So I was at our local Winco, doing the regular grocery shopping, and one of the items we needed was butter. We’re a real butter house. We go through WAY too much of it, and it’s way more expensive than margarine, but we prefer the benefits of using real butter. Winco is the low price leader as far as grocery stores go around here, so I was shocked to see these prices on the butter:

Yeah, that’s $4.84 and $5.10 a pound for butter! And at Winco the green labels mean those are sale prices! I have issues paying more than $2.50 a pound for butter, and even Costco’s been higher than that lately, but this was a problem. We were totally out of butter, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay those prices, so I decided for the first time in 15-20 years to use margarine. And when I say “margarine”, I really mean “vegetable oil spread”, which isn’t even technically margarine. 79₵ a pound, though!

When I went to check out, I mentioned to the young lady checker that, dang, butter is expensive. Her response: “Well here’s your butter, and it’s only 79₵!”

“No, that’s margarine.”

“What’s the difference?”

Fortunately there was nobody behind me in line as I explained the differences between the two.

I realized then that there is an ongoing need for food education, because the more you know about food, the better food decisions you can make.  Really, all of us should be learning a little about food as often as possible.  After all, we eat every day

So here’s the difference between butter, margarine, and fake margarine (vegetable oil spreads):

  • Butter: a dairy product made generally by churning cream from cow’s milk
    • Pros: a natural product, robust and smooth texture when used in cooking, works better than margarine in baking, and you just can’t beat that great real butter taste!
    • Cons: expensive, low smoke point
    • Clarified butter: butter that has had the milk solids removed and can be heated to a higher smoke point. This is useful for pan-frying when you need to cook at a high heat but still want that nice, buttery flavor
    • To make clarified butter, here's an easy recipe.
  • Margarine: Imitation butter spread generally made from refined vegetable oil and water. Must be at least 80% fat to be labeled “margarine”
    • Pros: inexpensive, high smoke point
    • Cons: health concerns (hydrogenated oils), flavor not exactly like butter, less desirable for baking
  • Spreads: Made from hydrogenated oils and water, these imitation butter spreads can be up to 40% water
    • Pros: inexpensive, easy to spread, high smoke point
    • Cons: health concerns (check the ingredients list on most of these and see if you can pronounce all the words), texture and constitution not as desirable in baking

Here’s a nice recipe that uses real butter and our killer Strong A.R.M. seasoning:

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