Canadian butter has gotten weirdly hard and won't soften at room temperature

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz
·4 min read
people dressed as butter
Clowns dressed as sticks of butter await the commencement of the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan, New York. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Canadian butter consumers don't know why it's harder to spread these days.

  • Some food experts believe an increased use of controversial palm oil in cow feed is responsible.

  • Not everyone is convinced that's the case, but a dairy industry lobby group is investigating.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Canadians are complaining that their butter has suddenly become hard and isn't melting the way it used to.

Concerned home chefs and food experts have spoken out about what has been dubbed "buttergate" online, calling for answers.

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Some experts think palm oil is to blame

There is no research proving why butter is harder, but some dairy consumers are pointing to the increased use of palm oil in cow feed as the culprit.

Julie Van Rosendaal, a Canadian cookbook author, wrote a column in the Globe and Mail last week that an increased use of palm fats in cow's diets could be what is changing the consistency in the spread.

"People are definitely feeding high-palmitic-acid-content fats to cows these days," Alejandro Marangoni, a professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph, told Rosendaal for her column. "This would increase the long-chain saturated fatty acid profile of milk fat, but also change other things. This will definitely affect final butter texture."

Including palm oil in cow feed is not new, Montrael's CTV News reported. Some Canadian farmers have used it for about 20 years, since it can increase milk fat production.

But hundreds of farmers around Canada have recently stepped up their use of palm oil substances since this summer to meet an increased demand by home bakers spending more time in the kitchen, The BBC reported.

Demand for butter rose by over 12% in 2020, the BBC reported based on information from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

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The use of palm oil is legal, but controversial because of a known link between the consumption of saturated fats and heart disease. Its production can also be damaging to the environment.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada are investigating

Sylvain Charlebois, the senior director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, wrote a widely circulated opinion piece linking the hard butter to the use of palm oil.

He argued that there should be more transparency from dairy manufacturers about what goes into their products, considering that the industry is so highly subsidized by the government.

"Unlike other countries, milk is essentially a public good in Canada," he wrote. "Dairy farmers have exclusive, government-sanctioned quotas, and Canadian taxpayers have given $1.75 billion to the industry to assure continued access to quality dairy products."

Butter
Canada wants to know why its butter is so hard. Haven Orecchio-Egresitz

The Dairy Farmers of Canada argued in a statement released last week that palm products - including those made with palm oil - are sometimes included in dairy cows' rations "in limited amounts," but that it has very little effect on their milk.

"When supplements of palm fats are given to cows in Canada, the amount typically provided in their feed is small, and has a very limited impact on the palmitic fatty acid profile of their milk," the statement said. "It is estimated that the increase in the palmitic fatty acid profile of dairy fat linked to this feeding practice is less than 3%."

Despite that argument, the group said it is assembling a committee to investigate the concerns.

Others think they way the butter is processed is making it harder

Not all food scientists are convinced that palm oil is what has hardened Canada's butter, or that the products' consistency has changed at all.

University of Guelph food microbiologist Keith Warriner told CTV that how the butter is processed may also play a role.

"If you process butter too quickly, it can be too hard," he told the station.

He also said it's possible that some people are just now noticing that butter is harder than it was a few years ago.

Some on social media believe that the cold weather has played a role in why their butter is staying solid longer at room temperature.

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Charlebois doubts that's the case.

In his op-ed, he said that some brands of Canada's butter, like those that are organic, have not been affected.

"Some people blame winter and the colder weather, but the truth is more troubling than that," he wrote.

"A Buttergate is not what the industry needs, or what Canadians deserve," he added.

Read the original article on Insider