Butter And Oleomargarine
( Originally Published 1913 )
Good fresh butter is the most savory and probably also the most easily tolerated of all fats. Its principal advantage over other kinds of fat is that its fat is not inclosed in cells, but consists of free globules, so that it is more easily acted upon by the digestive fluids, and more readily digested. Yet, butter is only a desirable and easily digested food when it is quite fresh and has not become at all rancid. A certain amount of free fatty acids are required in butter, for these give it taste and aroma. In large establishments it is customary to inoculate the cream with certain kinds of bacteria to cause the formation of a small quantity of acid. The best taste and the finest aroma will be found in the butter when the cows feed in meadows ; in this way it also has a fine yellow color. During a journey from France into Spain at the end of the winter, while still in France, I had white butter which was the product of stable feeding; as I went farther south, the color of the butter became more yellow, and the taste was greatly improved, the cows having there been turned out into the meadows.
The manner of feeding cows greatly influences the quality and color of butter. With foods containing much chlorophyll the yellow color is obtained; unfortunately, however, this may also be artificially produced by saffron, curcuma, and yellow-turnip juice.
Butter should be kept in a cool and dark place, since light and heat affect it injuriously. Heat' soon causes it to become rancid, but when it is stored in a cool place it will keep a week or even longer. It is best, however, to eat butter as fresh as possible. When butter is subjected to a high temperature free fatty acids may be engendered, and it is consequently better to use fresh butter with one's food, instead of the browned butter which is obtained at a high temperature, since the latter may irritate the stomach by the quantity of fatty acid thus formed. Fresh butter, even when taken in considerable quantities, is readily digested by a healthy stomach, and even a weak stomach will tolerate a fair amount of it. The results are quite different, however, with a slightly rancid butter, which often has injurious effects on the digestive apparatus. Butter made from sour cream will keep longer, as about 2 per cent. of salt is added to it. Nevertheless, I do not consider the practice of salting butter as it is usually done in Holland, Scandinavia, north Germany, and everywhere in North America as healthful as the use of fresh, unsalted butter, since the increased salt content is often injurious for the kidneys. I find, also, that salted butter never tastes as good as the fresh, unsalted kind; the salt may cover certain defects in the quality of the butter, but does not prevent possible injurious effects. The great value of butter lies principally in the fact that when added to other foods it much increases their nourishing qualities. According to König, butter contains :
Fat 87.0 per cent.
Thus, to absorb much fat in a digestible form, butter will be found a perfectly ideal food, and all the more so since it is likewise largely taken up or absorbed by many foods which otherwise would have but little nutritive value, and are nevertheless indispensable for us, such as green vegetables. Their taste is also greatly improved; Brussels sprouts, for instance, certainly taste much better when butter is added. Potatoes and bread seem very dry without butter, and children find their bread and butter taken during the recess at school a most delightful food.
Butter being so sought after and so much liked by all, it is not to be wondered at that it has been imitated and artificially manufactured. While Napoleon III was devoting special attention to the army, he attempted the manufacture of an artificial butter at Mège-Mouriès; this was successfully accomplished under his orders, and was the origin of oleomargarine. This consists of a mixture of beef-fat, or in fact of any animal fat, and milk. The fat, which is principally kidney-fat, is melted or drawn out. An emulsion is then formed with milk and water, making a kind of buttery compound. If all oleo-margarines were made in this way, there could be no great objection to their use. It is certainly better for the poor to eat a good oleomargarine than a very poor quality of butter. But here again the poor are defrauded, for lately the animal fat has been largely replaced by vegetable fats, which would not of itself be so bad were it not that they are often of a very inferior quality. Instead of using the finer grades of edible oils the very poorest are used, and the melted animal fat, which forms the principal constituent of oleomargarine, is mostly re-placed by tallow.
Were we simply to judge a food according to its nutritive value, not much fault could be found with oleomargarine, for the nutritive value of a good quality is about the same as that of butter. While I do not disguise my dislike for oleomargarine, I may say that it is principally due to an antipathy for the imitation of a natural substance by an artificial one, which antipathy is common to all normal people. I would also call attention to the fact that the principal difference between oleomargarine and real butter lies precisely in that property which is most prized in our foods, namely, the taste. Even when made from the very best ingredients oleomargarine never approaches butter in its taste ; it does not have the same amount of free fatty acids. This peculiarity may prove an advantage in certain diseases, as, for instance, in severe diabetes, in which the fatty acids must, in so far as is possible, be eliminated from the food. In a normal person it is quite different, and the saponification of butter in the intestine is more easily accomplished than is the case with oleomargarine. When, however, the taste and fine aroma of butter are lacking, the most important characteristic of food substances in general is lost, and I, as an advocate of good butter, know that when it does not taste fresh and good I have no appetite for it and use a much smaller quantity. While experiments have shown that digestion and assimilation of oleomargarine are equally as well carried on in animals, and perhaps also in man, as with butter, I nevertheless find a great difference in the appetite with which an aromatic, pale-yellow, fresh, natural butter, such as is made in Teschen, for instance, will be taken and that with which the same person will eat a fatty and tasteless oleo-margarine. If what Father Cats said three hundred years ago, in his old Dutch dialect—"wat smaekt dat voet" (what tastes good nourishes)—is true, then oleomargarine cannot be as satisfactory as butter. It has the advantage, however, of not becoming rancid, and for those who have not the means to buy butter oleomargarine is certainly a useful substance.
When we consider, however, how often the falsifiers sell artificial butter at the same price as the real, we shall welcome the fact that the government authorities require oleomargarine to be declared as such.
This, however, is only possible in the markets; in hotels and restaurants the guest does not have this certainty, and no doubt the author has during his travels frequently eaten oleo-margarine instead of butter, or a butter largely mixed with oleomargarine. Supervision by the authorities in the form of examinations of artificial foods should consequently not only be carried on in the markets, but be extended to the kitchens of hotels, etc. Of course, we do not here refer to hostelries of the best class, for every intelligent guest would surely notice whether the butter placed before him was good or not, and no sensible proprietor would imperil the reputation of his house by lowering .the quality of a food product which plays such an important rôle in the preparation of the meals.