buy butter because butter is more expensive. That half stuff was our compromise.)

Butter tastes much richer. It's "better" but I also find it greasier and heavier when I fall off the vegan wagon and buy some. If I were you? I'd pick up some of that unsalted Plugra stuff (butter keeps well, but Plugra cultured butter keeps extra well) and just use it when boyfriend is over.

Also, if you're trying butter, try both salted and unsalted. (Speaking of trends - when I was growing up, unsalted butter was the classy thing and salted butter was for uncultured rubes who needed salt on everything; now it's the other way around.) I like unsalted better for its clearer dairy flavors.

People get pretty snobby about this stuff and it's bullshit. Hey, why not ask your boyfriend to get some butter? If he's too good for the food at your house, he can bring his own, right?
posted by Frowner at 10:57 AM on June 1, 2014

Margarine is a nasty and unnatural abomination. Butter is creamy and delicious and amazing. There's a huge taste difference if you were to compare them side by side (margarine has a pretty particular (and awful) smell), but I could see how someone could not notice which they were eating without thinking too hard about it or having a ready comparison handy.

Neither will give you a heart attack, but nobody really knows what-the-fuck when it comes to diet and health anyway, so don't put too much stock in anything you hear on the subject.
posted by wrok at 10:59 AM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Margarine doesn't taste like butter. Because it isn't. I might be willing to tolerate margarine for some things, but for baking it really doesn't work, so I am all butter all the time.

I probably would have grown up in one of those margarine-only households, but my grandpa was a dairy farmer and would not hear of having any "oleo" on his table. About 20 years after he died I did notice a tub of margarine in my grandmother's fridge, and even that surprised me.
posted by ambrosia at 11:01 AM on June 1, 2014

Thanks all for the responses so far. As you could probably tell, this question is rather tongue-in-cheek, since my boyfriend is a great guy and I love to make him happy. Looks like there will be some butter in my fridge soon. :)
posted by phoenix_rising at 11:02 AM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

I can absolutely tell the difference, both in taste and texture, between butter and margarine. I prefer to eat butter (obligatory HURF DURF), but I wouldn't go so far as to turn down margarine if that's what a loved one was offering.

My parents raised three children on a very limited budget. Accordingly, margarine was for everyday use, butter was for special occasions. So when my mother baked bread rolls from scratch, or at holidays, we would get butter.

I mark my passage into adulthood as being the moment that I realized that I was making enough money to have butter whenever I wanted. Psychological artifacts of past poverty are weird.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:03 AM on June 1, 2014 [13 favorites]

I also grew up with margarine (for eating and baking), and also called it butter. Then, in college, one of my roommates bought real butter, and when I tasted it on my toast for the first time I almost became angry at having been ripped off for the first 18 years of my life. Haven't touched margarine since.

This was exactly my experience.

I can't comprehend not being able to tell the difference.
posted by gaspode at 11:06 AM on June 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I thought everyone stopped eating margarine over a decade ago.

Unless your margarine has no trans fat (not "per serving", but in the ingredients at all) then it's horrendous for your health. If it doesn't contain trans fat then it's a matter of whatever oils it's made of.

However, I don't think anyone thinks margarine tastes as good as butter, unless maybe they are so used to it that they prefer it.
posted by Blitz at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

my mom, whom i loved dearly, was a margarine woman. i am a butter boy. margarine has trans fats in it. butter is one of the benevolent, naturally intended consequences of cows' milk, the others being cheese and ice cream.
posted by bruce at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The biggest distinction for me between butter and margarine (grew up eating margarine much of the time) is that butter browns, which adds a set of flavors to anything I'm cooking that margarine can't match.

Also, you can make ghee out of butter, which is superior to butter without requiring any extra ingredients. (I've basically replaced the use of butter with homemade ghee in my kitchen, it's a staple at this point)
posted by CrystalDave at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2014

Margarine's been around for at least a century now; older folks used to call it 'oleo' (short for 'oleomargarine') and my mother used to tell me that when the 'oleo' was delivered along with the milk, it was almost white and it came with a little packet of yellow coloring; it was her job as youngest-kid to squish the yellow coloring evenly through the oleo. (They were separate because that way, the milkman couldn't cheat you and charge for butter but give you the cheaper oleo. And you could just toss out the coloring if you didn't want to bother with the squishing: it made no difference to taste/texture/etc.) Then somewhere along the way, 'round about the '50s, they started to call that oleomargarine 'margarine' instead of 'oleo'. Many if not most homes used oleo/margarine in the '30s and '40s: it was cheaper during the Great Depression, and more available than butter (not quite as rationed) during WWII.

Anyhoo.... you probably don't really care about that stuff.

Yeah, of you have the two side-by-side you can probably tell the difference: the color and definitely the taste will be different. Easiest thing for you to do, assuming you want to keep your margarine and a happy boyfriend, is keep both in your fridge.
posted by easily confused at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

I do butter only. It's healthier.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

To keep your butter spreadable, you can keep it in a butter bell (aka butter keeper). You can find them for $8.50-$45.00 depending on brand and material. You could also stick some butter in your food processor and pulse it with some olive oil until blended and it will stay spreadable in your fridge.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 11:37 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like others, I grew up in a margarine-only household and discovered butter later in life (although I don't think I switched to butter until well into adulthood, when I finally stopped being so fucking poor). The superior deliciousness of butter is both a blessing and a curse: blessing, because it is supremely delicious; curse, because its supreme deliciousness makes me crave it in a way I never craved margarine. Limiting myself to one hot buttered biscuit is definitely a challenge!
posted by drlith at 11:42 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I prefer butter for taste and health, and marg for spreadability. I compromise and get spreadable butter, which is butter mixed with either canola or olive oil. Tastes like butter, spreads like marg, everyone is happy.

Despite what someone said upthread I can tell butter from margarine if you spread it on toast or a sandwich. If I am at someones house else's house though I just eat it with every sign of delight because my mother raised me with manners. Boyfriends fall in the buy some butter and make him him happy category though.
posted by wwax at 11:45 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not only is there butter, but there's the fantastic stuff form Europe (and those styled after it). These French and Irish butters are both great for finishing (regular butter cooks just as well and the spendy stuff loses the flavor). Plurga, Cabot, Straus, Beurre President, Kerrygold, Challenge European are all fantastic and findable in the US. Just another level of butter.
posted by kcm at 11:55 AM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Think of margarine like "imitation butter". It's fake butter-flavored solidified* oil. So in that sense, butter is better because it's the real thing.

Of course, just because it's fake doesn't mean you, personally, don't enjoy eating it. I eat all kinds of fake stuff all the time without ever thinking about it. I mean, queso dip? Very little resemblance to actual cheese, there. But still delicious.

I don't think it's normal to be revolted by margarine. I grew up eating it, and my mom still is far more willing to eat fake butter substitutes than I am. But, look, butter is objectively preferable to the imitators. Because they're imitators.

On the other hand, it is kind of shitty of your boyfriend to act like a taste preference like this is something it's possible to be objectively right or wrong about. If he doesn't like that you keep margarine in the house rather than butter, he's welcome to just not have toast over there, or whatever. It's your house. If you live together, I don't know, keep both on hand? It's really a matter of personal preference and not something worth arguing about. Nobody can be correct on this issue, any more than you can be correct on the proper thickness of a slice of deli meat, whether parmesano reggiano is better than grana padano, or whether you'd rather have pinot noir or chardonnay with your chicken. It's a matter of taste.

*Is it still made with transfats? I don't know. But still, ew.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on June 1, 2014

They were separate because that way, the milkman couldn't cheat you and charge for butter but give you the cheaper oleo.

My understanding was that the Oleo was white with the yellow coloring packet at the behest of the Dairy Lobby which was none too pleased at having a cheaper competitor.
posted by ambrosia at 11:56 AM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think Imperial hard margarine, the stuff that is packaged more like butter, is made with palm oil now, rather than high-trans-fat hydrogenated soybean oil. It's not as disgusting nutritionally, but then there's the problem of rainforest being destroyed at increasing rates so that palm oil plantations can replace them. Butter is still so much better anyway. After you eat real butter for a while, you will probably find that the fake stuff no longer tastes as good to you.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 12:11 PM on June 1, 2014

Your poor boyfriend has been storing up a load of tiny dissatisfactions at the taste of the sandwiches he's been eating at your house. He probably thought it was your sandwich technique that was off but was too polite to mention it and now he's found out the real reason, he must have had to explode a little.

Personally I don't like those tiny dissatisfactions and will forego a bread-based snack if the only thing to butter it with is margarine. No histrionics, but no sandwich either.

(And the people in my house won't buy their own butter but insist on having margarine around for 'health reasons'. Spurious moocher-looking ruffians.)
posted by glasseyes at 12:11 PM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would not voluntarily eat margarine, no. Butter on the other hand might as well be manna from heaven. Mmmhhh.
posted by lydhre at 12:12 PM on June 1, 2014

Post-preview, palm oil made in the little home-made cottage industries of its country of origin is a delicious oil, if heavy. The stuff that's been through an industrial process is pants. In the UK I won't eat imported palm oil but I did take the trouble to bring some of the home-made stuff through customs, at great risk to everything else in my suitcase.
posted by glasseyes at 12:15 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The science behind butter and saturated fat being bad for you might not be so sound. Between that, taste, and margarine being so processed, I happily go with butter. But use the salted stuff! Unsalted butter on toast doesn't taste very good, especially if you're comparing it to a salty margarine spread.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like kcm's answer. If your BF spends a lot of time cooking gourmet French for you, then let him throw a fit over butter.

We are a butter house, but we have "the cheap stuff" for day-to-day usage and Kerrygold for the times when you really want to taste butter. I could swap out "the cheap stuff" with margarine and probably no one would notice. But if I tried to do that with Kerrygold, I'd never be able to get away with it.

So, unless your BF is cooking for you, and it's in circumstances where the butter flavor is allowed to shine through, then he can put up or shut up. /mho
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 12:23 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up on margarine, but switched to butter after college. This was right around the time the big trans-fat scare happened, and a lot of margarines began tinkering with their formula to get rid of trans-fats. These new margarines just didn't behave the same as they used to (especially the spreads, which seemed to give my toast kind of a water-logged texture) so I started looking for alternatives. I also started exercising my cooking skills and discovered the almost universal disdain for margarine by most chefs (watched a lot of food network at the time, and Good Eats was my favorite show for a while).

I can definitely tell the difference, and I find butter just wins out in all the applications I can think of, and the health argument against butter is just not as clear as it was years ago. Given all of that, I'd rather stick with a known quantity; who knows what health issues they might find with even the new formulations of trans-fat-free margarines that are on the market these days.
posted by Aleyn at 12:28 PM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you cooking or baking with butter? Butter acts a bit differently in the pan than oil, because butter is about 10% water by weight, and that water will boil off (hence the bubbling the butter does). Also, since butter is from nature's kitchen, it's got a mix of dairy fats as well as dairy solids that never melt. These are the solids that brown up when you're frying with butter or making brown butter, and they taste amazing as long as they're not burned. No margarine can ever come close to that. The solids mean that butter should not be used at high heat...but they can be removed, and the result is the relatively heat-tolerant liquids-only butter, called clarified butter or ghee. You can also mix butter with oil (say 50:50) when pan-frying to get the best of both worlds.

Margarine doesn't really belong in the pan because it's made into margarine for its texture, and there are plenty of cheap, pure oils that're great for cooking. Margarine could also be different in the pan from brand to brand, as you never know what mix of oils is in there, nor how they all melt, nor their smoke points, which dictates how hot you can get them. I use some "vegetable spread" on the bread when making grilled cheese, because it does the job of spreading, and the grilled cheese comes out fine. But if I'm throwing a blob of something in the pan, it's going to be butter.

As for baking, you should definitely go with butter unless there are specific health considerations (beyond "I want to be healthy."---for that, limit your intake of buttery pastries). Bake with unsalted butter-- it's easy to add salt, but hard to remove the stuff.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

As far as I'm concerned, good quality butter from grassfed cows is way better (and probably healthier) than margarine. And just because your margarine may say "0g trans fats" doesn't mean it actually has no trans fats. If it says "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated," it has trans fats. So, butter for me.
posted by wintersweet at 12:41 PM on June 1, 2014

I am in a mixed marraige: I am Butter, he Margarine. We each think the other is nuts, but I'm right. Butter is far superior in taste and texture, and he is a dude who doesn't like cheese (!!!). But in the interests of a peaceful union, both have a place in our fridge. Whoever is doing the cooking chooses the raw materials, and all is well.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:44 PM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Grew up with margarine and corn oil for cooking and baking. Discovered real butter in my twenties and olive oil in my thirties... What a revelation!

I can tell the difference, to the point that I get disappointed with restaurants that feature breakfast but no butter, period.

I eat unsalted butter, and it tastes sweet and rich. Most people in America eat a lot of oversalted foods from restaurants and packages, so it may seem at first that something is missing, big time.
posted by mitschlag at 12:50 PM on June 1, 2014

Having recently rewatched season 6 of Mad Men, I feel obliged to offer Don Draper's take on this.
posted by charlemangy at 1:04 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there really a notable difference in taste?

Dear God, yes.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:12 PM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

As for health, see this article about that recent saturated fat study. Harvard's Nutritionsource has a good article about fats and health that also gets into this.
posted by blub at 1:15 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, regarding your worries that this might cause your boyfriend a heart attack or otherwise harm his health: there is some recent scholarly thought that high-fat dairy generally, including butter, may be negatively associated with weight gain (in other words, may help keep you slim, or at least may not contribute to weight gain). See, for instance, this NPR piece - especially the following quotation:

Consider the findings of two recent studies that conclude the consumption of whole-fat dairy is linked to reduced body fat.

In one paper, published by Swedish researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, middle-aged men who consumed high-fat milk, butter and cream were significantly less likely to become obese over a period of 12 years compared with men who never or rarely ate high-fat dairy.

It's still unclear at present what might create this association (whether high-fat foods simply create satiety, or whether there are bioactive substances in dairy fat that help promote weight/fat loss). But other studies have shown similar correlation: the NPR article goes on to talk about a study on toddlers, where fatty milk was associated with lower body weight over time than lower fat milk.

Plus, full-fat dairy is possibly the most delicious stuff on the planet - and I say that as someone who grew up eating/drinking mostly fat free things. I recently discovered full-fat Greek yogurt, and seriously it was like finding God. Real butter is similar.
posted by ClaireBear at 1:26 PM on June 1, 2014

  butter is one of the benevolent, naturally intended consequences of cows' milk

… as is bloating, cramps, flatulence, diarrhoea, and nausea, unless you're one of those weird pallid Northern mutants who can still produce lactase as an adult.

It's a class/confirmation bias thing. He's probably so hurt that his refined senses didn't immediately pick up on the proletarian stink of marge. For reference: yes, I can tell the difference. For some things it has to be butter (confectionery, any kind of egg recipe). I must admit to enjoying the fakiness of margarine; the outside (= heel) of a Mother's Pride loaf (= whiter than white ‘bread’) slathered in Blue Band margarine was a childhood delicacy. Healthy? Probably best not to be choking down too much of either.
posted by scruss at 1:48 PM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was raised on margarine and called it butter, too (Imperial FTW!). Then at 17 I was an exchange student in Belgium and discovered butter for the first time. I never really looked back.

I will say, however, that I buy inexpensive butter for my day-to-day (co-op made!) and if I'm truly honest, its flavour is not so rich and delicious that margarine couldn't be subbed in without my noticing. Good butter is incomparable, though.

On the other hand, I can tell just by smelling it if a movie theatre is using butter or "golden topping." That melted marg stuff is vile.
posted by looli at 2:09 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Grew up with margarine and corn oil for cooking and baking.

Hey, me too! Any chance you are Jewish?

It always surprises me, in these margarine vs. butter debates (including the one on Mad Men) that this usually goes unsaid: butter, being a dairy product, can't be consumed with meats because it's not kosher. If you grew up in a Jewish household, there's a good chance that you grew up with margarine and corn oil and crisco because it means you don't have to worry about boiling the calf in it's mother's milk and all of that. See this article on the importance of Kosher-for-Passover margarine. I grew up with margarine; as a grown-up, I'll eat butter, too (though it tastes impossibly rich). But a schmear of butter on matzoh just won't do. It's gotta be margarine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:14 PM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am amazed he couldn't tell the difference. Drunk with new love, apparently. Maybe my husband could have fed me margarine in the early months without my noticing ........ maybe.
posted by gerstle at 2:24 PM on June 1, 2014

You know what they say? "It's better with butter." Or "avec du beurre c'est bien meilleur." When recipes call for margarine, I usually replace the margarine with oil, since a lot of the time margarine seems like it's oil + additives.
posted by aniola at 2:54 PM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Update: we went to the store. We bought butter. And French bread. Oh people of metafilter, you are so right. Butter is AWESOME!!!! No more margarine for me.

And boyfriend is very, very happy.
posted by phoenix_rising at 3:16 PM on June 1, 2014 [63 favorites]

I grew up in an I Can't Believe It's Not Butter house. Everything--every fucking thing--we ate was slathered in the stuff. We had it in a stick, in a tub, in a squirt bottle, and even in a misting spray bottle for that blip in the late nineties when shit in misting spray bottles was in vogue. I was aware that it wasn't butter thanks to the name of the product, but really had no idea what I was missing.

When I got older and moved out of the house I really only had reason to use the stuff while baking, and since baking recipes call for unsalted butter, that was the kind of butter I had in my house. When I'd go visit back home I'd always ask my mom to grab a thing of unsalted butter so I could bake for them while I was there, and she'd always insist that "no, this is the same thing" and proffer sticks of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. Predictably nothing I ever baked there tasted right.

And then one day I got a Costco membership, and on a whim bought a tub of Kerrygold. Oh sweet jesus. Suddenly I understood. Finally it made sense to me why people would spread butter on bread! Because it actually TASTES GOOD. I have become A Butter Person.

I am actually personally offended a little whenever I see someone bypass the butter and actually choose to pick up a tub of margarine for the purposes of spreading on things. Surely they just don't know, right? No one would intentionally make the decision to spread salted grease on their bread if they knew how delicious butter actually was! And the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter stuff...oh god it's so hard to watch my family when I'm back home. It's SO yellow. SO greasy. It's just so sad.

OP, if you really love your boyfriend (and yourself) you should go buy some Kerrygold and a nice quality baguette. Sit down and experience some real butter. See for yourself.
posted by phunniemee at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well look at that, should'a previewed.

posted by phunniemee at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

How is it that my dear boyfriend was able to consume two full sticks of margarine without detecting that it was NOT BUTTER

This reminds me of a video someone sent me years ago about shoppers happily eating some jam they swore up and down they abhorred a few moments beforehand, so I went digging about gmail and lo' found the video. The phenomenon is called "choice blindness" and Horizon did a documentary about it.
posted by redindiaink at 4:28 PM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

We use organic butter; there is a big difference in the health qualities of the fats in organic dairy products.

And the taste of butter is way better.
posted by Red Loop at 4:54 PM on June 1, 2014

We have both in the house. There are some things I make with margarine and others with butter. There are uses for both. In fact, I (and my husband who didn't grow up with them) prefer my chocolate chip cookies made with margarine. But in general I tend to only use margarine in a couple instances and butter the rest of the time. My parents are pretty solidly margarine users though, except for a few recipes (baking related). They do taste different, but I still tend to like margarine on my bread just because it's easy to spread and I like the taste. And I'm not going to make my own spreadable butter, and I also can't come up with a real reason to buy expensive butter, so YMMV : )
posted by katers890 at 6:20 PM on June 1, 2014

I think it depends if you grew up with salted butter or not. I grew up with unsalted, so margarine will always not taste or feel like butter to me. I actually like the taste of salted butter on bread sometimes, (and always on matzoh) but I prefer to just sprinkle a few grains of salt and use unsalted butter.

That said, I find most decent quality margarine is just fine because if I am eating margarine that means that I am eating bread and that's all matters.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:39 PM on June 1, 2014

It took me a while to work out that my partner was putting margarine on my peanut butter toast when he made it, because it's fairly tasteless. So when he told my mum to put butter on the peanut butter toast I flailed because I just have it straight, when I make it. So even though I have a preference for butter, I didn't even realise he was putting anything on the toast other than pb. If it were a strong tasting jam, or vegemite, it'd probably be the same result.

I hasten to add that I was heavily pregnant/nursing when all this pb toast making happened.

And I have both in my fridge since my partner dislikes butter on bread. In cooking it's fine, but not on a sandwich.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:01 PM on June 1, 2014

I agree that there is a strong taste difference between butter and margarine. I can always tell that something is wrong if butter gets spread on my toast instead of margarine. My parents started using butter instead of margarine in my teens but I've never taken to it. Probably just as well, as I later discovered a dairy allergy. (And now useful that I can usually tell if something was made with butter at a taste, so I can stop eating before I get sick.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:29 PM on June 1, 2014

For any future generations reading this - Cool Whip is to whipped cream as margarine is to butter. So you might want to switch that too.
posted by true at 8:13 PM on June 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

now that you have found your way down the butter path - see about exploring different types. My personal favorite is the Echire demi-sel, but I am obsessed with French butters in general and bring a few back every time I can get my hands on it.
posted by alchemist at 11:54 PM on June 1, 2014

Without doing a direct comparison taste test, people often don't notice how something really... tastes. If it's immersed in other flavours, it often doesn't matter.
Margarine is kind of bland, I don't mind using it as a - stops my bread getting soggy layer.

The other one to do is soya sauce, if you get one of the crap supermarket european brand ones. A boyfriend teased me about being picky and refusing to use his (brown dyed bitter salty vinegar muck), until I got him to taste test mine (honestly, any naturally brewed light soya sauce) and his on a forkful of rice each.
He chewed thoughtfully, then declared he was never buying his crap again, and dumped it in the bin.
posted by Elysum at 12:25 AM on June 2, 2014

Do you really want to blow your mind? Find some cultured butter. It's made from milk that's been allowed to ferment for a short while before churning. (It used to be the only kind of butter.)

It's spendier and harder to find—try the fancy cheese case at a good supermarket—but it has an amazing, intensely buttery flavor—the Platonic ideal of buttery goodness. You really ought to try it at least once, if only so you know what butter can be.

I like the Vermont Creamery brand. You'll also see it labeled as "European-style" butter (e.g., Presidente and Kerrygold), but Vermont Creamery has the richest flavor, I think.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:19 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Every time you use margarine, God kills a kitten.

I get my butter from a local organic, grass-fed, raw milk dairy. It is very expensive.

It is worth it.
posted by caryatid at 8:10 AM on June 2, 2014

Jeeze guys, why don't you marry butter if you love it so much?

I kid, but just as a data-point, not everyone finds any particularly important difference between margarine and butter. <:)
posted by Drexen at 9:37 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I personally don't trust margarine. I like to go by the saying "If our human ancestors from centuries past didn't eat it, you probably shouldn't either." Margarine is an unnatural chemical concoction. Whether or not it has carcinogens in it is still debated.
posted by olivetree at 10:07 AM on June 2, 2014

Want to really treat yourself, buy some Kerrygold pure Irish butter (sold in a lot of grocery stores now). Soooo delish.
posted by Falwless at 11:56 AM on June 2, 2014

Protip: Trader Joe's sells Kerrygold for a very reasonable price (not much more than the store-brand butter) and it is indeed heavenly.
posted by lunasol at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can't believe I missed a butter thread!

Sounds like the good work is done here (congrats phoenix_rising on your new found food : ), but for posterity I've done an informal butter survey of my butter loving colleagues (i.e. I looked in the work fridge drawer where everyone puts their butter) and trader joe's brand seems to be the clear winner for general butter choice (five different sticks of that without another brand in sight). Of course they may keep their fancier butters at home for fear of work thieves. But it is a very good butter, especially for the price.

Jeeze guys, why don't you marry butter if you love it so much?
I would totally marry it. Best. Thing. Ever : )
posted by pennypiper at 1:42 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

How is it that my dear boyfriend was able to consume two full sticks of margarine without detecting that it was NOT BUTTER, but now that he knows it is in fact NOT BUTTER, he insists that it's an inedible abomination?

Because they actually taste not too dissimilar, and people's strong preferences as expressed by your boyfriend and most of the people in this thread are a reflection of the fact that liking butter over margarine is associated with higher socioeconomic status. Liking margarine, or not being able to tell the difference, is associated with lower socioeconomic status. When people taste the two products blinded, like your boyfriend did, those socioeconomic markers are removed and it turns out most people don't really notice or give a shit.

Also, the notion of butter being better because it's not a "frankenfood" is just a case of the naturalistic fallacy. Natural things (not that butter is found in nature) aren't necessarily better for you (anthrax, arsenic, salmonella, etc). Human-made things aren't necessarily bad for you (clean water, tofu, vitamins, medicine, vaccines, anything at a molecular gastronomy restaurant). Personally, I eat margarine because it's cruelty-free, which is another factor to consider.
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:44 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

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