Butter versus margarine – which one is better?

For as long as I’ve been a dietitian, this debate is still going on. There always seems to be a different spin each time. Butter is saturated but margarine isn’t. Butter is ‘natural’ but margarine is manufactured. And don’t get me started on the whole hydrogenated vs. non-hydrogenated issue.

Serious bakers and chefs swear by butter for flavour and its ability to produce flaky crusts and pastry. I also figure that when it comes to baking, you might as well go all out and enjoy it so by all means, use butter.

However, one day I was given the opportunity to challenge my former belief as well as tradition. I had been taking a baking course at George Brown College (I didn’t see an ounce of margarine in the place while I was there by the way) when one day, a coworker of mine came into the office with a large tub or margarine. She said that she wouldn’t be able to use it all up and asked me if I’d like to have it. She said “Please take the margarine. You can use it in your baking.”

Margarine in baking? Really? I never would have thought of doing that before but I figured – what else am I going to do with this tub of margarine? This could be an opportunity to see if what everyone was saying about butter vs. margarine (especially from a culinary standpoint) was correct or not. Can you use margarine instead of butter when it comes to baking? Will the results be just as good?

I proceeded to do a series of taste tests that all involved using butter and margarine and I would bring the food in for people to taste the next day.  I wouldn’t tell them which one was made with what, but they had to vote for the one they liked more.

What started out as a simple butter versus margarine comparison, evolved into a series of experiments which involved putting them up against each other on bread, in chocolate chip cookies and shortbread. We even did a taste test comparing all the different types of of Becel margarine and how they performed in baking.

I think you will find the results enlightening.

Do you use margarine or butter? Do you use a certain one depending on what you’re making? How do you come to a balance in terms of which one to use?