Margarine: What’s In It?

Although margarine consists mainly of vegetable fats, manufacturers are also allowed to use animal products such as buttermilk or sour whey. An EU regulation stipulates that the proportion of such milk fats in the end product may not exceed three percent. However, this regulation only applies if “margarine” really does appear on the packaging. In so-called mixed fats, the proportion of animal fats can be significantly higher. If you want purely vegetable margarine, you should pay attention to the vegan seal.

It’s all in the oil: the health benefits of margarine

Various oils and fats are used in margarine. These affect how the product tastes and how healthy it is. Coconut fat, for example, consists of medium-chain fatty acids and is well suited for people who have problems with their bile or who generally have difficulty digesting fat. Sunflower and rapeseed oil also has health benefits because they contain unsaturated fatty acids: Sunflower oil mainly contains omega-6 fatty acids, and rapeseed oil mainly contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. So if you have problems with inflammation or joint problems, you should use margarine which contains a lot of rapeseed oil.

Additives and chemical processes

Margarine consists essentially of fat and water. So that these ingredients mix at all, emulsifiers are used. How these additives work in the human body has not yet been finally clarified. They are suspected of leading to irritable bowel problems when consumed in large quantities, reports nutritionist Dr. Silja Schäfer.

For a pleasant consistency of margarine, many manufacturers use chemical processes that can change the oils used. An alternative is organic margarine: Here, no chemical processes may be used to harden the margarine. In order to still get the right consistency, many manufacturers of organic margarine use palm oil.

Palm oil as an ingredient in margarine

The use of palm oil is often criticized by environmental protection organizations because some areas of the rainforest are cleared for its cultivation. Animal species, insects, and entire villages can then be displaced to create monocultures. On the other hand, palm oil also offers an ecological advantage: the cultivation is extremely profitable. To replace the palm oil cultivated today with other fats, four to ten times the area would be required. Sustainably cultivated palm oil, which does not require newly cleared areas, offers a compromise. When shopping, consumers can use the RSPO seal as a guide. The round table made up of producers, farmers, and traders was set up by the WWF and are intended to ensure sustainable cultivation of palm oil.

In any case, the carbon footprint of margarine is significantly better than that of butter. On average, more than 20 kilograms of CO² are saved per kilogram.

Impurities and contaminants in margarine

Traces of mineral oil in margarine – as well as in other foods – are repeatedly detected. Ökotest recently had 20 different margarine products tested in the laboratory. The result: every margarine contained – at least in traces – mineral oil. These substances are divided into MOAH (aromatic hydrocarbons) and MOSH (saturated mineral oil hydrocarbons), which can accumulate in fatty tissue and organs such as the liver. MOAH in particular is suspected of being carcinogenic and mutagenic.

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Written by John Myers

Professional Chef with 25 years of industry experience at the highest levels. Restaurant owner. Beverage Director with experience creating world-class nationally recognized cocktail programs. Food writer with a distinctive Chef-driven voice and point of view.

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