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Is It a Butter, Margarine or Spread? They Are Not Created Equal.

You may notice there is a wide variety of choices in the grocery store dairy case when it comes to sticks to use for baking. "Butter," "margarine" and "spread" are common types of stick products. It’s easy to be confused by the difference between them. Can you really use just any stick for your baked goods with confidence? The short answer is, "No." Let me explain.

Let’s first understand what the different choices are. Most of the products you see displayed on the shelves fall into three categories: butter, margarine and spreads. According to USDA regulations, butter and margarine must contain at least 80% fat. In butter, that fat comes from milkfat. But in the case of margarine, the fat can come from vegetable sources or a combination of animal and vegetable sources. The USDA does not specify how much fat should be in the spreads category, so the fat content varies between brands. If it doesn’t say "butter" or "margarine," look at the front of the package to determine the exact percentage of fat. The only way to be sure you are buying margarine is if it clearly states "margarine" on the box.

Butter, Margarine and Spreads at a Glance

  Percent Fat Source of Fat Percent Water
Butter 80% Milkfat Less than 20%
Margarine 80% Vegetable and/or milkfat Less than 20%
Spreads Varies, can be less than 60% oil Vegetable Up to 40% water

Since the fat content is not regulated in spreads, many brands will substitute water for oil. In some brands, they have increased the percentage of water up to 40%. That’s almost half water!

So, what happens if you bake with a spread instead of an 80% fat margarine? Fat plays an important role in the structure, moistness and tenderness of a baked good. It also is necessary to aid in browning. By reducing the amount of fat, baked goods tend to turn out drier, tougher and lighter-colored. Plus, extra water in a recipe can mean soggy cookies, stale cakes and unpredictable baking.

If you want cookies that get crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, cakes that stay fresh longer and, most importantly, recipes that turn out the way they should, Land O Lakes Margarine® will be your favorite secret ingredient. 

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What is the difference between salted & unsalted butter? Can either be used in a recipe if it does not specify type?

Posted Nov 27 2013 by judy
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Land O Lakes® Salted and Unsalted Butter are the same Grade AA Quality butter. The only difference is that one has salt added and one does not. When a specific butter is listed in a recipe, it is because that is the way the recipe has been tested. Unsalted butter gives recipes a uniquely delicate cultured flavor. You can use salted and/or unsalted butter interchangeably in any recipe without compensating for salt. For more information on butter, please click on the following links: http://www.landolakes.com/TestKitchen/TipsAndTechniques/FAQ/Butter.aspx http://www.landolakes.com/TestKitchen/Blog/salted-or-unsalted-which-butter-should-i-use-when/
Posted December 03, 2013

I have noticed that your margarine has changed for the worse. Both my husband and I have noticed it. We had always used Land O Lakes margarine but no more. The color and taste is different.

Posted Sep 26 2013 by Margarine

There is no doubt that your margarine has changed even though you insist it hasn't. I have always preferred it to other brands but it is terrible now! I will no longer purchase Land O'Lakes.

Posted Sep 10 2013 by Melanie
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Please contact our Consumer Affairs and they will take your comment and relay it to the product team. Either email or call 800-328-4155. Thanks for your comment.
Posted September 12, 2013

Can I freeze tubs of soft margarine? If so, how long may it freeze it? Thank you very much! ---Linda, Virginia

Posted Jul 28 2013 by Linda
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Mallory

Hi Linda, We do not recommend freezing margarine, as freezing may affect the product texture and quality. Also, the packaging is not a freezer grade container and if frozen, it could break or crack.
Posted July 30, 2013

Dear Land O' Lakes:
PLEASE HELP! My family has used Land O' Lakes products for years and years because we can count on their excellent quality. For baking and sauteing, we use the Land O' Lakes sticks, and the soft tub margarine for spreading. Strangely, in the past two years, we've noticed that most of our stores have not been carrying the plain, soft margarine, but have many of the other butter and margarine products. We find no other brands that say soft "margarine," either. We ask the managers why, but no one seems to know anything about it. This week, one of the Martin's grocery stores finally had some of what we want on the shelf, but they are the only store we've found. (We bought 10 tubs in case they stop again! Will it freeze?) We shop there, Food Lion, and Kroger's in Richmond's West End. Now that I've read the above information, now I know the difference between the spread and Margarine. Any help for finding this in our stores again, please? Thank you for your fine products!
Linda - Virginia

Posted Jul 26 2013 by Linda
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Whether a store carries Land O Lakes margarine is determined by the store or dairy buyer. If you want them to carry a specific product it is important to let the store or buyer know so the products you want can be brought into the store.
Posted July 26, 2013

Has your margarine changed? I have purchased this for years and recently, the wrapper is different, it is very soft, and the taste Is terrible. What has changed?

Posted Jul 12 2013 by Sarah
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Sarah - we have not made any changes in the margarine recently. Sorry to hear that you were not satisfied with the product.
Posted July 24, 2013

I can't believe you changed the taste of your margarine again. It is horrible and now I am
searching for different brand/ Please bring back the original

Posted Jul 07 2013 by conniehuntoon@hotmail.com
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Connie - The margarine product has not changed recently.
Posted July 24, 2013

Butter is the only way to go if baking! Real butter makes all the difference, sorry but it is the truth. I tried your margine when I ran out of butter, had to throw the brownies out! They were terrible! Your margine may be ok for other methods but not baking!!

Posted Jun 18 2013 by BUTTER!!!!

What has happened to your margarine? I have baked cookies for years with Land O' Lakes margarine, but have not been getting good results lately. Tonight, without any reason I can think of, the cookies were a different texture--gooey and sticking to the pan. I see the suggestion below to chill the dough first, but why would that suddenly become necessary if no ingredients were changed and the cookies came out well before? I would like to know what has changed and how I can make cookies that are like the ones I always made before. I sell them at my school every week to raise money for Relay for Life and an orphanage in Sudan, but the quality of these is so diminished that I don't feel I can continue to sell them.

Posted Jan 15 2013 by Patty
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

nd the cookies flatten out.
Posted January 24, 2013

I have been unable to find LOL margarine in a store near me. Can you help me? I not only use it for baking the occasional batch of cookies, but love its flavor on breads, potatoes, etc. I am one of those who grew up on REAL margarine, "oleo", my mother called it. LOL is the closest thing to what I grew up with and now my local grocers can't get it. They DO carry LOL butter.

Posted Dec 31 2012 by Melanie
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Thanks for your comment. You can call our Consumer Affairs department at 800-328-4155. Tell the representative what city you live in and you should be able to get the information about stores in your area who carry Land O Lakes Margarine.
Posted January 03, 2013

I can't believe that margarine manufacturers have been intimidated to ruin the taste of their product by adding so much vegetable oil & completely spoiling it. Why would I want to spread Crisco on my toast? For those of us brought up on margarine & the great taste of it,

Posted Dec 30 2012 by Dianne Allen
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Thanks for your comments. Land O Lakes Margarine has not recently changed. It has always been 80% vegetable oil.
Posted December 31, 2012

I also am having trouble with cookies I have baked for years and years. Something has to be different. I bake a special cookie with land of lakes margarine. The last time I made them was Dec,2011. They were perfect as always. Just baked them last night and grease was running out of the cookies on my stone and and all my filling ran out.. I just can't believe that you haven't changed something!! Guess I will be looking for a new margarine and butter. I have given out this recipe to over a hundred people and insist they use Land o Lakes margarine. Guess I need to send out a mass mailing!

Posted Oct 05 2012 by Michelle
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Michelle, Thanks for checking with us. We have not made any changes to the formulation of our margarine. It has always been 80% fat (vegetable oil) and great for cooking and baking. It is very important to make sure the margarine is not too soft when you mix the cookie dough. One idea is to chill the dough at least 30 minutes before baking the cookies. The margarine will melt fast as the cookies bake in the oven. so if the margarine in the dough is cold before baking the cookies will not spread out so much and so quickly. If you have other questions about margarine and spreads, please let us know.
Posted October 08, 2012

My question was basically the same about changes in ingredients. I wondered if Land of Lakes had changed the margarine at all. I have baked with it for close to 20 years and just in last couple months cookies are flat and greasy.

Posted May 04 2012 by Betsy
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Land O'Lakes has not made any changes in the ingredients in our margarine. Sometimes if cookies are flat the reason might be that the product was too soft when it was mixed into the cookie dough. One solution is to chill the dough for about 30 minutes after mixing and before you bake the cookies.
Posted May 30, 2012

Melissa (post Nov 07 2011) has mirrored my question. I have noticed in the last year or so, that my toll house chocolate cookie recipe does not result in the same quality of cookie. They come out flat and greasy. I've been using this recipe all my life, probably since I started cooking at age 13.. and I'm now 49. Could it be a change in quality of another ingredient? Perhaps the sugar or flour?

Posted Apr 03 2012 by Lisa
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Mallory

Hi Lisa. To my knowledge, there have been no changes in the ingredients used in chocolate chip cookies. There may be many reasons why your cookies are coming out flat. Here are some tips to ensure your cookies don't come out flat. Make sure that the butter is not too soft before making the dough. Soften butter slightly for easier mixing by removing from refrigerator and letting stand 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature. To soften butter quickly, cut into chunks and allow to it soften at room temperature about 15 minutes. If time is limited, place a stick of cold butter between sheets of waxed paper and hit it with a rolling pin on each side to soften butter. Also, be sure to cool cookie sheets between batches. A hot cookie sheet can melt the butter before the cookie dough can set. There is no need to grease a cookie sheet unless the recipe indicates to do so. Greasing a cookie sheet when the recipe does not call for it can cause the cookies to spread too much and brown too quickly around the edges. Another good tip is before baking an entire batch, bake a test cookie to give a good indication of dough condition. If it spreads too much, the dough may be too soft. Try refrigerating dough until well-chilled (1 to 2 hours). If the dough is still too soft, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour. Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any more questions.
Posted April 09, 2012

I have been trying to avoid trans fats and would like to know if your partially hydrogenated soybean oils/fats are the same as trans fats only listed under this other name. Trans fats are the bad fats that clog the arteries. If so, why is this type of fat necessary to be your products? Thank you.

Posted Dec 11 2011 by Carol
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Becky

The partially hydrogenated oils do contain trans fats (they aren’t really the same thing). Although we continue to work to reduce the amount of trans fats in our products, the Land O Lakes Margarine sticks do rely on some hydrogenation for firmness, consistency and performance
Posted December 14, 2011

If a recipes call for unsalted butter can you use salted butter. Also what is the difference. I always use Land o Lakes matgarine and butter.

Posted Nov 16 2011 by Hilda
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Mallory

Hi Hilda, Salted and Unsalted Butter are the same Grade AA quality butter. The only difference is that one has salt added and one does not. When you see a specific butter listed in a recipe, it is because that is the product the recipe was tested with. You can use salted and/or unsalted butter interchangeably in any recipe without compensating for salt.
Posted November 17, 2011

Can the butter with olive oil product be used just the same way and in the same proportions as butter? I really do enjoy Land O'Lakes Butter with Olive Oil as a spread!

Posted Nov 13 2011 by Rita
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Becky

It depends on the recipes in which you want to use Butter with Olive Oil. We suggest that you do not bake with this product since the product is softer and could affect the texture of the baked item. You can saute with Butter with Olive Olive similar to using butter. There might be a slight olive oil flavor but when sauteing vegetables, for example, this product is quite likely just fine.
Posted November 15, 2011

Have you recently changed the ingredients to your Stick Margarine? My mom is upset because she bakes with it but says you have added oil and she can no longer use it?

Posted Nov 07 2011 by Melissa
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Melissa - Thanks for checking with us. We have not made any changes to the formulation of our margarine. It has always been 80% fat (vegetable oil) and great for cooking and baking. Could it be that she is using a lower fat spread product that is not recommended for cooking and baking? If you have other questions about margarine and spreads, please let us know.
Posted November 08, 2011

I have started baking cookies using butter instead of margarine and I cannot get my cookies to spread ( they stay pretty much in the shape they are dropped) and they seem more dry. What do I need to change?

Posted Oct 25 2011 by Sandy
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Mallory

Hi Sandy, it sounds like it could be an issue with measuring flour. Some of us tend to measure flour heavy (I do!) and that can cause your cookies to seem a bit dry and not spread as much. I would suggest trying to spoon your flour into the measuring cup lightly and level the top off with a table knife. Using butter versus margarine shouldn't cause your cookies to stay in the shape they are dropped. Hopefully this helps, come back and let me know!
Posted October 31, 2011

Does your margarine containe hydroginated fats/oils ? Thanks, Mary

Posted Oct 12 2011 by Mary S.
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Mary, our margarine does include partially hydrogenated soybean oil. If you have other questions about margarine, please let me know.
Posted October 13, 2011

I have found this to be true. If I use margarine in baking, I always use Land O'Lakes.

Posted Oct 11 2011 by Bette
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Thanks for your comment! Baking with Land O Lakes Margarine is excellent to bake with.
Posted October 12, 2011

Wondering if the Land O Lakes margarine has any dairy in it? My daughter cannot have any dairy, and it is quite difficult to find a margarine that doesn't have dairy of some type in it.

Posted Oct 11 2011 by Nancy
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Hi Nancy - Land O Lakes Margarine does contain a small amount of buttermilk. The allergen notice on label does list MILK. Here is a list of the ingredients in our margarine: Liquid Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Buttermilk, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Vegetable Mono And Diglycerides, Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Colored with Beta Carotene (Provitamin A). CONTAINS: MILK AND SOY If you have additional questions about margarine, please let me know.
Posted October 13, 2011

I'm afraid of margarine and try to use only butter. I do use Crisco shortening in some recipes. I also use canola oils for frying and olive oil. I don't use anything labeled margarine. Whenever possible I purchase Land O Lakes.

Posted Oct 11 2011 by chris

Now I'm really confused. Why? Well, for years I've ALWAYS used Land O'Lakes BUTTER for all my cake and cookie baking. How will the flavor of baking change - IF I instead use the L "L Margarine? Has anyone done a "Taste-Test" - - say with a simple sugar cookie - to ascertain if this is simply a "personal choice" as to whether one uses Margarine or Butter.

Posted Oct 11 2011 by Bea E. J.
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Becky

Bea, I am so sorry we confused you. Butter is always my first choice both for flavor and texture. But then I am truly a “butter lover.” Sounds like you are too. Not everyone prefers butter or sometimes bakers and cooks are looking for a lower cost alternative. That’s where Land O Lakes Margarine comes in to the picture. Our margarine performs well in baking and cooking because it has the same percentage of fat as butter, 80%. The fat is from a vegetable source instead of milk fat. Most of the other non-butter products on the market today are not margarines, they are spreads – which means they have less than 80% fat and sometimes a very low percentage – even as low 40 or 55%. Their fat source is from vegetable fat as well. Because they are spreads and not margarine they do not work as well in baking and cooking. And, because we know butter we are able to use that knowledge to make a really good tasting margarine. You are right about choosing between butter and margarine being a “personal choice.” For assurance that your baked goods will turn out well, butter or margarine are your best options.
Posted October 13, 2011

i use Land O Lakes stick margarine, but I also loved the Land O Lakes tub margarine for some purposes. I can no longer find the tub margarine. Is it still being made?

Posted Oct 11 2011 by Kathy
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

It is great to hear that you use Land O Lakes stick margarine. Yes, Land O Lakes still has tub margarine. Ask the dairy manager at your grocery store to stock the tub product.
Posted October 12, 2011

So with all of that said, what OTHER ingredients are in your margarine? I do not buy margarine because of the unnatural ingredients in it.

Posted Oct 11 2011 by Amelia M.
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Amelia - Here is the list of the ingredients in our margarine: Liquid Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Buttermilk, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Vegetable Mono And Diglycerides, Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Colored with Beta Carotene (Provitamin A). CONTAINS: MILK AND SOY Some of the ingredients listed are included as emulsifiers and preservatives. If you have questions about this, let us know.
Posted October 13, 2011

Please list all ingredients listed on the margarine package. As some people can't
have other types perhaps of perveratives which may be in margarine; I need
this information . Thank You.

Posted Oct 11 2011 by Lyn
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Test Kitchen Comment
From:

Cindy

Here are the ingredients in Land O Lakes Margarine - the stick form: Ingredients: Liquid Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Buttermilk, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Vegetable Mono And Diglycerides, Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Colored with Beta Carotene (Provitamin A). CONTAINS: MILK AND SOY This information along with the nutrition facts of this product are located on the margarine product page on landolakes.com. Hope this information helps you.
Posted October 12, 2011

Love the Land o Lakes light butter with canola oil.......yummy & spreads so easily !!

Posted Oct 10 2011 by Pat

Thank you for this information! I definitely plan to look for the Land O Lakes margarine during my next shopping trip to use with all my fall baking.

Posted Oct 10 2011 by Kathy

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