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Healthy Lifestyle: Better with butter

Published:Saturday | January 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, Contributor

When it comes to cooking and baking for the holidays, there is no substitute for real butter. - MCT Photos

I remember when I used to buy freshly baked hot hard-dough bread from a popular bakery in Montego Bay and finding the nearest supermarket to buy 'best butter' to lavishly spread over the hot broken bread. Nothing was nicer than the butter melting on the hot bread, and you savoured each bite to 'wash' it down with cream soda.

'Best' butter, or salted margarine sticks, are what many of us grew on until the advent of soft margarine made from vegetable oil. Butter was given a bad rap in favour of soft margarine. Those who wanted to stay away from animal products may have taken the bait that butter was no longer good for you.

Butter vs margarine

Yes, margarine is made from vegetable oils, so it contains no cholesterol. Compared to butter, margarine is also higher in 'good' fats - polyunsaturated and monounsaturated types. According to the Dr Martha Grogon, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, not all margarines are created equal - and some may even be worse than butter. This is as a result of processing margarine through a process called hydrogenation, which creates unhealthy trans fats.

Trans fats

For an Indian adventure try butter chicken with curried vegetables.

Snopes.com posits that margarine is one molecule away from being plastic because of hydrogen added during hydrogenation. Emerging evidence indicates that trans fats are a contributing factor to heart disease.

The Harvard School of Public Health has now made an association between earlier death and the consumption of foods high in trans fats. Margarine made from partially hydrogenated oils is rich in trans fats, compared to butter which has no trans fats. Like saturated fats, trans fats increase blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fats can lower the good cholesterol levels (high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Hard margarine

On a scale of solid to soft, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fats it contains. Stick margarine, to which some households have become accustomed, will have more trans fats than do the softer margarines in tubs.

There is much more to butter than one is made to believe. You would never believe that the colour of butter is related to the diet of the cow and changes in the seasons. When it is warm, pasteurised cows are fed summer grass with carotene, which gives the butter its yellow colour. During the winter, the uniform colour of butter is maintained by use of the plant extract, annatto.

Butter is really semi-solid cream which rises to the top of the pail after the cow has been milked. The cream is skimmed off, churned, and then you have butter. Butter is made of butter fat, water, milk solids and, at times, salt. Butter fat is responsible for the rich, creamy taste of butter.

As churning of the butter fat continues in cool temperatures to prevent melting, the globules are warmed and softened to the point where they join together and harden to form butter.

However, if you really love the taste of butter over margarine and don't want to give it up completely, consider using whipped butter or light or reduced-calorie butter. There are also spreadable butters with vegetable oils added. Per serving, these products have less fat and calories than regular butter. The important thing is to use these products in small amounts - just enough to add flavour to the foods you're eating. (MayoClinic.com)

Varieties of butter

Salted vs unsalted: Salt is used as a preservative to add shelf life to the product. Salt content may vary with each manufacturer, so chefs prefer to use unsalted butter. Further, hypertensive persons should use unsalted butter.

Light: This butter contains 40 per cent butter fat and was developed as a dairy alternative to margarine. Made from real butter, skimmed milk and water are added to reduce the cholesterol, calories and fat levels. Due to the high moisture content, this butter is not suitable for making shortbread.

Clarified: Also known as drawn butter, it is made from melted butter with milk solids removed. Ghee, an Indian brand of clarified butter, is well-known in culinary circles. Clarified butter is great for sautéing foods as the milk solids, which are likely to burn, have been removed.

Whipped: This butter is created as an easy-to-spread butter for table use. This is made by increasing the volume of butter with nitrogen gas or air. Due to its texture, whipped butter is not recommended for baking.

Cultured: Also known as sweet cream, this is a cultured butter. It is made by adding natural bacteria to the cream which is left to ferment before churning. This results in a tangy, nutty-like flavour of butter. Its higher acidity makes cultured butter softer and easier to work into dough.


Butter should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, wrapped in packaging or a covered butter dish to prevent it from becoming rancid because of breakdown from exposure to light and air. Storing butter in the butter compartment on the door is not the best place because of constant opening of the refrigerator. Foil wrapper is best for wrapping butter, as it protects butter from unwanted exposure.

In these economically difficult times, you may want to make your own butter at home, tweaking to the taste you want.

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in the Corporate Area. Send comments to saturdaylife@gleanerjm.com or fax 922-6223.

Home-made butter

Prep time: 30 min;inactive prep time: 1 min; cooking time: 0 min.

Level: Easy

Serves: about 6oz


1 pint heavy cream, very cold

Pinch salt, optional


Find a large jar with a tight-fitting lid that will hold the cream about half-full. Refrigerate the jar for at least 1 hour. Pour the cream into the cold jar. Tightly secure the lid and shake as hard as possible until chunks of butter start to form, 15 to 30 minutes. Pour into a strainer set over a bowl. The chunks in the strainer are butter, and the liquid in the bowl is buttermilk.

Pour the buttermilk into a clean container, cover, refrigerate, and reserve for another use. Turn the butter into a clean bowl and cover with very cold water. Pour into a strainer, discarding the liquid. Continue rinsing the butter with very cold water until the water runs clear. (The cloudy water is buttermilk, which will make the butter turn sour.)

When the butter is clean, work with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to press out any remaining liquid. Discard this liquid. If desired, add salt to the butter. (Salted butter will keep longer.)

Transfer the butter to a clean container for keeping, pressing with a wooden spoon or spatula to dispel any air bubbles. Refrigerate until ready to use.

- Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, 2002, Food Network