Know Your Food Better: How Is Margarine Made? Cool Fun Facts For All

Akinwalere Olaleye
Oct 19, 2023 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Oct 29, 2021
High-calorie food for cooking and eating.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.0 Min

Did you spread margarine on your bread today?

Margarine is widely used in homes and the food industry for cooking and baking. However, not many know the ingredients and process by which it is made.

One look in your kitchen pantry and you are likely to find this familiar food product. Or on your visit to the supermarket when you come across margarine right beside butter, have you wondered what is the difference?

Increasingly, margarine is used as an alternative to butter and even cooking oils. Spread it on your toast or use it to bake that pie.

This highly processed consumable item is designed to look and taste exactly like butter. But did you know that, unlike butter, margarine is not (or barely) made of dairy products?

Instead, its primary ingredient consists of vegetable oils or animal fats such as corn, coconut, soybean, and olive oil. Olive oil, palm oil, and other oils are liquid in form though, and margarine is a solid food product.

Here is where the magic begins! Food scientists used a food production process, namely hydrogenation to do just that.

Surprised? Continue reading to unravel the cool manner in which margarine is made and how it is different from butter. Also, if you enjoy learning about fun facts, take a look at our how is maple syrup made and how is cotton candy made articles on Kidadl.

What is margarine and how is it made?

What is margarine? What are its ingredients? Does it include trans fats? Why is its production regulated in some countries? If you are looking for answers to these questions and the food production method used to make margarine, then you are in the right section.

A highly processed food product, margarine is made from vegetable or animal fats that are mixed with other ingredients such as dairy, salt, emulsifiers, coloring and flavoring agents, and preservatives. Like butter, it contains 80% fat content.

While the base ingredients of margarine spreads such as vegetable oil, water, dairy or soy milk, and emulsifiers remain the same, each brand will have variations within these ingredient categories.

Margarine is packaged either in the form of a stick or in tubs. Do note that stick margarine tends to have more hydrogenated oils (to gain consistency) and hence have more trans fats in them.

In the 1860s, a chemist from France developed margarine in response to the demand of France's Emperor Napoleon III for discovering a substitute for butter. It was patented in the US in 1873.

At that time, the process simply involved mixing the fats with milk and salt, and then it was chilled. The mixture was packaged with the same equipment used for butter production.

Plant oils used vary from soybean to palm oil. In Europe, whale oil was used but not in the US. Margarine spreads are also made from beef fat.

Margarine made from beef fat is also called oleo-margarine. Since then the production process has undergone several changes to meet the nutritional requirements of its growing consumer base.

Once introduced, the spread quickly became a favorite used by people every day. However, its introduction did irk the butter industry. On top of that, the trans fats processed during the hydrogenation process were seen to increase bad cholesterol and decrease the good cholesterol in the body.

This puts the consumers of margarine spreads at increased risk of heart disease. The health connotations of consuming margarine pushed the margarine industry to come up with trans fat-free versions. The latter was developed using the process of enzyme interesterification.

Due to its diversified ingredients and health concerns, the production of margarine was regulated in some countries like the US. In the UK, there is a removal of food items that include artificial trans fat. In fact, in the UK, even manufacturing of partially hydrogenated oils is not noted.

How is margarine made with hydrogenation?

Liquid into solid! Hydrogenation is the process used to convert vegetable oils into a margarine-like consistency. Here is how it works.

Plant oils are classed as polyunsaturated fats, which are healthier than saturated fats. Saturated fats are the ones found in butter. However, the problem lies in the unsaturated fat texture, which is liquid when at room temperature. To solve this issue, food scientists put the vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation.

The process involves heating the oils to 302 F (150 C) and passing them through a nickel catalyst. The reaction causes the carbon double bonds found in the unsaturated oils to break down into hydrogen single bonds.

But when this transformation happens, trans-fatty acids are processed. This is vital as without it the margarine spread's mixture will not solidify at room temperature.

However, this defeats the very purpose for which margarine spreads were introduced as a healthier alternative to butter. The trans-fatty acids created are associated with high cholesterol, making it unhealthy.

Butter swirls spread fatty natural dairy product

How is margarine made from vegetable oil?

Margarine spreads, which were originally made to substitute butter, are created using both cold-pressed and refined vegetable oils. Keep reading if you want to learn more about the production process of how it becomes solid from the liquid.

Vegetable oils used in making this food product are derived from plant fats and skimmed milk. The vegetable oil is extracted from plant seeds such as rapeseed, cottonseed, olive, soybean, and corn. These are a good source of unsaturated fats.

Corn and soybean are the two most popular vegetable oils used in margarine production. The extracted oil is then steamed to remove impurities and then put through the process of hydrogenation. Lastly, through the emulsion and bleaching, the margarine is smoothened and the color is added.

Cold-pressed oils include olive, sesame, and palm oil. Refined oil used in the production includes canola and safflower.

Avocado oil, coconut oil, oil extracted from macadamia, and cashew nuts are also used by some manufacturers to create vegan-friendly margarine. The ingredient quality of margarine is regulated in most countries. To avoid purchasing margarine with excessive trans fats, it is important to check the ingredient list.

How is margarine made in industry?

Depending on the type of margarine being produced, the producer will set up a production process. The industrial margarine production equipment will include hydrogenation tanks, emulsifier tanks, pasteurization and crystallization zone, and finally packaging zone. The ingredients and end product determine the overall configuration of the margarine production line.

Firstly, the ingredients such as vegetable oils are treated to remove free fatty acid. The treated oils are mixed with a liquid (generally dairy products).

The liquids undergo a pasteurization process to remove any impurities. The liquid mixture is passed through the hydrogenation process to get it to the ideal consistency.

At this stage, the margarine reaches a semi-solid or what is known as plastic consistency. In the emulsification process, the liquid is mixed with salt and emulsifiers to gain the perfect texture.

Other ingredients added to the mixture include coloring agents, preservatives, Vitamin A and D, sweeteners, and so on. These ingredients help in increasing the shelf life of the product and even add to the taste and texture of the margarine.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions forhow is margarine made? then why not take a look at when do puppy teeth fall out? or how is iron made?

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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