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Sorting the Men (Butter) from the Boys (Margarine)*

 Hi, I was just wondering what the difference is between margarine and butter?

 Huh, we were just wondering what the difference is between sea salt and liquid nitrogen. We think there's a difference, but they seem so similar….

OK, enough light banter. Butter, of course, is the result of beating cream (almost universally cow's cream, although it is possible to make butter from the cream of sheep, goats, water buffalos, camels, and yaks) until all the fat coagulates. Butter is generally 80 percent fat, but it can range up to 85 percent. The remainder is water and milk solids. It is often salted.

Margarine is an invention of man (specifically Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès in 1869), and was originally based on beef fat, although now it is made of hydrogenated vegetable oils, some milk/water-based solution, Vitamins A and D, and some flavoring and coloring agents. Like butter, it must consist of at least 80 percent fat. Nutritionally, margarine is a near-exact match for butter.

Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food (Canada, UK), says, "Margarine, of the kind intended to resemble butter, can be among the most realistic of 'imitation' foods. [It] spreads, melts, and combines with other ingredients in just the same way as butter. Only a slight deficiency in flavor and a small difference in texture and 'mouth feel,' discernible when it is eaten as a spread on bread, give it away."

Per capita consumption of margarine in this country was 5.3 pounds in 2004, versus 4.6 pounds for butter.

Perhaps from the snippiness of our answer you can tell which we prefer.

*Sorry to be like totally sexist….

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