Home / Blog / Butter vs. Margarine: What’s on my bread?

Margarine. Butter’s hydrogenated, dubious cousin comes with a surprisingly interesting history. Many studies suggest that the processed ingredients in margarine are more unhealthy than the fat content of butter. Americans now consume more butter than margarine after roughly 50 years of margarine’s supremacy. The history of the conflict between butter and margarine proves to be both long and heated.

Bread Loaf

What’s on your toast?

Did you know margarine used to bright pink?

In the mid-twentieth century, three states passed laws requiring margarine to be dyed an artificial shade. Adulterated foods posed a real problem for consumers in the early twentieth century, especially as they were not always identified. The thought behind the pink margarine was that “basic, traditional products needed to be safe-guarded against newer, fabricated substitutes” (Wilson, Swindled, p. 223). In short, foods that were artificially created looked just that — artificial.

While the Supreme Court eventually overturned these pink margarine laws, the war between butter and margarine continued. The powerful butter lobby even pushed for a 10% tax on artificially colored margarine to prevent margarine producers from dying their product to look more appetizing. As a result, the 1950s household bought white margarine and added the dye themselves with the included yellow pellet. Yum.

Today, we not only buy our margarine in dyed yellow shades, but we also accept a wide range of chemicals, preservatives, and additives in our food. Households of the past wanted processed food to be dyed in unnatural and unappetizing shades so consumers would know what they were buying; they wanted artificial food to look artificial. Now it seems producers use artificial colors to do the opposite: to make processed food appear more natural.

Oh, the irony.

There is a simple solution. Read the label. While we lack artificial hues to clue us in to a food’s origins, we can always read the label. A few seconds of scanning the back of a can or glancing at the PLU code on produce results in a much more informed consumer.

The history of the conflict between butter and margarine is fascinating. Dairy farmers were concerned about competition from the more cheaply produced margarine. World War II shortages had home cooks scrambling for anything to stretch their meager rations, leading to an upswing in margarine consumption. If you want to learn more, we recommend this article by the Smithsonian, The Washington Post’s blog page, Mental Floss’s history of margarine, and Bee Wilson’s book Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, From Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee. Who knew butter-margarine battles could become so heated?

Since natural foods are our passion at iNatural, I guess we understand. We love pure butter on our organic, gluten-free corn muffins! Olive oil is a delicious and healthy substitute for those who don’t wish to consume butter. Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite natural spread or dip.

This has been Olivia, the iNatural blogger. I’ll talk to you next week!

At iNatural, we always read the labels to ensure we purchase ingredients free from chemicals and other additives. Be sure to visit the iNatural blog again for updates about the company, the green eating scene in Atlanta, and advice on how to keep your diet free of chemicals and preservatives. We welcome feedback! Contact us by leaving a comment below, emailing us at info@inaturalcatering.com, or using our contact form.


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