The History of Margarine


000_margarine_01Margarine originated with the discovery by French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1813 of margaric acid (itself named after the pearly deposits of the fatty acid from Greek μαργαρίτης or μάργαρον (margaritēs /márgaron), meaning pearl-oyster or pearl, or μαργαρίς (margarís), meaning palm-tree, hence the relevance to palmitic acid). Scientists at the time regarded margaric acid, like oleic acid and stearic acid, as one of the three fatty acids that, in combination, form most animal fats. In 1853, the German structural chemist Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz analyzed margaric acid as simply a combination of stearic acid and the previously unknown palmitic acid.

000_margarine_08Emperor Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory butter alternative, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes. French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès invented a substance he called oleomargarine, which became shortened to the trade name margarine. Mège-Mouriès patented the concept in 1869 and expanded his initial manufacturing operation from France but had little commercial success. In 1871, he sold the patent to the Dutch company Jurgens, now part of Unilever. In the same year a German pharmacist, Benedict Klein from Cologne, founded the first margarine factory “Benedict Klein Margarinewerke”, producing the brands Overstolz and Botteram.


000_margarine_05In John Steele’s 1850 California gold miner’s journal, he wrote: “I became acquainted with Mr. Dainels, from Baltimore, who manufactured butter from tallow and lard, and it looked and tasted so much like real butter, that… I could not tell the difference. However, he deceived no one, but sold it for just what it was. He never explained the process of its manufacturer, and whether he was the originator of oleomargarine I do not know.”

The principal raw material in the original formulation of margarine was beef fat. In 1871, Henry W. Bradley of Binghamton, New York received U.S. Patent 110,626 for a process of creating margarine that combined vegetable oils (primarily 000_margarine_07cottonseed oil) with animal fats.Shortages in beef fat supply combined with advances by Boyce and Sabatier in the hydrogenation of plant materials soon accelerated the use of Bradley’s method, and between 1900 and 1920 commercial oleomargarine was produced from a combination of animal fats and hardened and unhardened vegetable oils. The depression of the 1930s, followed by the rationing of World War II, led to a reduction in supply of animal fat; and, by 1945, “original” margarine almost completely disappeared from the market.[17] In the United States, problems with supply, coupled with changes in legislation, caused manufacturers to switch almost completely to vegetable oils and fats (oleomargarine) by 1950 and the industry was ready for an era of product development.

000_margarine_02While butter that cows produced had a slightly yellow color, margarine had a white color, making the margarine look more like lard. Many people found it to look unappetizing. Around the late 1880s the manufacturers decided to dye the margarine yellow, so it would sell more. Dairy firms, especially in Wisconsin, became alarmed and succeeded in getting legislation passed to prohibit the coloring of the stark white product. In response, the margarine companies distributed the margarine together with a packet of yellow dye. The product was placed in a bowl and the dye mixed in with a spoon. This took some time and effort and it was not unusual for the final product to be served as a light and dark yellow, or even white, striped product. During World War 000_margarine_10II, there was a shortage of butter in the United States and “oleomargarine” became popular. In 1951 the W. E. Dennison Company received U.S. Patent 2,553,513 for a method to place a capsule of yellow dye inside a plastic package of margarine. After purchase, the capsule was broken inside the package and then the package was kneaded to distribute the dye. Around 1955, the artificial coloring laws were repealed and margarine could for the first time be sold colored like butter.

During WWII rationing, only two types of margarine were available in the UK, a premium brand and a cheaper budget brand. With the end of rationing in 1955, the market was opened to the forces of supply and demand, and brand marketing became prevalent. The competition between the major producers was given further impetus with the beginning of commercial television advertising in 1955 and, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, competing companies vied with each other to produce the margarine that tasted most like butter.


In the mid-1960s, the introduction of two lower-fat blends of butter oil and vegetable oils in Scandinavia, called Lätt & Lagom and Bregott, clouded the issue of what should be called “margarine” and began the debate that led to the introduction of the term “spread”. In 1978, an 80% fat product called krona, made by churning a blend of dairy cream and vegetable oils, was introduced in Europe and, in 1982, a blend of cream and vegetable oils called clover was introduced in the UK by the Milk Marketing Board. The vegetable oil and cream spread I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! was introduced into the United States in 1981 and in the United Kingdom and Canada in 1991.


In recent decades, margarine spreads have gone through many developments in efforts to improve their healthfulness. Most brands have phased out the use of hydrogenated oils, and are now also trans fat free. Many brands have launched refrigerator-stable margarine spreads that contain only 1/3 of the fat and calorie content of traditional spreads. Other varieties of spreads include those with added Omega-3 fatty acids, those with low or no salt, those with added plant sterols, claimed to reduce blood cholesterol, and some made from olive oil or certified vegan oils.

Text from wikipedia