History of Soy Oil Margarine - Part 3

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, California

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1960-1982. The Modern Period . Work with new product development and marketing continued strong throughout the 1960s, with emphasis on market segmentation and, much more than in Europe, emphasis on the healthfulness. In 1962 Anderson Clayton and Co. introduced Chiffon, the first soft tub margarine in a table service plastic container; soft margarines typically contain 50-80% liquid oil (much more than stick margarines) and a lower proportion of saturated fats. In 1963 Fricks Foods developed and test marketed the first liquid margarine. Sold in a plastic squeeze bottle, it had a high P/S ratio (2.7 vs. 2.1 for soft tub or tub margarines and 1.3 for stick margarines) and a very low solid fat content. Pourable at refrigerator temperatures, it was designed to facilitate use on mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and for frying, etc. Also in 1963 Carter Wallace Co. developed America's first "diet imitation margarine" (it had to be called "imitation" since "real" margarine must contain at least 80% fat by weight); it contained only 40% fat, and thus only half the calories of the regular product and no milk (Miksta 1971). Riepma (1970) gave a good list of leading manufacturers at that time, their brands, and when they were introduced. In 1973 the FDA promulgated new margarine standards in line with those of the Codex Alimentarius (international food standards) and the EEC (European Economic Community) regulations. These allowed for the development of low-fat margarines. In 1975, at a time when vegetable oil prices skyrocketed and the price difference between margarine and butter was greatly reduced (see Fig. ??), Standard Brands introduced a margarine-like "vegetable oil spread," containing only 60% fat. Not legally a margarine, the spread was designed to save both money and calories. The concept soon became fairly popular. In 1981 Archer Daniels Midland introduced Gold 'N Flavor, a popcorn topping with a butterlike flavor. Though not a margarine, it was a low-cost butter substitute, made from soy oil, lecithin, buttery flavors, beta carotene coloring, TBHQ antioxidant, and dimethylpolysiloxan antifoamer (Hannigan 1981).

Another interesting product, neither butter nor margarine, is what Europeans call "half butter," and what has come to be known in American cookbooks as Better Butter. (The original recipe was developed by Adelle Davis and later popularized in Laurel's Kitchen ; Robertson et al. 1976). Made without hydrogenation by blending equal parts butter and vegetable oil, Half Butter is 30-40% less expensive than butter, contains only half as much cholesterol, saturated fats, and salt, is much easier to spread, and tastes virtually the same as butter. Introduced in the US in dairy states like Wisconsin as early as the late 1950s and 1960s, by the late 1960s a number of brands were available, with brand names such as Butterine, Buttercup, and Butterite. The most recent and most successful brand was Country Morning, marketed by Land-O-Lakes. Though these products were well made and well conceived, they have never sold as well as expected (Osman 1968; Graf 1971, ref??).

Austin et al. (1978) have given an interesting analysis of the changing marketing barriers to margarine acceptance. In the period from 1876 to 1950, they argue, the major factors responsible for the sales growth of margarine were its consistently lower price in comparison with butter, and the wintertime (or wartime) scarcity of butter. Growth was, however, severely inhibited by not only legislative barriers but also by the unfavorable attitudes of the middle and upper income consumers toward this "poor man's butter." After 1950, with the rise of personal income, food as a status symbol gave way to ownership of a home and car. Low priced foods were no longer seen as low status products and indeed the middle class became more price conscious in their purchases of standard food items. Eventually the middle income groups replaced the low income groups as the major margarine consumers. Moreover the entry of major food companies into the margarine manufacturing field, the use of stylish marketing techniques to promote the product's easy-to-spread convenience aspect, the development of brands with better flavor plus lower proportions of saturated fats (or low-fat with fewer calories), all enabled margarine to throw off its longstanding image of inferiority and to compete with butter on more than just a price basis. From the 1970s on, margarine was also recognized as making better use of world food resources by bypassing the cow, which, although it can utilize cellulosic roughages that humans cannot, generally also consumes large amounts of corn and soybeans, thus competing with humans, and requiring about 4 lb of plant protein to make one lb of milk protein.

In 1947, just after World War II, margarine sold for about half (55%) the price of butter. Up until 1970, this price ratio steadily decreased, until from 1968 to 1970 margarine sold for only 33% the price of butter. Margarine's falling price played a key role in its expanding popularity. In 1974 and 1975 there was a shortage of vegetable oils, causing the price of margarine to jump to an average of 61% the price of butter (Fig. ??). In some months it was just below the price of butter. From the late 1970s and into the 1980s, however, the world faced a glut of vegetable oils, especially soy oil, and margarine prices again fell to low levels. Formerly when margarine prices rose, many people would switch to butter. More recently fewer do, perhaps for health reasons, or they like and are used to margarine, or they do not care. Unfortunately the US Dept. of Labor stopped keeping statistics on margarine prices in 1977.

By 1980, there were three basic types and ten varieties of margarine and margarine-like table- or sandwich spreads in the US. Regular margarine, prepared in part with partially hydrogenated oils, is a water-in-oil emulsion; its close relative, mayonnaise, is an oil-in-water emulsion. Regular margarine must, by law, contain at least 80% fat by weight, the same as butter. Small amounts of lard and beef fats are still used in some margarine brands. Margarine also typically also contains 16-18% of an aqueous phase (cultured or plain nonfat or whole cow's milk, soymilk, water, soy protein isolate in water, etc.), 2-3% salt, emulsifiers (mainly monoglycerides or diglycerides and/or lecithin, which also serve as antispattering agents), preservatives, flavoring, coloring (usually beta-carotene but also anatto), and vitamin A. Optional ingredients include vitamin D, butter, fat antioxidants, and nutritive sweeteners. Marine oils and vitamin E are prohibited. The composition of typical margarine is given in Figure ??, at Hydrogenation. Massiello (1978) listed the following margarine types, with their US market shares for 1976.

Stick Margarines. The most popular type, with 70.2% of the market. Usually four 1/4-lb sticks, each wrapped in foil or parchment and sold in a 1-lb carton. Varieties include (1) regular (22.0% market share), (2) polyunsaturated (33.2% market share), (3) highly polyunsaturated (13.0%), and (4) whipped (2.0%).

Soft Tub Margarines. Accounting for 21.6% of the total market, these include (1) regular (12.0% market share), (2) premium (6.6%), and whipped (3.0%).

Other Table and Sandwich Spreads. Accounting for 8.2% of the total market, these include (1) vegetable oil spreads (60% fat, 4.5% market share), diet imitation margarines (40% fat or less, 2.4% market share), and liquid margarines . (100% fat, 1.3% market share).

Other specialty margarines contained in one or more of the above groups include unsalted margarines, vegetarian margarines (substituting soymilk for cow's milk), kosher/pareve margarines, and all natural margarines marketed as containing no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. One additional type is industrial or baker's margarine, usually packaged in bulk and used like shortening. Still four times as much shortening as margarine was sold to bakeries and foodservice institutions in 1967.

As of 1982 regular margarine is made as follows: 1. Formulate the margarine oil blend containing typically up to 80% soy oil and the rest cottonseed oil or other vegetable oils. Hydrogenate part of the oil nonselectively to a low iodine value (IV) to make it solid and hydrogenate the rest only lightly and selectively. (For soft tub margarines 75-85% of liquid oil, such as an unhydrogenated corn, safflower, or sunflower oil may be blended with an oil hardened to an IV of 60-65.) Mix in emulsifiers and other oil-soluble additives. 2. Prepare the aqueous phase, mixing cultured or uncultured milk or related products with salt, preservatives, and any other water soluble additives. 3. Mix the oil and aqueous phases in a large agitating tank called a churn, to form an emulsion. 4. Chill and solidify the emulsion in a scraped-surface heat exchanger (typically a Votator) and a static crystallizer. (Air or inert nitrogen may be whipped in at the Votator, then the material run through an agitated crystallizer.) 5. Package the margarine by having worm screw impellers feed the margarine noodles to a print former, which compresses and shapes them into quarter pound sticks, wraps them with parchment wax paper or paper-aluminum foil laminate, then packs four sticks in a carton. Cartons for low-cost margarine are made of paperboard impregnated with wax or plastic, while those for premium brands are either aluminum foil laminated paperboard or paperboard overwrapped with foil laminated paper. (Soft margarine is packaged in 1/2- to 2-lb plastic or aluminum tubs then tempered by holding for 24 hours or more at about 7°C or 45°F before shipping, so that the crystal structure can become fully developed and stabilized.) (Brekke 1980).

During the 1960s and even more during the 1970s the rate of increase in per capita margarine consumption began to slow compared with dramatic increases from 1940 to 1960. From an all-time high of 12.2 lb (5.55 kg) in 1976, per capita consumption had fallen to 11.5 lb (5.23 kg) in 1979. Still per capita margarine consumption rose 14.9% during the 1960s and 4.5% during the 1970s (Riepma 1981, personal communication).

From 1960 to 1980, soy oil continued to be by far the most widely used oil in margarine, accounting for an average of 77% of all oils used in margarine and up to 83% in 1976 (Fig. ??). Yet fewer total tonnes of soy oil used were used in margarine than shortening or in cooking and salad oils and the growth rate of usage since 1960 was by far the slowest (Fig. ??). In 1980 some 19% of all soy oil was used in margarine, whereas 31% was used in shortenings and 48% in cooking and salad oils and other uses (Fig. ??).

In 1979 the US was the world's leading margarine producing nation, followed by the USSR and West Germany. America produced 861,830 tonnes of margarine as compared with 449,060 tonnes of butter; thus margarine comprised 66% of the 1,310,890 tonnes total.

What future consumer trends are foreseen for margarine? Massiello (1978) predicted further market segmentation, a dramatic increase in 60% vegetable oil spreads, growth in the high polyunsaturated margarines (because of consumer health awareness and because they save energy by using less natural gas for hydrogenation), perhaps more demand for more natural products (using unhydrogenated oils, natural flavors, and no preservatives), and perhaps "a demand for margarine with greatly reduced trans isomer content because of questions raised about the biological utilization and effects of trans fatty acids. Margarine oils for this type of product could be made by interesterification." Interestingly, as of 1982 the great majority of consumers were not even aware of the presence of trans fatty acids in margarine nor of the 40-year debate concerning their safety. To this we would add: The growing recommendation that Americans should reduce the percentage of their calories obtained from fats, if heeded, could lead to a slowing or reduced consumption of bread and potatoes, Americans might follow the pattern set in many European countries after the mid-1950s and consume more butter and less margarine. However health considerations may modify economic considerations. If, however, as many predict, increased inflation and/or declining real standards of living continue, margarine will probably benefit. The attitudes of health-conscious young consumers may play a key role in margarine's future. Will it be seen predominately as a healthful food, low in polyunsaturates, conserving of world food resources, part of a thrifty and ecological lifestyle? Or will the concern with fatty acid isomers and chemical additives prevail, making butter seem a more healthful product. If the latter occurs, half butter or Better Butter could conceivably become much more popular because of its relatively low price, good flavor, good P/S ratio, and all natural quality, although it does contain some natural trans fatty acids.


Areas where margarine got a late start include the Indian Subcontinent, East Asia, South America, and Africa. The combined production of these areas was relatively small in 1900 (2,000 tons/tonnes??), but by 1925 it equalled that of the US (100,000 tons). It slowed markedly until 1950, then grew during the 1950s at the fastest rate in history for any region, skyrocketing from 169 tons in 1950 to 990 tons in 1960, passing the US in 1956. By 1965 production of these areas was 1,390 tons, second only to Western Europe (Fig. ??), and accounting for 29% of the world's total production (Stuyvenberg 1969).

Indian Subcontinent . The most important traditional cooking fat in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka is usli ghee (pronounced us-LEE GEE); the two words mean "pure fat." Sometimes anglicized as "Indian clarified butter," usli ghee is typically made from water buffalo milk, but in some parts of India is made from cow's milk. Although the latter is generally considered to have a superior flavor, the distinction is not considered very important. Most commercial usli ghee is made from the butter produced by churning the cream from water buffalo milk. However in villages, where an estimated 65-70% of the country's usli ghee is still made, it is made from fermented water buffalo milk. The milk is boiled, the cream skimmed off and inoculated with a culture, then allowed to ferment for 4-6 hours at room temperature to make clotted cream ( malai ). This is then churned with plenty of butter to give a "fermented butter," considered distinctly superior in flavor to regular butter. The remaining liquid buttermilk, called chach , is made into the refreshing drink lassi . The usli ghee is now made by clarifying the fermented or nonfermented butter. The butter is heated in a heavy pot or large long-handled spoon over very low heat until all the moisture evaporates and the milk solids brown. Then the clear liquid usli ghee is poured off from the browned milk solids. Why do Indians go through this elaborate process? First, only clarified butter will work in making spice-perfumed butter ( tadka ), made by sizzling certain spices in hot usli ghee until they give off their flavor. Plain butter or margarine, when heated to the required temperature (up to 400°F or 204°C) would scorch and leave a deposit stuck to the bottom of the pan. Second, being a pure fat, with virtually no moisture, milk proteins, or milk sugars, usli ghee will keep much longer than butterfat in India's hot climate (4-6 weeks at room temperature). Usli ghee is extensively used in sweetmeats (confections) and in spice-perfumed butter. Brahmins have long considered usli ghee to be a food with supernatural powers that strengthens one's intellect. Each Indian infant is fed a spoonful of usli ghee within minutes of its birth and even today young Hindu children, especially males, are given a spoonful of usli ghee daily to sharpen their intellect.

Vanaspati ghee is a food closely resembling usli ghee but made from hydrogenated vegetable oils and containing no animal fats. It is different from both Western-style shortenings and margarines. It resembles shortening in that it is a cooking fat and contains no liquid or milk phase, but it resembles margarine (actually clarified margarine) in that it resembles a product made from butter (which Indians eat) and not from lard (which they do not eat). Like butter, vanaspati ghee is colored and flavored. However, there the resemblance ends for, like usli ghee, it has a light lemon color, a coarse-grained semisolid texture, and a faint nutty-lemon aroma. Like many Western books on food, we group it with margarine rather than with vegetable shortenings. Vanaspati ghee (literally "vegetable ghee") is sometimes called simply vanaspati . It is sold commercially in sealed tin cans and has a consistency like a soft margarine in the cool months but more like an oil in the hot months.

The vanaspati industry originated in India in the early 1930s to help the country meet a growing need for a product resembling ghee. From the early days it was argued by vanaspati makers that using milk to make ghee was wasteful, since all of the milk protein in the butter was lost. Prior to 1961 vanaspati was made from a blend of 85% groundnut (peanut) oil, 10% cottonseed oil, and 5% sesame oil, fortified with 11,200 IU of vitamin A and 896 IU of vitamin D per pound. In 1952 production of vanaspati in India had reached 193,495 tonnes.

In the early 1960s the Soybean Council of America (see Chapter 63), noting the skyrocketing price of peanut oil, introduced vanaspati manufacturers to soy oil. In 1961 a trial shipment of 3,021 tonnes of soy oil, worth $1 million, was imported from the US and distributed to 22 vanaspati plants. Services of a US technical consultant were also provided; he worked with Indian vanaspati makers to develop both coarse-grained and fine-grained vanaspati made from soy oil. By 1962 vanaspati production had reached 370,000 tonnes and India had a Vanaspati Manufacturers Association. Several years later soy oil started to be used as an ingredient (Chhatrapati 1963). By 1969 India was producing 485,802 tonnes of vanaspati, making the country the fourth largest in the world after the US, the USSR, and West Germany. However per capita consumption was extremely small, only about 2 lb (0.91 kg a year), divided among almost 500 million people.

In Pakistan the vanaspati industry began later than in India; it started virtually from scratch in 1947. Soy oil was introduced in the early 1960s. By 1969 production (all types or just soy oil??) had reached 113,852 tonnes, with a per capita consumption of about 5 lb (2.26 kg), more than twice that of India.

East Asia . Japan is representative of this area. Margarine was first imported to Japan from France in 1887 (Ichiyama 1968). Production began to grow rapidly after World War II, reaching 59,748 tonnes in 1965, 108,467 tonnes in 1970, 157,274 tonnes in 1975, and 216,939 tonnes in 1979. This represents a compound growth rate of over 9% a year for this 14-year period. Per capita consumption increased from 0.608 kg (1.33 lb) in 1965 to 1.87 kg (4.1 lb) in 1979. Japan's fat consumption is the lowest in any industrialized country and margarine consumption per person in 1979 was only 35% of that in the US.

Latin America and Africa . Little?? is known of the early history of margarine in these areas. In 1969 Central and South America produced an estimated 45,360 tonnes, giving a miniscule per capita consumption for this vast area.



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