In baking, there are two types of fat used by many, and that is butter and margarine. Butter comes from natural sources, being made from milk and it is churned to create the creamy solid that is used in baking and cooking. Margarine, on the other hand, is made from a mixture of a variety of ingredients that include plant-based oils such as palm oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
While both can work well with baked goods, these two have specific differences that make one better for some products than the other. One is also considered healthier than the other, but which one? In the past, there has been talk about margarine being the healthier choice since it is lower in fat and cholesterol, but in recent years, this has been turned around and butter has been said to be healthier than its counterpart.
Before we tackle the topic of which one is indeed healthier for you, let us first find out what the differences between these two are and what advantages one has over the other.
|Made from milk solids||Made from plant based oils|
|Has a richer flavor||Has a neutral flavor|
|Higher fat content||More water than fat|
|Not easily broken down by heat||Turns gummy when exposed to heat|
|High in saturated fat and cholesterol||Lower cholesterol levels and saturated fat|
|Better for baked goods that need to be browned||Results in softer baked goods|
|Has a nuttier and better flavor||Goes with whatever flavor is added to the mix|
As you can see, there are a lot of things that are good with both types of shortening. Most bakers however prefer butter since it does give their baked goodies a richer and nuttier flavor. It also allows for better browning than margarine, which does not give your products the kind of golden brown that only butter can give.
If you are making vegan baked goodies however, your best choice would be to go with margarine. Just make sure that you read the labels properly to ensure that the margarine you are using is made without milk solids and is not one that is considered a dairy blend. Check the ingredient list to ensure that you are indeed using an all-vegetable oil blend so that you can truly claim that your vegan product has no animal based ingredients in it.
All-in-all, the choice is up to the baker. While most do prefer butter, margarine has its benefits as well. As for the health side of things, arguments are still waging on both side as to which is healthier. Some state that butter is healthier since it is all natural while others claim that margarine is healthier since it has less cholesterol and has no transfat in it (unless it is made with hydrogenated oils). The key to finding the perfect shortening for your needs is to check labels, go with what you think is best, and to choose the best one for what you need. If you want a richer tasting product, butter is best. If you want a product that has a more neutral flavor that can be easily manipulated, then margarine is what you need.
At the end of the day, both can work well with what you are baking. The choice is totally up to you.