Questions about hard butter churn up debate

It might look like a minor inconvenience, but in Canada, it's churning up a major debate. Is butter harder to spread these days?

The question and has caught the attention of the dairy lobby, which is looking into the matter.

Right now, the simple explanation is we don't know why it seems like butter is harder lately.

Director of the Agri-Food Lab at Dalhousie University, Sylvain Charlebois, has a theory. He believes palm oil added to the new version of butter makes it harder and the difference is noticeable.

“Butter is hard, and palm oil is bad,” says Charlebois. “When you put two toast in the toaster and you get them out, and you butter one toast with organic butter, you butter the other with regular butter, you’ll see the difference.”

The demand for butter has gone up more than 12 per cent in the last year, mainly due to people at home baking more during the pandemic.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada are aware of the debate. They say:

"Palm products, including those derived from palm oil, are sometimes added to dairy cows’ rations in limited amounts to increase the energy density of cow diets if needed. 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 lobbying group says it plans to create a working group "comprised of stakeholders and experts to assess current literature, gaps in data, and look into issues that have been raised by consumers."

The organization also says palm oil is safe and approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

No hard data on butter hardness

Keith Warriner is a food microbiologist with the Department of Food Science at the University Of Guelph. He says palm oil prevents butter from going rancid as quickly, and there are other reasons that can cause hardness, like the speed at which the butter is processed. He thinks Charlebois should have done more research.

“I think what he’s done, is kind of really gone overboard, with no evidence,” says Warriner. “He says that, oh I’ve asked 50 per cent of farmers and they say yes, palm oil. But tell me, where’s the data on this one?”

Charlebois says, “We’re not convinced it is the cause, but it's pretty plausible.”