You know how the story goes: somewhere along the line, the butter aisle got saturated with a bunch of butter wannabes masking as the real thing, but not-so-secretly containing whack ingredients such as vegetable oil and natural and artificial flavorings and preservatives.
We’ve rounded up a batch of our butter professionals here to evaluate five different buttery spreads; behold, we bring you our assessment.
1. THE ORIGINAL
This is the stuff that started it all. Well, not technically – margarine was originated by the French chemist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, in 1813. However, the conclusion of the second World War was the impetus for the dawn of the American buttery spread. Enter: Country Crock. This poser is composed of a bunch of ingredients that surely are not natural including some suspicious preservatives, glycerides, added flavors that come from a lab.
19 Ingredients: Water, vegetable oil blended (soybean oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil) salt, whey (milk), mono and diglycerides, polyglycerol, esters of fatty acids (potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA) used to protect quality, soy lecithin, lactic acid, natural and artificial flavor, vitamin a palmitate, beta carotene (color), cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).
The glycerides used in Country Crock’s formula are synthesized into phosphates by reacting with phosphorus pentoxide, and this poses potential harm to the environment. (1)
Taste: Very much like microwave popcorn with a little bit of tartness. The taste of this product was better than most all of the other spreads (but still way far from butter). Unfortunately, the Crock contains artificial preservatives that no one really wanted to ingest.
2. THE TRICKSTER
I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER
We can. This trickster came on the scene in 1979 as a low-cost butter alternative for the foodservice industry. Once bought out by Unilever, they created a spray butter that rose in popularity and is sadly still in existence today. Spray Butter has no calories and zero fat content, which effectively makes it nothing like real butter.
10 Ingredients: Purified water, soybean oil, palm kernel and palm oil, salt, lecithin (soy), natural flavors, vinegar, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).
The flavorings added to products like ICBINB compensate for the flavor lost during processing; they also increase shelf life and lower production costs. (2)
Taste: Oily, starchy and really artificial tasting according to all of our blatantly-biased butter spread panel. It was, by all accounts, the worst tasting of the candidates. On the positive side, ICBINB only has 10 ingredients and doesn’t contain any artificial preservatives.
Texture: The high-water-content in all of these spreads made their textures watery and thin; this spread was particularly ephemeral giving it a texture one tester likened to Cotton Candy.
3. THE “NATURAL”
The well-intentioned one. Earth Balance creates their spreads from a proprietary blend of oils. Oils are great; oils are not butter.
13 Ingredients: Natural oil blend (Palm Fruit, Canola, Soybean, Flax, Algal and Olive Oils) Water, Contains less than 2% of salt, Natural Flavor, Pea Protein, Sunflower Lecithin, Lactic Acid (Non-Dairy) and naturally extracted Annatto (color)
Taste: Earth Balance scored highest for health as assessed by fooducate.com which is worth something. But its taste was judged oily and odd by our panel of certified butter makers.
Texture: Firmer than all the other spreads which made it more like butter.
4. THE ACADEMIC
There’s not much that’s smart about Smart Balance, except maybe the chemists that created it. When you take a look at the ingredient list, there’s no doubt you’ll learn a new word or two. These ingredients prolong the shelf life of the product and maintain flavor long after the food is no longer fresh. (3)
18 Ingredients: water, oil blend (palm, canola, flax, soybean, olive oils), less than 2 percent of salt, natural and artificial flavors, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid, vitamin a palmitate, beta-carotene color, vegetable monoglycerides and sorbitan ester of fatty acids (emulsifier), potassium sorbate, TBHQ and calcium disodium EDTA (to preserve freshness).
Taste: Microwave Popcorn and oddly, hand sanitizer. Panel members wondered if the chemical taste was due to the preservatives that give Smart Balance its unnaturally long shelf life. While its taste wasn’t as bad as ICBINB, its still bad flavor and the use of suspect preservatives and a ton of ingredients earned Smart Balance the lowest score of the pack.
Texture: Firm but melts super quick in your mouth leaving a hole in your food soul. Another high-water content spread.
5. THE FLIRT
The golden girl of buttery spreads, Blue Bonnet, draws you in with a jolly yellow package and a big stack of pancakes (not included). With loads of ingredients we can’t pronounce, this cheery chick is hiding a few nasty surprises. Blue Bonnet contains lab-produced preservatives like sodium benzoate and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) which is on the FDA’s list of food additives to be studied for toxicity. (4)
16 Ingredients: Water, Liquid Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Whey, Vegetable Monoglycerides and Soy Lecithin and Propylene Glycol Monostearate (Emulsifiers), Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate and Calcium Disodium EDTA (to Preserve Freshness), Citric Acid (Acidulant), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Colored with Beta Carotene (Source of Vitamin A).
Taste: Two of the judges mentioned Blue Bonnet tasted like the cheese powder you find in a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese + a chemical taste.
Texture: Like the others, thin and oily, except that Blue Bonnet had a powdery texture as it melted on the tongue.
So there you have it – a ranking and rating of various butter spreads by some butter makers. As with most things, it’s best to stick to the real thing, folks!