This Is the REAL Difference Between Butter and Margarine

If you often find yourself facing the dairy aisle, wondering the difference between butter and margarine and which is healthier, you’ll want to read this.

difference between butter and margarine, illustration of toast with yellow spread

What is the difference between butter and margarine?

Sometimes we all need a break from avocado toast. And is there anything better than a piece of toast with some butter? Or, would that be a piece of toast with some margarine?

At first glance, butter and margarine look similar. Their packaging tends to be similar, too. And depending on the temperature, their very consistency can be similar. But these two spreads are actually quite different.

Ingredient wise, butter is made from milk or cream, and commonly comes salted or unsalted (by the way, you need these seven butter hacks in your life).

Margarine, however, usually cuts dairy out of the equation entirely, and is composed of vegetable oil, salt, and emulsifiers. When it was originally created as an affordable butter-alternate in the 19th century, it was made with animal fat, but most brands have done away with this ingredient.

In terms of processing, butter is traditionally churned, while margarine is made through the process of hydrogenation.

Margarine derives its name from one of its original primary ingredients, a fatty acid called “margaric acid” which is derived from the Greek word margaron, meaning “pearl.” Butter is derived from Greek word boutoron which means “cow cheese.”

Nutrition-wise, this is the difference between butter and margarine? We break it down:

1 tbsp butter:
106 calories, 12 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 32 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 0 g carbohydrates (0 g fibre, 0 g sugar), 0 g protein.

1 tbsp margarine:
101 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 153 mg sodium, 0 g carbohydrates (0 g fibre, 0 g sugar), 0 g protein.

You see that the difference between butter and margarine is minute, nutritionally speaking. And that is mostly because of dairy (fat and cholesterol are higher in butter because of the milk and cream). But you will notice that sodium is higher in margarine, likely to add in some flavour in the absence of dairy.

So what should you choose? That depends on your nutritional goals. Want lower fat? Margarine might work for you. Less processed food and salt in your diet? Butter looks to fit the bill.

But the take home lesson should be to read the packaging. Different brands will have different nutritional claims, depending on their recipe. And don’t forget to check the nutrition facts panel.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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