Margarine – The Jonas Brothers of food?

The innocence of butter

Earlier today I was talking with a friend waxing poetic over croissants made by a local bakery. What makes their croissants so special is the fact that they IMPORT their butter from France because it has a higher fat content and thus makes for better, flakier croissants.

All I could think was “you mean butter can be BETTER?!!!”

I grew up on a steady diet of margarine in a tub. As a child, I don’t think I even realized that butter was actually different than margarine.

The skies opened and the angels started singing after I finally experienced the ecstasy of real butter on a hot, homemade bun. Shortly there after, I had it on warm cornbread and my eyes rolled to the back of my head.

Never again would margarine ever grace the shelves of my refrigerator. Today, I have salted and unsalted butter as well as herbed butter from a local dairy front and center in my refrigerator. I have yet to taste the pungent Moroccan butter called smen, but that’s simply a matter of time.  Now, I am not a huge baker so one might ask “why so much butter?” As one might guess, I have a love affair with butter.

My love affair, of course, comes at a price: calories. But any foodie worth their salted butter will tell you that without exception, flavor trumps calories. That’s not to say that they are mutually exclusive, but to say that given a choice between using Pam or using butter, butter wins. Butter also beats out margarine.

Now, I don’t mean to malign margarine, but can we really take it seriously? Isn’t it sort of the Jonas Brothers of food? An artifice of advertising and big food giants who would have us believe that the margarine isn’t “lip syncing” during the dinner hour. I mean, ever ask yourself, “Why are they selling so hard? If it were that great, wouldn’t I already be a fan?” Filled with preservatives and various poly-hydrogenated-ides that leave me imagining a melting array of chemicals evaporating in my pan.  Inferior Omega-3 which I can get more effectively through fish just isn’t enough of a reason to plop a tub of manufactured sludge on my table. Besides, unlike “most people” cited in this article, most things on my table are NOT processed. Why ruin perfectly fabulous, fresh food that I have tenderly tendered?  Compare the tub of margarine to the ingredients of butter: cream, salt. Which would you rather have? Further, margarine, despite its claims, has comparable calories and fat to butter.

Besides, for creamy depth and flavor, what beats butter? Ok, cream is a close second. Whenever someone challenges me on ills of butter, I ask them why they would want to smear chemicals on a perfectly good piece of toast? Why would they ruin simple, good food with a processed gob of gook? Besides, for me at least, because butter’s flavor and ingredients are so simple and pure I don’t need as much of it to make an impact in cooking. I like its delicate color and simplicity. Unlike Jonas Brothers margarine, its innocence is almost child-like. It makes me happy to use.  Its like a return to that first taste every single time, butter is a trusty, consistent friend.

This week, I am finally going to get around to making my own butter at home. If its a particularly harrowing experience or worth repeating, I’ll let you know. Making your own butter is actually quite simple, at least according to  Don’t Burn the Garlic blog which is where my recipe hails. I plan on adding my home made butter to my banana pancakes this weekend, I can’t think of anything more heavenly.

Unabashedly, I’ll continue to use real butter. Whether I make my own or get it from a local dairy or just buy it at the store. There is no substitute, no matter what that “nice lady” on the TV wants me to believe. I think I’ll also hunt down a source for real French butter, since I simply must taste butter worth importing.

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About Tara DeWitt Coomans

An aspiring cook and an accomplished eater, Tara is inspired by the world around her and the food on her plate. "When you can't jump on a plane and take a vacation to an exotic destination, chances are you can whip up a dish or go to a restaurant that will take you there." says Tara. She often eats out at a restaurant after trying to accomplish a given dish at home. None the less, she enjoys food and what it says about the human experience. Tara is a full-time freelance writer and blogger. She specializes in writing about food, cooking and travel. You can find her in the kitchen, on the plane or at her computer.