15 Facts About Margarine

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Margarine is a common butter substitute that has a rich history and interesting production process. While butter has been a dietary staple for centuries, margarine is a more recent invention, becoming popular in the late 1800s. Though often viewed as an “unnatural” butter imitation, margarine has some advantages over butter and has evolved over the years.

Margarine was created in 1869 as a less expensive butter substitute. Originally made from beef tallow, margarine recipes evolved to use vegetable oils. Food dye was added to improve margarine’s color. Though butter and margarine have faced off for over 150 years, both spreads have a place in home kitchens. Margarine has significantly less saturated fat than butter, but many brands also contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Modern margarines are also fortified with vitamins A and D. While butter remains a beloved baking staple, margarine offers a cost-effective alternative for cooking and spreading.

Facts About Margarine

Butter Margarine block in a wooden tray with herbs. White wooden background. Top view

1. Margarine was invented in France in 1869

The creation of margarine traces back to Emperor Napoleon III of France, who in the 1860s sought a butter substitute for the armed forces and lower classes. In response to this challenge, French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès invented a spread made from beef tallow, milk, and margaric acid. Mège-Mouriès named his invention oleomargarine, later shortened to margarine.

2. Margarine was originally made from animal fats

The original 1869 margarine recipe relied on rendered beef fat. Later versions incorporated animal fat from sources like hogs and sheep. The shift to vegetable oils began in the early 1870s when Henry W. Bradley of New York patented a margarine production method using oils like cottonseed. By World War I, margarine was produced almost solely from vegetable oils.

3. Food dye gave margarine its yellow color

Unlike the golden hue of butter, early margarine had a white or pale color, appearing unappetizing to consumers. Manufacturers began adding yellow food dye in the late 1880s to make margarine look more like butter and increase sales. Some brands used carotene for a natural yellow pigment.

4. Margarine was cheaper than butter

Slices of bread and butter

Margarine was created as a butter substitute that was more affordable for the masses. The lower price was appealing, especially during eras like the Depression and wartime when butter was scarce. Even today, margarine continues to cost less than butter.

5. Margarine was banned in some locations

Though margarine was a hit with consumers, the dairy industry saw it as a threat. Some U.S. states enacted bans restricting or prohibiting the manufacture and sale of colored margarine from the 1880s up until the mid-1900s. Canada also banned margarine from 1886 to 1948.

6. Wartime shortages increased margarine’s popularity

With butter in short supply during World War I and II, margarine consumption increased across Europe and North America. Rationing made margarine’s lower price point appealing. Many who switched to margarine during wartime continued to use it once butter became abundant again.

7. Margarine can be made from many different oils

Natural Organic Butter

While original margarine recipes relied on animal fats, today’s margarine is made from vegetable oils. Soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, canola, olive, and cottonseed oils are commonly used. The oil blend impacts qualities like spreadability, mouthfeel, and nutrition profile.

8. Solid and liquid margarine are available

Margarine originally mimicked the solid consistency of butter. While sticks remain popular, liquid margarine in squeeze bottles offers greater convenience and spreadability. Manufacturers also produce softer, tub-style margarine. Whipped and diet versions are other options.

9. Margarine is lower in saturated fat than butter

A major health advantage of margarine compared to butter is its lower saturated fat content. While butter is 51% saturated fat, margarines range from 16% to 30% saturated fat depending on the recipe. Margarine’s blend of oils also provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

10. Margarine is non-dairy

Unlike butter, margarine does not contain lactose or milk proteins. This makes margarine suitable for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. However, some margarines do incorporate small amounts of milk or whey. Check labels carefully if dairy is a concern.

11. Margarine must meet legal standards

Homemade Bread and Butter

U.S. standards dictate that margarine must be at least 80% fat to be labeled as margarine1. Anything less than 80% fat must be called a spread. Federal law also requires vitamin A fortification of margarine. Standards help prevent consumer confusion between butter and margarine.

12. Margarine has less cholesterol than butter

Butter contains 215-220 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams, while vegetable oil-based margarines contain no cholesterol2. However, some margarines made with animal fats do contain cholesterol in smaller amounts. Overall, margarine offers a cholesterol advantage over butter.

13. Margarine is fortified with vitamins

While butter contains naturally occurring vitamin A, margarine has added vitamins. Margarine is fortified with vitamin A to make it nutritionally comparable to butter. Many brands also add vitamin D and vitamin E. Fortification makes margarine a good source of these fat-soluble vitamins.

14. Margarine’s melting point varies by recipe

The oils used impact margarine’s melting point, which ranges from 90-120°F. Margarines with more saturated vegetable oils behave more like butter. Those with more unsaturated oils have a lower melting point. This affects performance in baking and cooking.

15. Margarine is used in commercial food production

In addition to being sold directly to consumers, margarine is used in the commercial production of foods like cookies, frozen pastries, and microwave popcorn. The low cost and consistent performance of margarine make it appealing for mass-produced foods.


Farm Butter, organic dairy products. White wooden background.Top view. Copy space

What is margarine?

Margarine is a butter substitute invented in France in 1869. It was originally made from beef tallow and later evolved to primarily use vegetable oils.

Why was margarine invented?

Margarine was invented as a cheaper alternative to butter. It was created in the 19th century by French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès, who was challenged to develop a substitute for butter that could be produced in large quantities. Margarine became popular due to its lower cost and longer shelf life compared to butter.

What gave margarine its yellow color?

Early margarine was colorless or pale, so manufacturers added yellow food dye in the late 1880s to make it more visually similar to butter.

Is margarine dairy-free?

Most margarine is made from vegetable oils and is dairy-free, suitable for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. However, some brands may contain small amounts of milk derivatives, so always check the label.

How does the fat content of margarine compare to butter?

Margarine has less saturated fat than butter, typically ranging from 16% to 30% saturated fat. It also contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

What types of oils are used to make margarine today?

Modern margarine can be made from a variety of vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, canola, olive, and cottonseed oil.

Can margarine be used in baking?

Yes, margarine can be used in baking. The melting point varies by recipe, so some types may behave more like butter, while others may have a lower melting point affecting the texture.


While butter has a longer history, margarine has become an ever-present part of modern home kitchens and food manufacturing. Margarine evolved from a military ration to a popular butter substitute. Though perceptions of margarine have wavered over the years, it remains appealing for its convenience, price, and reduced saturated fat content compared to butter. Food scientists have also improved margarine’s nutrition profile through fortification. So next time you spread margarine on your toast or see it in an ingredients list, remember just how far this creation has come.

  1. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov []
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margarine#Cholesterol []

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