Pass The Butter

Butter is a cooking treasure as old as King Tut's tomb, and my grandparents. I'm not sure about King Tut, but Grandmommy made the best homemade biscuits served with fresh butter sliding off their steamy sides. Grandmommy and Granddaddy ate butter every day, and they lived to be over 100 years old. Butter didn't harm them, and it shouldn't harm you.

Butter got a bad rap in the United States after WWI when margarine came on the market like gang-busters. Like so many products today (the chemical sweeteners, as a prime example), crafty marketing popularized this sub-standard product, and margarine pushed good-ole-natural-butter off American tabletops.

Many products were born from wartime, and margarine was one of them. Margarine was discovered in 1869 by Hippolyte Mege Mouries, a French food research chemist, in response to Napoleon III's request for a wholesome butter alternative. The primary aim was to supply food to the French army that would not spoil. In his laboratory, Mouries solidified purified fat and pressed it in a thin cloth, which discharged oil. This oil formed the basis of the butter substitute.

For his new product, Mouries used margarine acid, a fatty acid component isolated in 1813 by the Frenchman Michel Eugene Chevreuil. Analyzing the fatty acids that are the building blocks of fats, he singled out one and named it margaric acid, because of the lustrous pearly drops that reminded him of the Greek word for pearls, margarites.

In the early days, margarine contained two types of fat - a large proportion of animal fat and a small proportion of vegetable fat. Time passing, the small vegetable element increased. There were two stages in that process. First, by improving the process of refining vegetable oils, manufacturers could use a greater variety of liquid oils and a higher proportion of solid vegetable fats. Secondly, through the increasing development of processes for turning liquid oils into solid fats on a commercial scale, manufacturers could use larger quantities of liquid vegetable oils.

This new discovery rapidly spread throughout Europe, especially during wartimes.

After WWI, manufacturers introduced this "new" margarine wonder to the American public, using heart disease as its main endorsement.

Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease escalated to become America's number one killer. At this time, butter consumption plummeted from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. Today, heart disease is still a pending health threat, so I think it's safe to conclude that butter is not the cause. Trans fats found in margarine cause heart disease, nonetheless.

So, back to butter...

The word butter comes from bou-tyron, which means "cow cheese" in Greek. Recorded use of butter dates to 2,000 years before the time of Jesus of Nazareth. In very early centuries, butter was shipped from India to ports on the Red Sea. In the 12th century, Scandinavian butter was used for overseas commerce; the Germans would send ships to Bergen, Norway, to exchange cargoes of wine for butter and dried fish.

Archaeologists in Ireland found barrels of ancient garlic butter buried in peat bogs in small, wooden casks. The longer it was left, the more delicious it became. Casks have been found dating to the 11th century, some of which weighed over 100 pounds.

In Europe, dairying was a household task done by women: most every household kept cows to supply the needs of the family for milk and butter. The word "dairy" comes from Middle English dey, a female servant.

As nations grew and communities evolved, many families didn't have cows anymore, so they obtained their milk and butter from local farmers. Commercial farm production of butter began as early as 1791. "Dairy butter" was collected as "pats," "balls," "rolls," and "prints." Butter stamps and molds, carved in various styles and patterns, were used in dairies to decorate blocks or rounds of butter.

The transition from butter made by farmers to creameries producing butter on a larger scale using machinery, began about 1860. The factory system of butter-making made rapid strides and gained tremendous momentum with the introduction of the centrifugal cream separator and the invention of a simple method by which the exact butter fat content of milk and cream could be determined by the creamery operator. Tightly-made oak barrels kept the butter fresh up to four months without refrigeration, and permitted shipment to distant markets.

In comparison to margarine, butter contains many nutrients that protect human beings from heart disease. Vitamin A found in butter is a critical nutrient for the health of the thyroid and adrenal glands, which both play a role in heart and cardiovascular health. Butter is America's best and most easily absorbed source of vitamin A.

Butter contains lecithin, a substance that assists in the proper assimilation and metabolism of cholesterol and other fat components.

Butter also contains a number of anti-oxidants that protect against free radical damage that weakens the arteries. Vitamin A and vitamin E found in butter both play a strong anti-oxidant role. Butter is a very rich source of selenium, a vital anti-oxidant, containing more selenium per gram than herring or wheat germ.

Butter is also a good dietary source of healthy cholesterol, which serves as a potent anti-oxidant in the blood. A Medical Research Council survey showed that men eating butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease as those using margarine.

Your immune system loves butter. Vitamin A found in butter is essential to a healthy immune system. Hydrogenated fats found in polyunsaturated oils, margarines, and many butter substitutes have a toxic effect on the immune system.

So, pass the butter. But remember, as with anything that you eat or drink, consume smaller portions. Anything can be harmful to your health if you overdo! So just one hot, homemade biscuit with butter sliding down the side is OK.

Posted June 2009 | Permanent Link

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