There are a lot of rumours when it comes to margarine. You may have heard it is made of low-quality animal fats, or perhaps you’ve been told that margarine has an identical composition to plastic. With everything on the internet, it’s easy to be led astray about what’s in our food, so we’re here to explain how margarine is actually made.
Creating margarine generally requires salt, emulsifiers, lecithin, flavouring, colouring agent, water/skim milk and a plant based oil, such as sunflower, olive, palm or corn oil. These ingredients can be mixed and matched to produce numerous types of margarine, such as pastry, vegan, salt free or trans fat free.
The first major step in creating margarine is the hydrogenation of the plant oil. The oil is placed inside a chamber and pressurised using hydrogen, turning the oil to a semi-solid state resembling custard. This process has the side effect of turning the unsaturated oil fats into trans fats. Some oils such as palm oil are naturally thick in nature and don’t require hydrogenation, and therefore have no trans fats.
This oil is then poured into a large stirring pot, heated to 60°C to 70°C and mixed with either water or skim milk, depending on the type of margarine. As you might expect, skim milk margarines are higher in fat content but often taste better. Any salts, emulsifiers or other agents are also added at this stage to give the margarine extra flavour, aesthetic or nutritional value.
After the mixture is smoothly combined, it is then transferred to the agitation chambers. The first chamber is the pre-crystalliser, which cools and rapidly rotates the mixture, preparing it for the next chamber – the crystalliser. In the crystalliser chamber, the temperature rapidly drops, causing the margarine to crystallise and thicken.
The margarine is then tempered and prepared for shipment, ending up on your supermarket shelf.
*Remember, this is just a general guide to how margarine is made. This method will vary between different producers.