Before I continue please note that I am not really a proponent of margarine, and I very rarely cook with it. But there are still valid reasons to use it.
- Margarine is Plastic?
- Why do recipes still use margarine?
- Can I use butter instead?
- What about shortening?
- Which margarine should I use?
I’ve gotten some snarky comments because there are several recipes on this site that call for margarine instead of pure, pristine butter. Butter purists say there is NO SUBSTITUTE and no reason to ever use margarine.
Margarine is practically plastic?
“Margarine is one molecule away from plastic!!!” they say. Also, ethanol (present in all alcoholic beverages) is also one molecule away from methanol (deadly, but also occurs naturally in our bodies!). And water (essential to life) is one atom away from hydrogen peroxyde (irritating if ingested in small quantities and toxic in large) and humans are 98.7% genetically similar to chimpanzees. Lets leave it to actual chemists to determine how small molecular differences can change real properties.
Why do recipes still use margarine?
Any recipe on this site that calls for margarine is a vintage recipe, from the Depression era and Word War II, when butter was very expensive, rare, and/or rationed. Margarine was an accessible alternative and in many families it continued as the de-facto spread even when butter became more affordable.
In later days it was found that margarine was lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and it was offered as a healthier solution to butter. Then margarine fell into disfavor when the dangers of trans-fats were discovered, but now in the USA and Canada margarine is no longer allowed to contain trans-fats so that’s not generally a consideration in those areas.
Many of my vintage recipes still call for margarine, because I did not want to change the vintage nature of the recipe. Margarine does change the texture of a food and in some cases, recipe developers who used margarine will have formulated the recipe specifically for use with margarine. Some recipes say “butter or margarine” because the original recipe said that, or I’ve specifically tested it.
Can I use butter instead?
Sure, why not? Butter, margarine and shortening (Crisco) can all be used in most cookie recipes at a 1-to-1 ratio. I like to say they are interchangeable, but not indistinguishable. That is to say that while you can use any of them, there will be differences in the final product. The differences are usually small and may or may not matter to you.
In general, margarine will produce a softer texture and a lighter color while butter will produce a crispier, chewier texture and deeper browning. Shortening holds its shape better and rises a little higher. Butter tastes better than both of them and wins the flavor war.
Which margarine should I use?
In all cases, margarine in baking, unless specifically stated otherwise, is calling for SOLID sticks of margarine, never the soft, spreadable type that comes in tubs. If you are debating between margarines, check which brand has the highest fat content. Unless you are trying to lower your fat intake, the highest fat content will yield the best cookies. BakingHow.com has an article on which brands she prefers.