the making of margarine : a behind the scenes look at hydrogenation

Margarine has a lot of shelf-appeal. For one, it’s spreadable. Anyone who has attacked a stick of butter straight out of the fridge knows that the butter will put up a huge fight before spreading cleanly on the [now mutilated] toast. Margarine, right out of the fridge, spreads as if it had been sitting on the counter for hours. Secondly, margarine has been proclaimed “healthier for your heart” by medical experts and the American Heart Association, a big-hitter.

margarine: the pleasant end-product of a series of terribly unfortunate events

Unfortunately, the process behind the product reveals the ugly truth about margarine and other butter-substitutes.

These products are created by hydrogenating oils. Hydrogenation is the process that turns polyunsaturates, which are liquid at room temperature, into fats that are solid at room temperature [the result: margarine]. To see a longer definition, click here.

The step-by-step process of hydrogenation is truly eye-opening. Be prepared to toss your butter substitutes…

  1. To start, the cheapest vegetable oils [canola, soy, cottonseed, or corn, which are already prone to becoming rancid from the modern extraction process*] are mixed with tiny metal particles [usually nickel oxide]

    appetizing, right?

  2. The oil and nickel mixture is subjected to a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor.
  3. Soap-like emulsifiersand starch are pressed into the mixture with the aim of a better consistency. During this phase the mixture is again put in a high-temperature steam-clean environment, which removes the nasty smell it has adopted so far.

    "all natural" ....right?

  4. The margarine is then bleached. Everyone knows that margarine is yellow, not grey.
  5. You’ve probably guessed what comes next: the butter-replacement has to resemble butter, so it is dyed yellow and chocked full of flavors.
  6. The final step: the mixture is pressed into blocks or squeezed into tubs and sent to the stores as health food.

    eat up, y'all

If the production alone doesn’t make you run to your fridge with a trash bag and a pair of rubber gloves, here are some more reasons:

Dr. Mary Enig, a PhD in Nutritional Sciences as well as one of the contributors to Nourishing Traditions, attests:

“Altered partially hydrogenated fats made from vegetable oils actually block utilization of essential fatty acids, causing many deleterious effects including sexual dysfunction, increased blood cholesterol and paralysis of the immune system.”

[This excerpt, taken from page 15 of Nourishing Traditions, comes from the facts presented in the medical journal Nutrition Quarterly published in 1993 by Dr. Enig.]

The resulting health problems that can occur from consuming these products are cancer, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low-birth-weight babies, birth defects, and the list goes on**.

In summary, there are a lot of technical reasons you should avoid margarine and butter substitutes. What resonates with me the most, however, is the fundamental truth: the final product is so far from the natural ingredient. What starts as a vegetable seed ends as a chemically-enhanced, potentially rancid “health food.”

Now, the exclusion of butter substitutes from your diet may leave many of you thinking that there’s going to be a hole in your fridge and on your plates where butter substitute once lived. Take my advice on this one, there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby.

what's real is real

I could [and probably will] dedicate an entire post to the health benefits of raw butter – but for now i’ll leave you with these quick facts:

  • Raw butter and cream from pasture-fed animals provides the essential fats for maintaining excellent health. This is due to its high vitamin A, D, K, and E content which assist in the proper assimilation of proteins, minerals, and other vitamins. This means that, not only does it taste great, real butter helps the other food we eat reach their full health potential.
  • Real butter decreases the risk of inflammation because it contains a balance of Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids.
  • Great news for those who are lactose-sensitive! Raw butter contains very few milk proteins which makes it easy to digest.

If you are interested in where to find raw butter there are many websites that provide information about the best places to buy. If you are having trouble finding any sources let me know – I’d be happy to do some extra research for you!

* To learn more about the modern extraction process, read this

** This list comes from a publication called TransFatty Acids and the Food Supply: A Comprehensive Report Covering 60 Years of Research published in 1990 – from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

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2 thoughts on “the making of margarine : a behind the scenes look at hydrogenation

  1. Anita Humphries says:

    Enjoying your blog very much! I have a question about raw butter. I have been getting our butter from a local organic dairy farm and the ingredients listed are cream (milk)and salt. Is this raw butter or does raw butter have come from raw milk? Happy Cow’s milk is not raw…but minimally processed. Keep blogging!!! 🙂
    p.s. I am Sarah’s mom!

    • arielandnoah says:

      First of all, let me apologize for the delay! I have been thinking about your question and gathering information from my sources (my mom, my books) and really don’t have a definite answer for you. The truth is – the change from conventional foods to raw foods is a long series of graduated stages. Your choice of organic butter from a local source is one of the best options for you, especially if you enjoy the product and are a consistent buyer (which it seems like you are). What you are using is miles better for you and your family than, say, ultra-pasteurized discount no-name butter at the store.
      Beyond that, though, there are some differences in raw vs. organic butter. Here is a quick explanation of the benefits of raw butter:
      1) It is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, and E. A and D, as discovered by Dr. Weston Price, is essential to the assimilation of proteins found in other sources, as well as minerals and vitamins. This means that butter essentially magnifies the “good-for-you’s” found in the foods you are eating already.
      2) Raw butter contains a substance named the “Wulzen Factor,” (weird, I know) that helps promote muscle and tendon flexibility.
      3) Also found in butter is a perfect balance between the fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6.
      4) Raw butter is usually tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant.
      5) An inflamed and porous intestinal lining (usually called “Leaky Gut Syndrome”) can be helped by imbibing raw butter as a supplement to your diet.
      6) The fatty acids in raw butter help beneficial microflora attach to the mucosal lining creating a healthy colonization.
      I would say, to sum things up, that if you can find raw butter, it would be one more step on a mountain that you’re already about to summit. If you trust your current source and feel comfortable doing this, I would say to ask them where you could get raw products. They are legal to sell in South Carolina, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding someone. There are also many online sources to help you, such as

      Hope this helps, and again – sorry for the delay!!

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