Science

Food scientists cook up low-fat better butter made of mostly water

Cornell food scientists have created a new low-fat butter alternative that's mostly water
Cornell food scientists have created a new low-fat butter alternative that's mostly water
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Michelle Lee (front) and Chen Tan (back) are researchers on the project to develop a healthier alternative to butter
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Michelle Lee (front) and Chen Tan (back) are researchers on the project to develop a healthier alternative to butter
Cornell food scientists have created a new low-fat butter alternative that's mostly water
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Cornell food scientists have created a new low-fat butter alternative that's mostly water

Often imitated but rarely matched, butter is one ingredient that it's important to get right. People are picky about the consistency and creaminess of their butter, and healthier alternatives have trouble getting that right. Now, food scientists from Cornell University have crafted a brand new spread they say mimics butter with only about a quarter of the calories and fat.

The new spread is made up of around 80 percent water and 20 percent vegetable oil, with some milk fat thrown in. Despite its watery composition this stuff is said to act like butter, in terms of consistency, creaminess and mouth feel. And best of all, it's much healthier – the team says that a tablespoon of the spread has just 2.8 g of fat and 25.2 calories. By comparison, the same amount of butter contains 11 g of fat and almost 100 calories.

While the weird white goo might not look all that appetizing yet, the team says that nailing the consistency of butter is the most important first step. With that sorted out, food chemists can then make tweaks for taste, healthiness and other preferences.

Michelle Lee (front) and Chen Tan (back) are researchers on the project to develop a healthier alternative to butter
Michelle Lee (front) and Chen Tan (back) are researchers on the project to develop a healthier alternative to butter

"We can add milk protein or plant-based protein, and since the water acts like a carrier, we can adjust for nutrition and load it with vitamins or add flavors," says Alireza Abaspourrad, senior author of a study describing the spread. "Essentially, we can create something that makes it feel like butter – and instead of seeing a lot of saturated fat, this has minute amounts. It's a completely different formulation."

The spread is made using a new emulsifying process, involving what are known as high-internal phase emulsions (HIPE). Interestingly, adding more water makes the stuff thicker – the team says that when water and oil are combined in a 3:1 ratio, the resulting product globs together into spheres. But crank it up to four parts water to every one part oil, and those spheres start to merge.

"They start squishing against each other, and the squishing and packing results in high friction," says Abbaspourrad. "They can't slide easily anymore. They can't flow anymore. It's firm, as you've created something with the consistency of butter spread."

It might be a while before this better butter graces your toast, but a healthier alternative that's comparable in taste to the real thing will no doubt be in high demand.

The research was published in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Source: Cornell University

2 comments
ljaques
Yeah, and it's probably hydrogenated (if not fully oxidized) veggie oil, at that. When will these fruitcakes realize that all along, butter has =always= been the healthier choice.
Vito
It exists for over 30 years and is called margarine and it goes as low as 24% of fat. We have it in poland and I found it in UK. Why when I'm reading about "invention" from US that is usually something that already exists? Are they stupid, or just uneducated?