The different fat side of life

October 27th, 2013 | Posted by greg in Daily life...

A few weeks back, I was invited by friends to an evening where the idea was sharing delicious food and great wine. For sure, I wasn’t let down by the wine. As I arrived I discovered several great bottles of wine that I was eager to try, one after the other. Then, next to the bottles was a display of superb aged Iberico ham, amazing breads, farm cheeses of all kind, terrines and rillettes, and to my despair…. Flora. As much as I wished Flora to actually be a very charming lady, it turned out to be one of my worst nightmares: a man-made vegetable spread pretending to be healthy. No matter if Flora dropped hydrogenated fat in 1994.


Perhaps it was ignorance, or perhaps someone was allergic to dairy, and although cheese, terrine, rillettes and other Iberico ham all containing an hefty amount of animal fat most likely to beat Flora’s fat content by far… I was just hoping no one thought real butter wan unhealthy! Anyhow, it was very interesting to see. It also reminded me how some people use vegetable fat based cream to make their cake. Yes, it looks sharp and white and holds straight, but the process is the same as with margarine.

In big lines, this is how margarine is made:

Oil is extracted from soy beans, corn, canola, etc… with high temperature and pressure.

  1. The remaining fraction of oils is removed with hexane and other solvents
  2. The oils, now rancid are steam cleaned to remove all vitamins and anti-oxidants (rumors as it that pesticides remain!)
  3. Oil is then mixed with (usually) a nickel catalyst (yes, metal!)
  4. The oils with the catalysts are then pressured with hydrogen in a high-pressure and high-temperature reactor.
  5. Soap-like emulsifiers are mixed in.
  6. The gray color paste comes out and is steamed again to remove the horrible smell.
  7. The gray color is removed by bleaching. (Yes – bleach!)
  8. Artificial flavors, synthetic vitamins and colors are added.
  9. The paste is packed and sold as being an healthy food.

Now if I was allergic to dairies or scared for my cholesterol level, I would eat anything, but margarine. I mean… in what right mind is the above product good in any ways? After having read a few dozen of articles about the history and development of the never-ending war between butter and vegetable spread, it all become easier to understand. It’s a bit like the shark’s fin syndrome where the media focus on one issue, when dozen of others are rotting our food industry on a daily basis. Media focus on the butter vs. margarine war most probably because the worldwide market of butter and margarine represents 1300 million tons! Then, no wonder companies like Unilever are battling hard to take hydrogenated fat out of their equation. Studies funded by each industries respectively try to prove one another about the good and bad of their products to the point where today, there is no consensus on who is right or wrong. One of the strategy found by food industry giant to avoid hydrogenated fat is interesterified fat, where molecules of fat and fatty acids have been moved around so it doesn’t have to be called hydrogenated. A bit like the chicken powder without MSG (mono sodium glutamate) where the new green tin now uses disodium ribonucleotides (E635). It’s all different, but same same!

Using vegetable cream for cakes to achieve near geometrical perfection in piping is often seen as an easy way to cut on skills level and cost by a third of the price. Chain cake shops and supermarkets keep their cakes for several days in store to diminish the waste (think about it next time!) 

My conclusion is simple – the butter and margarine you eat on a daily basis is most likely to represent a very small percentage of your fat intake. You happen to eat Cantonese food today? Welcome to Oil-Land! Having a burger? The level of fat in a good burger patty is at least 30% (so stop blaming the croissant please! ;)) A few crisps on the way home, the salad dressing supposedly healthy, cookies… Fat is just about everywhere (including in your wedding cake icing by the way!). So, we should stop focusing on the butter vs. margarine war and look at alternative fats out there and more importantly everything we eat! There are simple oils obtained by cold pressing such as linseed oil, walnut oil and so on… Like any other food, it’s all about the amount you decide to eat, but remember, if it goes down your throat, you’ve made that choice. On this note, I am going to spread a massive chunk of salted farm butter on a slice of rye sourdough! Happy eating!


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6 Responses

  • Angie_L says:

    Chef, thanks for telling us how margarine is made. I’ve always thought margarine was better than butter. We should trust cows more than chemists, eh? :)

    Btw, is olive oil as healthy as we think? I normally use it for salad and pasta, but high-temperature cooking or baking.

    • You are much welcome Angie! :)
      I am definitely trusting cows more than chemists when it comes to food!
      Like any other food, it is a matter of quantity and frequency. A good olive oil is very good in colder temperature indeed. For baking it’s very good too as temperature in bread are staying fairly low.

      • Angie_L says:

        Thank you for answering my query about olive oil and sharing the cronut video, Chef! I tried store-bought cronut once here in Canada this summer……. maple glazed bacon stripes with pineapple slices sandwiched between two sugary cronuts. It was delicious, but absolutely a “guilty pleasure”! :)

        I think I can simply adopt the croissant dough recipe on
        page 22 from your “Layers”. Will give it a try at home later. Wish me luck!

  • Monica Lee says:

    Hi Gregoire, I read from some magazines months ago that you may do the “Cronut”, how are you doing this ? because i did not read anything on so far (or, I missed to) … looking forward to try yours…

    So far, I tried, Amanda’s, Mandarin’s, Swissbeck, and Holiday Inn… only with Amanda’s, we repeated it at least 5 times

  • Colette says:

    Such an enlightening post! I knew only part of it and long ago stopped using any margarine whatsover! But reading the whole description of the process is more than terrifying..

    Everyone should read this and be informed before making a choice as to what fat to intake! So many people go straight for margarine just considering the saturated fats in butter are worse…

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