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04/25/2000

Mea Culpa - Margarine Revisited

Mea culpa. I plead guilty to an embarrassing error in my column
pertaining to food a couple weeks ago. I took the word of my
source that margarine was invented in the mid-1700s, spurred by
a prize offered by Louis Napoleon III. This, after correctly
attributing the invention of canning to a prize offered by
Napoleon Bonaparte in 1795. Risa, an alert new reader of this
Web site, promptly e-mailed Brian Trumbore pointing out that, of
course, Napoleon III, quite logically, followed the original and
reigned in the mid-1800s. I went back to my original source and
found that, although the date of margarine''s invention was not
specifically cited, the context strongly implied it occurred in the
1700s.

Mortified, I planned to delve further into the subject but
procrastinated. However, I was browsing through a recent issue
of American Heritage when, of all things, I see a brief article on
margarine and its history. This month marks the 50th anniversary
of Harry Truman rescinding the 10 cents a pound tax on
margarine; this action led to the eventual lifting of the ban on
yellow margarine by various states, Wisconsin being the last in
1967. The article cites Hippolyte Mege-Mouries'' patent on
margarine in 1869. Our old edition of World Book encyclopedia
credits Hippolyte''s invention to Napoleon III''s desire for a
substitute for butter during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s.
Another date discrepancy but I''ll leave that to the reader to sort
out. Incidentally, the year 1869 also saw the invention of
chewing gum based on chicle by American photographer Thomas
Adams, who obtained a patent in 1871 (source - the International
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology).

All this history is intriguing but even more interesting to me was
the chemistry involved. Let''s follow Hippolyte''s recipe, trying to
mimic a cow''s internal metabolism. We first crush or chop beef
suet and mix in water, potassium carbonate and chopped bits of
the stomach of a sheep. This first step results in enzymes from
the sheep''s stomach hastening the separation of the fat from the
cellular tissue. Now we take the fat, bleach it in acid and then
digest it in a mix of bicarbonate of soda plus some sliced udders.
I''m not sure whether the udders should be from a cow or a sheep
but just use whichever you find handy. Now, we stir in some
milk, water and a coloring agent, allow the solids to settle out and
we have our buttery-looking material.

Fortunately for the sheep, margarine manufacturers soon found
they could do without the stomach and udder bits but the poor
cows still had to be slaughtered for the beef suet. It was a picture
ripe for attack by the dairy industry and talk about negative
campaigning. Margarine was touted as being "a compound of
diseased hogs and dead dogs". One Vermont congressman
(perhaps having received campaign contributions from the dairy
lobby?) said that margarine often contained soap grease and hog
slops and termed its composition "the mystery of mysteries - a far
profounder mystery than hash or sausages". Not much of an
incentive to indulge in either of those two delicacies!

In those days, you went to the store and took your butter or
margarine from "bulk containers" (tubs?). Apparently, the
margarine resembled butter closely enough that some shady
merchants would sell the margarine as real butter. So, starting in
1886, federal laws were enacted placing heavy taxes and license
fees on margarine and restricting yellow-colored margarine sales.
Margarine even visited the Supreme Court, which struck down
laws in some states that required margarine to be dyed red, pink
or black! But margarine was not to be denied. After the addition
of vegetable oils to improve spreadability, the complete
elimination of the beef suet was achieved with the formulation of
all-vegetable margarine in World War I. Also, hydrogenation was
developed to make the vegetable oils harder.

Packaging also entered into the picture. By selling the product in
individual packages instead of in bulk from a tub, it was much less
likely that margarine could be passed off as butter. And with the
Depression and World War II and butter rationing, we all started
buying margarine to stretch our rations. Finally came President
Truman''s action and by 1957, the consumption of margarine per
capita exceeded that of butter.

Excuse me, I''m going downstairs to check the ingredients in my
Take Control; just want to be sure they haven''t slipped back to
that udder bit. (Don''t you hate to be put on hold?)....... I''m
back. It contains water, Canola oil, vegetable oil, sterol esters,
sunflower oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, whey,
vegetable mono and diglycerides, potassium sorbate and lactic
acid and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, soy lecithin,
artificial flavor, beta carotene for color and an added bit of
Vitamin A (palmitate). Certainly sounds like a tasty spread to me,
no mention of udders and, hopefully, it''s lowering my cholesterol.
I''m continually in awe of those organic and biochemists who
come with these complicated recipes for margarine and other
foods.

I had planned to stop here but I kept thinking of Risa. If the
margarine patent was in 1869, how could it have been inspired by
Napoleon III''s desire for a butter substitute in the Franco-Prussian
War in the 1870s? I checked the World Book again and the
Franco-Prussian War began in July of 1870 and ended with the
fall of Paris in 1871. So, I consulted the Internet and I think the
picture is now clear. What better place to look than the Web site
of the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers
(NAMM) and also a British food site vdbfoods.co.uk. According
to the latter, Napoleon III was anticipating war when he offered
the prize and our friend Hippolyte did indeed get a patent in 1869.
The name margarine was derived from the Greek word for pearl -
margarites and the margaric acid mentioned in my previous
column. The pearl connection was related to the lustrous, pearly
appearance of the margarine, not surprising considering the fatty
contents! After the war, Napoleon III left France for the UK and
forgot about margarine. Rather ironically, it was a Dutch
international wholesaler in butter who bought the patent and
joined with another company to produce margarine. He did this
because he couldn''t meet the demand for butter. It must be tough
for the dairy industry to realize that it was a butter dealer who
rescued margarine from oblivion. At any rate, in 1873 Meges-
Mouries obtained an American patent. However, his American
operations failed and, according to the NAMM history, he died
"obscurely".

This substitute for butter still seems to arouse a visceral response.
I only scanned the contents of two of the thousands of Web pages
on margarine but one site called margarine an "abomination",
while another was entitled "Prostitutes, Margarine and
Handguns". A quick visit to that site seemed to require purchase
of a book by that name to reveal the common traits of those three
entities. Meanwhile, I''ve just finished my usual morning toast
spread with Take Control margarine and apple butter, the latter
butter obviously not a sop to the dairy lobby. However, I did use
skim milk on my cereal. Also, I believe I''ve mentioned in an
earlier column that I literally owe my life to Breyer''s ice cream (if
not, I''ll elaborate later).

Risa, I hope you continue to keep me on my toes. And yes,
Charlie, I walked three miles this morning.

Allen F. Bortrum





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-04/25/2000-      
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Dr. Bortrum

04/25/2000

Mea Culpa - Margarine Revisited

Mea culpa. I plead guilty to an embarrassing error in my column
pertaining to food a couple weeks ago. I took the word of my
source that margarine was invented in the mid-1700s, spurred by
a prize offered by Louis Napoleon III. This, after correctly
attributing the invention of canning to a prize offered by
Napoleon Bonaparte in 1795. Risa, an alert new reader of this
Web site, promptly e-mailed Brian Trumbore pointing out that, of
course, Napoleon III, quite logically, followed the original and
reigned in the mid-1800s. I went back to my original source and
found that, although the date of margarine''s invention was not
specifically cited, the context strongly implied it occurred in the
1700s.

Mortified, I planned to delve further into the subject but
procrastinated. However, I was browsing through a recent issue
of American Heritage when, of all things, I see a brief article on
margarine and its history. This month marks the 50th anniversary
of Harry Truman rescinding the 10 cents a pound tax on
margarine; this action led to the eventual lifting of the ban on
yellow margarine by various states, Wisconsin being the last in
1967. The article cites Hippolyte Mege-Mouries'' patent on
margarine in 1869. Our old edition of World Book encyclopedia
credits Hippolyte''s invention to Napoleon III''s desire for a
substitute for butter during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s.
Another date discrepancy but I''ll leave that to the reader to sort
out. Incidentally, the year 1869 also saw the invention of
chewing gum based on chicle by American photographer Thomas
Adams, who obtained a patent in 1871 (source - the International
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology).

All this history is intriguing but even more interesting to me was
the chemistry involved. Let''s follow Hippolyte''s recipe, trying to
mimic a cow''s internal metabolism. We first crush or chop beef
suet and mix in water, potassium carbonate and chopped bits of
the stomach of a sheep. This first step results in enzymes from
the sheep''s stomach hastening the separation of the fat from the
cellular tissue. Now we take the fat, bleach it in acid and then
digest it in a mix of bicarbonate of soda plus some sliced udders.
I''m not sure whether the udders should be from a cow or a sheep
but just use whichever you find handy. Now, we stir in some
milk, water and a coloring agent, allow the solids to settle out and
we have our buttery-looking material.

Fortunately for the sheep, margarine manufacturers soon found
they could do without the stomach and udder bits but the poor
cows still had to be slaughtered for the beef suet. It was a picture
ripe for attack by the dairy industry and talk about negative
campaigning. Margarine was touted as being "a compound of
diseased hogs and dead dogs". One Vermont congressman
(perhaps having received campaign contributions from the dairy
lobby?) said that margarine often contained soap grease and hog
slops and termed its composition "the mystery of mysteries - a far
profounder mystery than hash or sausages". Not much of an
incentive to indulge in either of those two delicacies!

In those days, you went to the store and took your butter or
margarine from "bulk containers" (tubs?). Apparently, the
margarine resembled butter closely enough that some shady
merchants would sell the margarine as real butter. So, starting in
1886, federal laws were enacted placing heavy taxes and license
fees on margarine and restricting yellow-colored margarine sales.
Margarine even visited the Supreme Court, which struck down
laws in some states that required margarine to be dyed red, pink
or black! But margarine was not to be denied. After the addition
of vegetable oils to improve spreadability, the complete
elimination of the beef suet was achieved with the formulation of
all-vegetable margarine in World War I. Also, hydrogenation was
developed to make the vegetable oils harder.

Packaging also entered into the picture. By selling the product in
individual packages instead of in bulk from a tub, it was much less
likely that margarine could be passed off as butter. And with the
Depression and World War II and butter rationing, we all started
buying margarine to stretch our rations. Finally came President
Truman''s action and by 1957, the consumption of margarine per
capita exceeded that of butter.

Excuse me, I''m going downstairs to check the ingredients in my
Take Control; just want to be sure they haven''t slipped back to
that udder bit. (Don''t you hate to be put on hold?)....... I''m
back. It contains water, Canola oil, vegetable oil, sterol esters,
sunflower oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, whey,
vegetable mono and diglycerides, potassium sorbate and lactic
acid and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, soy lecithin,
artificial flavor, beta carotene for color and an added bit of
Vitamin A (palmitate). Certainly sounds like a tasty spread to me,
no mention of udders and, hopefully, it''s lowering my cholesterol.
I''m continually in awe of those organic and biochemists who
come with these complicated recipes for margarine and other
foods.

I had planned to stop here but I kept thinking of Risa. If the
margarine patent was in 1869, how could it have been inspired by
Napoleon III''s desire for a butter substitute in the Franco-Prussian
War in the 1870s? I checked the World Book again and the
Franco-Prussian War began in July of 1870 and ended with the
fall of Paris in 1871. So, I consulted the Internet and I think the
picture is now clear. What better place to look than the Web site
of the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers
(NAMM) and also a British food site vdbfoods.co.uk. According
to the latter, Napoleon III was anticipating war when he offered
the prize and our friend Hippolyte did indeed get a patent in 1869.
The name margarine was derived from the Greek word for pearl -
margarites and the margaric acid mentioned in my previous
column. The pearl connection was related to the lustrous, pearly
appearance of the margarine, not surprising considering the fatty
contents! After the war, Napoleon III left France for the UK and
forgot about margarine. Rather ironically, it was a Dutch
international wholesaler in butter who bought the patent and
joined with another company to produce margarine. He did this
because he couldn''t meet the demand for butter. It must be tough
for the dairy industry to realize that it was a butter dealer who
rescued margarine from oblivion. At any rate, in 1873 Meges-
Mouries obtained an American patent. However, his American
operations failed and, according to the NAMM history, he died
"obscurely".

This substitute for butter still seems to arouse a visceral response.
I only scanned the contents of two of the thousands of Web pages
on margarine but one site called margarine an "abomination",
while another was entitled "Prostitutes, Margarine and
Handguns". A quick visit to that site seemed to require purchase
of a book by that name to reveal the common traits of those three
entities. Meanwhile, I''ve just finished my usual morning toast
spread with Take Control margarine and apple butter, the latter
butter obviously not a sop to the dairy lobby. However, I did use
skim milk on my cereal. Also, I believe I''ve mentioned in an
earlier column that I literally owe my life to Breyer''s ice cream (if
not, I''ll elaborate later).

Risa, I hope you continue to keep me on my toes. And yes,
Charlie, I walked three miles this morning.

Allen F. Bortrum