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Butter substitutes

Butter substitute buying guide

Last updated: July 2012
Getting started

Getting started

Everything's not better with Blue Bonnet on it. Despite the ad claim, Blue Bonnet 53% Vegetable Oil Spread rated lowest of the butter alternatives our trained tasters sampled, due to its fatty residue, stale taste, and lack of dairy flavor. Other findings:

Taste

Best of the bunch was Land O' Lakes Spreadable Butter with Canola Oil (the oil shaves off some saturated fat). It has a whipped-butter taste and lacks the slight to moderate movie-popcorn fake-butter flavor (officially diacetyl) found in other products.

Several very good, somewhat cheaper alternatives are listed in the Ratings. Like top-rated Land O' Lakes, they have a clean flavor (no off-tastes) and a sharp melt (after a slight delay they melt suddenly, sharply, and smoothly). The rest of the butter stand-ins have a slower melt and slight flaws: Some taste stale; some leave an oily residue or fatty feeling in the mouth. The lower-rated products are mostly sticks, not tubs.

Nutrition

As fat is replaced with water and other ingredients, calories decrease. Although both Land O' Lakes products have 100 calories per tablespoon, the same as butter, the rest have 45 to 80. All the excellent and very good products are free of trans fat, but except for top-rated Land O' Lakes, they contain palm oil or palm kernel oils, which are highly saturated and therefore less than healthful. The tested products with trans fat are all sticks, which need a partially hydrogenated oil with trans fat to keep their form. (One tablespoon of real butter has 100 calories, 11 grams total fat, 7 grams saturated fat, no trans fat, and 95 milligrams sodium.)

Most of the products claim to have added vitamins, a few claim added omega-3 fatty acids, and one (Benecol) claims plant stanol esters. Omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes; people with coronary heart disease require about a gram a day. Plant stanols appear to reduce the amount of cholesterol the body absorbs from food and can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and therefore may reduce the risk of heart disease. The potential heart benefits of those products should be weighed against their fat and calories, of course, and against any side effects they might have (stanols can cause diarrhea, for example).

Some of the tested products also come in "light" versions, with even less fat and fewer calories.

Price

Package prices range from 92 cents for 1 pound (four sticks) of Imperial to $4.83 for a half-pound tub of Benecol. Per tablespoon, that's 3 to 30 cents. Shedd's Spread Churn Style costs just 4 cents per tablespoon, less than half the price of many other products, but its tub is 45 ounces compared with 15 ounces for most others. Benecol is the most expensive but doesn't taste very good.

Bottom line

Land O' Lakes Spreadable Butter with Canola Oil tastes best but has more calories and fat than most. If you're concerned about those levels, try I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Light Spread or Brummel & Brown 35% Vegetable Oil Spread. People who don't get enough nutrients through their regular diet might consider one of the products that include plant stanols or omega-3s. Bear in mind that we tasted the products straight; even the lower-rated ones might taste a bit better with food.

   

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