Bread’s Other Spread

Conceived in war, conditioned by 60 years of political battle, margarine returns triumphant to Canada’s kitchens. Now that we’ve got it, what is it?

C. FRED BODSWORTH February 1 1949

Bread’s Other Spread

Conceived in war, conditioned by 60 years of political battle, margarine returns triumphant to Canada’s kitchens. Now that we’ve got it, what is it?

C. FRED BODSWORTH February 1 1949

Bread’s Other Spread

Conceived in war, conditioned by 60 years of political battle, margarine returns triumphant to Canada’s kitchens. Now that we’ve got it, what is it?


A FREIGHTER drops anchor off a South Pacific atoll and from the palm-fringed shore a copra-laden canoe fleet shoots out to meet it. In the rich clay bottom lands of Alabama, Negro share croppers pluck bolls of silken fibre. Far down on the edge of Antarctica the lookout of a British whaler shouts, “Thar she blows!” In a jungle clearing of northern Nigeria a native farmer cultivates his peanut crop with a forked stick.

These scenes have a closer link with the Canadian today than they had a month or two ago. For copra, whale blubber, cottonseed and peanuts are a few of the more picturesque raw materials used in Canada’s newest industry. They wind up eventually in that litigation-battered newcomer to Canadian kitchens—your margarine package.

Margarine’s claim to fame does not lie only in the political heads it has cracked and the parliamentary brawls it has fathered. The story of modem margarine production is more romantic than that of any other foodstuff. Its discovery and refinement is one of the leading developments in 19thand 20th-century food chemistry.

The Canadian public has been fighting a long time for the right to eat margarine. The experts, incidentally, pronounce this butter substitute with a hard “g,” as in Margaret.

Now that we’ve got it, what is it?

Briefly, margarine is a fatty spread whose base, instead of being milk fat as in butter, is a mixture of plant-produced oils and fats with sometimes, though not so commonly nowadays, animal fats or oils added. These oils, known as vegetable oils to the trade, are obtained directly from plants. An

important item of cost—the upkeep of a dairy herd —is bypassed and the resultant product is much cheaper. To the vegetable oils of margarine, buttermilk is added to give the product a taste similar to butter.

The vegetable oils which go into margarine are those used in the production of shortening and soaps, and as a result it is the shortening and soapproducing firms which form the nucleus of Canada’s infant margarine industry.

There are two steps in turning out a margarine product. First is the extracting, refining and cleansing of the oils. These oils are then churned with milk of other ingredients and the cooling of the final mixture produces margarine.

The extraction of vegetable oils (the oil is usually in the seed) is an industry in itself. The crude product is used in paints, varnishes, waterproofing compounds and lubricants as well as in soaps and shortening. The soapmakers buy their vegetable oils in a crude liquid state and have to refine and treat it extensively before they can use it. Canada already has 14 of these refining plants, great mazes of piping and tanks which look like a plumber’s

nightmare. This same equipment is now humming with extra shifts to supply the margarine industry as well.

But margarine demands a much more exacting refining technique than do soap and shortening. “Shortening is always mixed with something else,” one food chemist explains, “and you never get a really good taste of it. But margarine goes straight into your mouth and that calls for a perfectly clear, tasteless, odorless oil. It’s refined in the same way as for shortening, but when a margarine batch is going through, every step has to be much more carefully watched.”

The need for further development of oil-refining techniques was chiefly responsible for the delay in getting margarine onto the Canadian market after the ban against its manufacture was lifted last December.

The only new equipment required for margarine

production in Canada was the big vat churns and

cooling tanks needed for the second step - the

mixing of the vegetable oils with the milk and other

secondary ingredients. The equipment itself is not

extensive. Canada’s first

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Bread's Other Spread

Continued from page 15

big producers of margarine, Canada Packers Ltd. of Toronto, has its mixing plant in a room with floor space no bigger than an average bungalow. But here is the operation where the real margarine know-how comes into play. Canada had plenty of refining experts when the margarine race started, men who possessed the necessary savvy and needed only time to get it working. Experts were called in from the U. S. to get Canada’s margarine plants rolling. Canada’s first big batchas of margarine came off the rollers with the help of a U. S. margarine firm, Best Foods Inc., which sent a small amount of equipment to Canada Packers.

The first margarine to reach store shelves, however, came from a smaller maker, Associated Producers, Ltd., of Burnaby, B.C., which had been making mayonnaise.

Here’s the Recipe

What goes into margarine? Here is the exact recipe of the Canadian product:

Vegetable fats and oils—80%. A few Canadian producers may later use some fats and oils of animal origin, but so far Canadian margarine has been entirely a vegetable-oil product.

Buttermilk—10.5% .

Salt—2.5%.. A special fine variety is used which melts quickly in the mouth to impart a flavor without leaving a lingering taste of salt. The salt content of Canadian margarine will vary slightly, depending on the part of the Dominion in which it is to be marketed Maritimers, fpr example, like their salt, and producers say the Maritime market may demand a margarine with a salt content as high as 3.5 or 4%.

Lecithin—one tenth to one fifth of one per cent. Lecithin is a chemical byproduct of the refining of vegetable oils. It is an antis pattering agent which will keep your margarine from spattering all over the kitchen ceiling when you use it for frying.

Emulsifier—one tenth to one fifth of one percent. To the chemist, margarine belongs in a class of products known as “ emulsions.” The water is contained in the buttermilk. When water is mixed with an oil, the water remains as minute droplets held in suspension and there can be no thorough mixing of the two. The emulsifier is a chemical which keeps the water droplets of a uniform size and prevents them from uniting into bigger drops.

It Has Vitamins Now

Vitamin A—only a trace. Less than half a pound in every one-ton batch of margarine is all that is needed. Originally, margarine was far inferior nutritionally to butter because the margarine lacked vitamin A and butter had plenty of it. This was the dairyman’s biggest argument against margarine-and it was a good one. But now the margarine men get around this by fortifying their product artificially with the vitamin. A small quantity of highly concentrated fish-liver oil which has been extensively treated to remove its fish odors and flavors is added to the margarine to give it vitamin A. Canadian producers are awaiting government regulations which will tell them how much vitamin A they must use, but in the meantime they are putting in 16,000 International Units of vitamin A per pound of margarine. (U, S. regulations require only 9,000 units per pound.) The vitamin A

content can be controlled so that it remains exactly the same the year round.

Butter’s vjtamin A content varies widely at different seasons and is highest in spring when cows are out on fresh pasture. It averages 15,000 to 16,000 units per pound in summer but may be much lower in winter when cows are stable fed.

Carotene—again only a trace. This is a yellow pigment found in many plants and vegetables. Its purpose in the margarine recipe is to give the product a color resembling that of butter. It is the same substance which, when eaten by cows, gives butter its natural yellow hue.

Yellow or White?

Producers have their fingers crossed, fearing the Government may bow to the demands of dairymen and prevent the coloring of margarine. Dairymen claim that margarine, if colored to resemble butter, might be sold as butter.

Margarine firms are anxious to color their product. They say the public is accustomed to the yellow of butter and expects the same appearance in margarine. Most of the U. S. margarine is sold white with a coloring capsule in the package which the housewife can add in her own kitchen and thus avoid a tax.

Benzoate of soda—one tenth of one per cent. This, the final ingredient, functions solely as a preservative.

This is the complete margarine recipe. There are no secret formulas or undivulged ingredients. But that first item—vegetable fats and oils, 80%—needs enlargement. Originally the main ingredient of margarine was oleo oil derived from beef fat, and for this reason the product became known as oleomargarine. But about 25 years ago improved methods of refining and handling the vegetable oils made them more desirable than oleo, and, in the years since, oleo has been used progressively less until today it plays a minor role in margarine making.

Canada, however, will probably make limited use of another animal fat—whale oil. One big Canadian producer states that only vegetable oils will be used in its margarine, another, may use fairly large quantities of whale oil when its margarine production gets under way. Since about 1935 whale oil has been the main oil used by Britain’s margarine industry, and it is also an ingredient of Newfoundland margarine.

Canada proper has no deep-sea whaling fleet but Newfoundland has a small one. With the new demands of the margarine industry and with the Newfoundland fleet as a nucleus, Canada within the next few years may join Britain and Norway as an important whaling nation.

Hydrogen for Stiffening

But most of the oils that will pour into the vats of Canada’s margarine plants will be vegetable oils. Although no one can be certain yet, a survey of the Canadian firms producing and planning to produce margarine indicates that the “big four” in Canada will be soybean, cottonseed, coconut and peanut oils, probably ranking in that order of importance. Number five will be whale oil. Other oils that Canadian margarine manufacturers will occasionally use are palm oil, corn oil, sesame oil and sunflower seed oil.

The refining of these oils takes them through miles of piping and through a bewildering series of chemical processes. The oils start out as greasy, dirty, smelly brews—some of them yellow, some brown, some black—but they

all emerge as a clear, tasteless, odorless liquid, light amber in color, that resembles slightly thickened ginger ale without the fizz.

The final stage in preparing oils for margarine is a hardening process, known technically as hydrogenation because it involves adding hydrogen gas to the oil. Margarine must be a solid or semisolid substance at room temperature. Because of this, the only oils that could be used during the early years of the industry were oleo, coconut and palm. Then, shortly after 1900, it was found that by adding hydrogen atoms chemically to the molecules of oils and fats, their melting points could be raised so that liquid oils became solids.

Hydrogenation is necessary in shortening and soap manufacture and was not new to Canada with the arrival of margarine. Of the new tricks of the trade that Canadian technicians have had to learn to produce our own margarine, the first has been the treatment of skimmed milk to get buttermilk—the initial step in the processing.

Margarine factories keep on hand a small supply of skimmed milk containing the ripening bacteria in their laboratories. This is the bacteria culture, or the “starter.” Every day when a newly pasteurized batch of skimmed milk is pumped into the vats, it is inoculated with a pint or so of the “starter” and left about 18 hours for the bacteria to reproduce and grow. Bacterial action turns the skimmed milk into buttermilk. When its taste is just right it is cooled so that the bacteria go to sleep on the job and the buttermilk is held until needed for margarine.

From Liquid to Solid

We’ve gathered our raw materials from all corners of the world, we have them all prepared, now we’re ready to really mix a batch of margarine.

The salt and benzoate of soda are added to the buttermilk; the lecithin, emulsifying agent, coloring and vitamin A to the vegetable oils. Then everything (around 2,000 gallons in an average batch) is pumped into a heated stainless-steel vat about six feet high and six feet across, known as a margarine churn. Within the vat are two blades which revolve in opposite directions, something like a kitchen egg beater. Within a few minutes they beat the mixture of oil and buttermilk into a creamy yellowish emulsion.

The liquid is now drained through refrigerated cooling tanks. As it begins to thicken with the cold, it flows out over a revolving drum in a thin film which solidifies immediately. The margarine is scraped off the drum by a metal blade and drops in a cascade of brittle flakes into a truck or onto a conveyor belt below. It is hard and tough now, but is beginning to lock like the margarine which reaches your table.

Next it is fed through pairs of steel rollers which are revolving at different speeds to produce a kneading effect. The kneading is continued as the slabs of margarine tumble onto a rotating table where they are beaten and rolled by large paddles.

All this pounding and kneading softens the margarine, gives it plasticity and a smooth homogeneous texture, and squeezes out surplus water that has accumulated from the buttermilk. The final operation before it is ready for trucking to the grocery store is weighing and packaging.

The factors which brought about

margarine’s invention parallel in some

respects those which gave it to Cana-

dians for a five-year period from 1917,

Continued on page 48

Continued from page 46

and have again placed it on our tables

—this time, perhaps, to stay.

Early in the 1870’s, during the Franco-Prussian War, France’s dairy herds had been decimated and butter was so expensive that only the rich could afford it. The public was clamoring that the Government do something about it. In desperation, Emperor Napoleon III offered a cash prize to anyone who could produce a nutritious, tasty, butter substitute. A leading French chemist, Mege Mouries, noticed that starving cows produced milk with a normal fat content for a long time. He concluded that milk fat was secondary product not derived directly from the food eaten, but from the suet or body deposits of the cow. Could he find a way, then, to duplicate the processes that took place in the cow’s body?

The F'irst Margarine

Mouries suspected that the substance which broke down the beef suet and converted part of it into butterfat

was the pepsin secreted in the cow’s stomach. He melted beef suet and mixed it with pepsin to see what would happen. In this manner he obtained the soft, yellowish fat substance we now know as oleo. He mixed this with milk and water, added a small quantity of macerated cow’s udder because he thought the glands of the udder were responsible for the final transformation into butterfat, and churned all together. When the liquid cooled, there were lumps of butterlike fat floating in it. Mege Mouries kneaded these lumps, added salt—and the first margarine, though little like our modern product, had been produced. Napoleon’s prize was his.

Hollanders, however, were the first to exploit the discovery, and Dutch factories were soon exporting the product to England under the name of “butterine.” In 1887 English dairymen cried that “dishonest Dutchmen” were trying to imitate butter with “a fraudulent product” and demanded that it be kept out of the country. The British Parliament agreed that the name was a misrepresentation, but ruled that the

product would be allowed into Britain if it were called “margarine” instead. About the same time Canada’s dairymen raised such a hue and cry that they succeeded in having the substitute banned entirely from Canada.

Margarine’s feud with the dairymen has raged unabated ever since. Dairymen of several countries have succeeded in hobbling the industry with legislation of various kinds, such as the anticoloring tax in the U. S., but Canada has been the only country to throw the basic creed of free enterprise to the winds and ban margarine holusbolus.

Its opponents lost a valuable antimargarine battleground when British researchers in 1927 learned how to add vitamin A artificially to their margarine. Before this event the dairymen could claim that margarine was less nourishing than butter. Their nutrition plank is now splintered to slivers. Food analysts say that modern margarine is nutritionally equal to butter, and may even excel butter in winter. As for the taste of margarine, 1949 version . . . well, what’s your verdict? ★