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May 19, 2015
Oil, butter or margarine? Which one should I choose?

I’ve realized that one of the things that confuse you in our recipes… is butter.

Sometimes the recipe calls for butter and you quickly substitute it with margarine or some other oily substance. The result? You send me messages saying that this particular recipe didn’t work out!

It is very important for my team and myself, to know that the recipes we share with you, whether on TV, in my magazine, in my book or on the website, turn out successful when you try to make them yourselves. We put a lot of work, time and effort into presenting the best and easiest ways for you to prepare the recipes and we try to lessen the chances of anything going wrong. We know that you spend money (to buy the ingredients), time (to make them) and if they don’t turn out as we intended, we know that it spoils your mood and it spoils ours also! You can’t imagine how much work we’ve put into trying and testing all of the recipes in order to lower the chances of something going wrong. But! If you change the ingredients then we have no control over the outcome… I wish I could be with each and every one of you, in your kitchen and help you with every recipe… but as you know, I can’t… This is why I try to reach out to you through the words in these diaries… so I can help you as best as I possibly can!

This is why today I want to talk to you about butter, margarine and oil. What each one is used for and why choose one from the other and for what purpose. And of course, why we should never trade one for the other and ALWAYS stick to the exact ingredients specified in each recipe! (At least for these particular ingredients!)

 

MARGARINE is a product that was first made in France in the 1800’s. It was created after a contest Napoleon the 3rd came up with. He made his request known to the chemists available during that time. He said “ I want you to create a product that can “imitate” butter, but that can be less expensive and can be given to soldiers and poor people.” It is a fat and water emulsion made from various refined vegetable oils.

 

BUTTER is a product that is made from milk from mammals (such as cows, sheep, goats and even from buffalos). It is basically a fat and water emulsion, just like margarine.

All of the ingredients mentioned above contain fatty acids. Some are better, nutritionally, while others are worse.

A few words on fatty acids…

A fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a long aliphatic tail (chain), which is either saturated or unsaturated. Most naturally occurring fatty acids have a chain of an even number of carbon atoms, form 4 to 28. Fatty acids are usually derived from triglycerides or phospholipids.

A saturated fat is a fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids that have no double bonds between the individual carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. That is, the chain of carbon atoms is fully “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.

An unsaturated fat is a fat in which there is at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain. Where double bonds are formed, hydrogen atoms are eliminated. Unsaturated fat contain somewhat less energy (calories) than an equivalent amount of saturated fat.

Fatty acids are important sources of fuel because, when metabolized, they yield large quantities of ATP. ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism.

Another category of fatty acids are cis and trans. We are more interested in trans acids, because they are not found in nature or if they are it is in very small percentages.

They occur when we convert the fatty acids into hydrogenated fat, during the process of making margarine, for instance, or during cooking. The bad thing about trans fats is that they increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol…  This is why dietician’s doctor’s orders are to avoid them at all costs!

 

Let’s take a deeper look from a dietary perspective and see what category oils, margarines and butter fall under.

First of all, as far as energy is concerned. By this I mean calories. There isn’t much difference here. We don’t prefer olive oil, for instance, instead of butter, due to calories.

If we were to choose which is healthier or more nutritious, that would be olive oil because it is made up of monounsaturated good fatty acids.

From there on, we have polyunsaturated oils, which are found in the rest of the oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, soy oil and also in foods such as avocado, sesame seeds etc.

The only drawback with these is that when they are cooked, the polyunsaturated fats can turn into trans fats because of the heat involved. This is not something we want. This is why it is said that it is better to fry food in olive oil. It is much more resistant to high temperatures. The food might be a little “heavier” but it is the healthiest way to fry.

Moving on to margarines. They come in many forms. First of all, the hard margarines which are packaged like butter. They usually contain a lot of trans fats, which are detrimental to your health. These are the ones you need to avoid.

Soft margarines are the best because they contain unsaturated oils and are of course better for our health than saturated fats.

It is very easy to get lost and confused in the supermarket where there is such a wide variety. This is why it is so important to carefully read the list of ingredients on the packaging. Choose margarines that contain the least amount of saturated fats and certainly no traces of trans fats.

Butter on the other hand, contains a much larger amount of saturated fats because it is made from animal milk. This is why it is better to avoid it.

So finally, it is best to avoid butter and margarines and turn to olive oil.

If we want to spread butter on a sandwich for instance, we can substitute it with tahini or some other type of nut spread.

Also, when we want to sauté food, it is better to do it with olive oil instead of butter; or at least use some olive oil and a little butter, combined.

All of the ingredients mentioned above should a part of our diet, but in the right way. Butter is a wonderful natural ingredient and should be kept in our diet, but not overdone.

When professor Joan Gussow, the mother of organic diet, was asked if we should choose butter or margarine, her answer was ‘ I trust cows much more than I trust chemists” !

All of what has been mentioned above has to do with nutrition and health. So what happens during cooking and baking?

It is important to follow the recipe precisely. Butter and margarine have different compositions. Especially margarine, depending on the brand, it can consist of completely different fats that can each react in a different manner. This makes the final outcome in our sweets to differ every time.

If we are set on avoiding butter all together, we should make sure the margarine we choose to contain over 80% fat. This is VERY important, especially when making cookies. If the cooking fat that we add to the recipe contains more water, our cookies will spread out too much and the edges will come out burned.

Butter gives the best results in texture for cakes and cookies.  It is the best ingredient to use. It also lends a wonderful taste and aroma. We just need to watch how many cookies we consume!

And finally… It is very important to use each ingredient in its exact form specified. For instance, if a recipe calls for butter at room temperature, we have to remove it from the refrigerator for at least 1 hour for it to have time to soften. We DON’T put it in the microwave because its texture changes. Small lumps will form and it will not create a smooth, creamy texture when beaten and the recipe will not turn out right.

Have I confused you? I hope not. I hope I gave you food for thought! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have! As always, you know where to find me...

 

Akis

 

 

 

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