If you can't believe it's not butter, then what, exactly, is it? We live in a world where the butter aisle is filled with not only our regulars, but also organic and grass-fed butters, and about a thousand new trendy plant-oil spreadable alternatives. But margarine has been around for a while. So what is margarine? And what is margarine made out of?

Margarine, Defined:

According to the FDA Code of Federal Regulations (a resource which lists out what foods must have or not have in order to claim themselves as certain things), margarine is a food in plastic form (meaning it's not solid, not liquid) or a liquid emulsion, containing not less than 80% fat... and contains only safe and suitable ingredients.

So What's In My Spread?

A quick check of the ingredient lists of the most popular margarine brands will tell you that many of the margarines on the market are made out of a combination of vegetable oils (most commonly soybean, palm, palm kernel), water, and salt. Preservatives vary between brands. Some have many, others have few or none. Some also contain milk or milk products. 

 Smart Balance offers a slightly different blend. It's made mostly of canola and olive oil. Earth Balance is also made primarily of canola, soybean, flax, and olive oil. Both of these brands, as well as a few other leaders, also add omega-3 fatty acids to their spreads.

Some brands are even coming out with spreads made from coconut and other oils.

It should be noted that this is not the margarine your parents grew up with. The margarine industry has undergone significant changes in recent years to accommodate consumer demands and to meet new federal regulations. 

How Margarine Has Changed

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Caty Schnack

Margarine of yester-year earned a less-than-stellar reputation due to its high trans fat content. It has since changed after scientists determined trans fat to be detrimental to heart heart. In the past, margarine was often made of hydrogenated oils and was rich in trans fatty acids.

In 2015, the FDA banned trans fat in processed foods produced in the US, and now most margarine and similar spreads are made from plant-oils, and are rich in beneficial mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (aka the 'better-for-you' fats), so the fear that margarine is terrible for you is no longer a valid concern.

Now that you know what margarine is made out of, you can decide which oil, spread, or butter works best for you and all of your cooking and baking needs.