AskDefine | Define margarine

Dictionary Definition

margarine n : a spread made chiefly from vegetable oils and used as a substitute for butter [syn: margarin, oleo, oleomargarine, marge]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. From the surname of its inventor Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés.
  2. From margaric acid from (margaron), pearl.



  1. A spread, manufactured from a blend of vegetable oils (some of which are hydrogenated), emulsifiers etc, mostly used as a substitute for butter.



Extensive Definition

Margarine ( or /ˈmɑrgəriːn/), as a generic term, can indicate any of a wide range of butter substitutes. In many parts of the world, margarine has become the best-selling table spread, although butter and olive oil also command large market shares. Margarine is an ingredient in the preparation of many other foods. In some regions people may refer to margarine as butter in informal speech, but in several countries laws forbid food packaging to refer to margarine as "butter". Recipes sometimes refer to margarine as oleo.


Margarine has a long and sometimes confusing history. Its name originates with the discovery by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1813 of "margaric acid" (itself named after the pearly deposits of the fatty acid from Greek or μάργαρον (margarís, -îtēs / márgaron), meaning "a pearl-oyster" or "a pearl"). Scientists at the time regarded margaric acid, like oleic acid and stearic acid, as one of the three fatty acids which, in combination, formed most animal fats. In 1853 the German structural chemist Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz analyzed margaric acid as simply a combination of stearic acid and of the previously unknown palmitic acid.
In 1869 Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory substitute for butter, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes. French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés invented a substance he called oleomargarine, the name of which became shortened to the trade name "Margarine". Margarine now refers generically to any of a range of broadly similar edible oils. The name oleomargarine is sometimes abbreviated to oleo.
Manufacturers produced oleomargarine by taking clarified vegetable fat, extracting the liquid portion under pressure, and then allowing it to solidify. When combined with butyrin and water, it made a cheap and more-or-less palatable butter-substitute. Sold as Margarine or under any of a host of other trade names, butter-substitutes soon became a substantial market segment — but too late to help Mège-Mouriés: although he expanded his initial manufacturing operation from France to the United States in 1873, he had little commercial success. By the end of the decade both the old world and the new could buy artificial butters.
From that time on, two main trends would dominate the margarine industry: on one hand a series of refinements and improvements to the product and its manufacture, and on the other a long and bitter struggle with the dairy industry, which defended itself from the margarine industry with vigor. As early as 1877 the first U.S. states had passed laws to restrict the sale and labelling of margarine. By the mid-1880s the United States federal government had introduced a tax of two cents per pound, and devotees needed an expensive license to make or sell the product. Individual states began to require the clear labelling of margarine, banning passing it off as real butter.
The key to slowing margarine sales (and protecting the established dairy industries), however, emerged as restricting its color. Margarine naturally appears white or almost white: by forbidding the addition of artificial coloring-agents, legislators found that they could keep margarine off kitchen tables. Bans on coloration became commonplace around the world and endured for almost 100 years. It did not become legal to sell colored margarine in Australia, for example, until the 1960s.

Margarine in the USA

In the United States, the color bans, drafted by the butter lobby, began in the dairy states of New York and New Jersey. In several states, the legislature enacted laws to force margarine manufacturers to add pink colorings to make the product look unpalatable, but the Supreme Court struck down New Hampshire's law and overruled these measures. By the start of the 20th century, eight out of ten Americans could not buy yellow margarine, and those that could had to pay a hefty tax on it. Bootleg colored margarine became common, and manufacturers began to supply food-coloring capsules so that the consumer could knead the yellow color into margarine before serving it. Nevertheless, the regulations and taxes had a significant effect: the 1902 restrictions on margarine color, for example, cut annual U.S. consumption from 120 million to 48 million pounds (54,000 to 22,000 tons). However, by the end of the 1910s, it had become more popular than ever.
With the coming of World War I, margarine consumption increased enormously, even in unscathed regions like the United States. In the countries closest to the fighting, dairy products became almost unobtainable and were strictly rationed. The United Kingdom, for example, depended on imported butter from Australia and New Zealand and the risk of submarine attack meant that little arrived. Margarine became the staple spread, and butter a rare and expensive luxury.
The long-running rent-seeking battle between the margarine and dairy lobbies continued: in the United States, the Great Depression brought a renewed wave of pro-dairy legislation; the Second World War, a swing back to margarine. Post-war, the margarine lobby gained power and, little by little, the main margarine restrictions were lifted, the last state to do so being Wisconsin in 1967. However, some vestiges of the legal restrictions remain in the U.S.: the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act still prohibits the retail sale of margarine in packages larger than one pound .

Margarine in Canada

In Canada, margarine was banned from 1886 until 1948 though this ban was temporarily lifted from 1917 until 1923 due to dairy shortages. As of 2008, Quebec, which requires margarine to be colorless, is the only jurisdiction in North America to regulate the color of margarine. Quebec's margarine law was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2005..
The total amount of fat you eat isn't really linked with disease. However, fat consumption in the Western world is quite high, which is one of the reasons for weight problems. Traditional margarine (~80% fat) contributes to this, but is not the main factor causing over-consumption. Low-fat spreads could serve as an alternative, and are widely available.
The roles of butter and margarine are quite similar with respect to their energy content.

Saturated fat

The saturated fatty acids in triglycerides contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels, which in turn has often been linked to cardiovascular diseases. Saturated fat increases both LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Vegetable fats can contain anything between 10% and 100% saturated fatty acids. Liquid oils (unhardened canola oil, sunflower oil) tend to be on the low end, while tropical oils (coconut oil, palm kernal oil) and fully hardened oils are at the high end of the scale. A margarine blend is a mixture of both types of components, and will rarely exceed 50% saturated fatty acids on fat. Exceptions are some traditional kitchen margarines or products that have to maintain stability under tropical conditions. Generally, firmer margarines contain more saturated fat.
Regular butterfat contains ~65% saturated fatty acids on fat , although this varies somewhat with season. One tablespoon of butter contains over 7g of saturated fat.

Unsaturated fat

The unsaturated fatty acids are said to decrease LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) levels and increase HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) levels in the blood, thus reducing the risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases..
There are two types of unsaturated oils: mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Their nutritional and health effects are recognized in contrast to saturated fats; each degree of unsaturation conferring additional benefits. Some widely grown vegetable oils such as rapeseed (and its variant canola), sunflower, safflower, and olive oils contain high amount of unsaturated fats indicate a link between consumption of high amounts of trans fat and coronary heart disease, and possibly some other diseases. This is mainly because trans fats increase the amount of LDL cholesterol and decrease the amount of HDL cholesterol in blood stream. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association (AHA) all have recommended people to limit intake of trans-fat.
Trans fats occur naturally in vegetable oils in only tiny quantities. However, they are a deliberate consequence of partial hydrogenation of light oils, intended to 'harden' the oil sufficiently for it to take on the eating quality of butter oil. In contrast, full hydrogenation generates few trans fats, but is intended to turn light oils into fully saturated fats, principally used in commercial vegetable shortenings for baking. The intended effect of partial hydrogenation is to straighten the molecule of polyunsaturated fatty acids, so that they behave more like saturated fats. These trans fatty acids are used by the body like saturated fats, mainly as fuel, but tend to block the use of Omega-3 and Omega-6 for vital bodily functions. They have been indicted as worse for health than even the well-publicized saturated fats in butter and meat.
Particularly in the US, partial hydrogenation has been common as a result of national dependence on a limited number of vegetable oil sources, US-grown oils being preferred to tropical oils which are principally saturated fat. However, in other parts of the world, the industry started to move away from using partially hydrogenated oils in the mid-nineties. This led to the production of new margarine varieties that contain less or no trans fat, the buttery consistency and 'mouth' being produced using other ingredients. Many manufacturers in the US now label their products (following government regulations) as "zero grams" trans-fat, which effectively means less than 500 mg trans-fat per serving - no fat is entirely free of trans fats. For example, natural butterfat contains 2-5% trans fatty acids (mainly trans-vaccenic acid, a variannt of the normal vaccenic acid).


Typically about 70% of human cholesterol is produced by the human body and only 30% comes from nutrition. Thus intake of cholesterol as food has less effect on blood cholesterol levels than the type of fat you eat. Margarine contains only negligible amounts of or no cholesterol. However, eating more than small quantities of saturated and trans fats such as are in both butter and most margarines will induce more cholesterol production than is needed, and can lead to heart disease.

Plant sterol/stanol esters

Plant sterol esters or plant stanol esters have been added to some margarines and spreads because of their cholesterol lowering effect. Several studies have indicated that consumption of about 2 grams per day provides a reduction in LDL cholesterol of about 10%. Sterol/stanol esters are tasteless and odorless, and have the same physical and chemical properties typical of most fats. However, they do not enter the the blood stream but instead pass through the gut. Thus they suit well to be used in low-fat spreads. Eating more than a little of such spreads, though, will necessarily mean eating more fats than recommended for health. There are better foods to use as the main source of sterols and stanols.
margarine in Arabic: مارغرين
margarine in Bulgarian: Маргарин
margarine in Catalan: Margarina
margarine in Czech: Margarín
margarine in Danish: Margarine
margarine in German: Margarine
margarine in Estonian: Margariin
margarine in Spanish: Margarina
margarine in Esperanto: Margarino
margarine in French: Margarine
margarine in Indonesian: Margarin
margarine in Italian: Margarina
margarine in Hebrew: מרגרינה
margarine in Hungarian: Margarin
margarine in Malay (macrolanguage): Marjerin
margarine in Dutch: Margarine
margarine in Japanese: マーガリン
margarine in Norwegian: Margarin
margarine in Polish: Margaryna
margarine in Portuguese: Margarina
margarine in Romanian: Margarină
margarine in Russian: Маргарин
margarine in Simple English: Margarine
margarine in Finnish: Margariini
margarine in Swedish: Margarin
margarine in Turkish: Margarin
margarine in Chinese: 植物牛油

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

butter, buttermilk, certified milk, cheese, condensed milk, cream, dairy products, ghee, half-and-half, heavy cream, light cream, milk, nonfat dry milk, oleo, oleomargarine, raw milk, skim milk, sour cream, whey, whipping cream, yogurt
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