The Consumer Education Project of Milk SA

What is the difference between butter and yellow fat spreads or margarine?

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Butter is produced from the cream of milk. It has to contain at least 80% milk fat and not more than 16% water. Margarine (solid or a spread) is made of vegetable oils. The fat content varies as follows: Solid – more than 80%; Spreads – less than 80%; Light – 52%; Extra-light – 35%. Margarines also contain added vitamins, colouring agents and preservatives.

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The term ‘yellow fat spread’ is broadly used to describe all spreadable fats such as butter, margarine and blended fat spreads. In contrast, the term ‘butter’ specifically refers to the type of fat spread that contains at least 80% milk fat and no more than 16% water. Butter can be salted or unsalted.
Margarine is either a solid or a spreadable emulsion that is made from different vegetable oils. Solid margarine has a fat content of more than 80%. If the fat content of the product is less than 80%, it is referred to as margarine spreads. This includes light (52% fat) and extra-light (35% fat) spreads. Margarine usually contains less saturated fat than butter and it is often fortified with vitamins A and D to mimic the composition of butter.

Blended spreads have a similar composition to margarine and are available in a wide range of fat contents. With the exception of butter, yellow fat spreads usually contain additives, colouring agents and preservatives.

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