A laboratory test of 20 Ontario butter brands suggests a derivative of palm oil is not the sole cause of the unusually hard butter that some Canadians have been complaining about.
A lab test on Ontario butter samples found that palm oil derivatives in cattle feed aren ‘t the only factor contributing to firmness. 2: 00
A laboratory test of 20 Ontario butter brands suggests a derivative of palm oil is likely not the sole cause of the unusually hard butter that some Canadians have been complaining about.
For weeks, social media has been swirling with anecdotes from bakers and others about butter that does not spread as easily.
There is no publicly available Canadian record of butter firmness over time, so it is not possible to determine with certainty if butter is harder than it used to be.
Nevertheless, the attention around the issue led some food scientists to theorize that, in the face of what the dairy industry has described as unprecedented demand during the pandemic, palmitic acid from palm oil had been added in greater quantities to cow feed to boost milk output and increase the fat content needed to make butter.
But a fat-content analysis by a University of Guelph food lab suggests only a weak correlation between the amount of palmitic acid in butterb) and their brands. The samples included unsalted commercial butters, organic butters, and grass-fed butters available at Ontario supermarkets.
Two samples of each of the 17 brands were incubated at C, then tested for firmness and fat content. Then, those same samples were brought down to 8 C, and tested again.
The compression test, which saw a diamond-shaped measuring tool plunged slowly into the butter, showed the samples had varying degrees of firmness – most were relatively close in hardness, and one was much softer.
The findings by Alejandro Marangoni, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, have not yet been published or widely reviewed. CBC’s Marketplace and The National were granted access to the test and a preview of the results.
Marangoni found a weak correlation between palmitic acid and hardness of the butter, meaning while on average, softer butter had less palmitic acid and harder butter had more, some samples were softer even though they had more palmitic acid than harder ones.
He says the weakness of the correlation indicates the hardness of the butter is determined by more than just palmitic acid.
“This is a more complex question that only producers and dairies and dairy marketing boards can answer,” he said.
What can influence butter softness?
Researchers say it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of butter hardness on one source.
“There are an enormous amount of other factors intervening between the feed that gets fed to the cow and the production of the butter,” said Martin Scanlon, the dean of the faculty of agricultural and food sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
Scanlon was one of the independent researchers contacted by CBC News to review Marangoni’s results.