The Consumer Education Project of Milk SA

Why is South African butter yellow?

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Fresh milk contains a natural pigment called carotene derived from the feed that the cows eat. Humans can convert carotene to vitamin A. Sometimes extra carotene or a natural colourant, annatto, is added to butter to achieve a uniform colour.

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Butter is yellow because of the natural pigment carotene in milk. Carotene comes from the cow’s diet, which consists mostly of hay, silage, grains and cereals. Our bodies convert carotene to vitamin A. Because butter contains carotene, it is a source of vitamin A.

In rare cases, extra carotene or another related natural pigment is added to butter to intensify the colour. This added pigment appears on butter labels as ‘colourant’. A colourant used in cheese, namely annatto, may be used to achieve a consistent colour when butter is made from the milk of different cow breeds or to accommodate seasonal differences in milk.

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