Who invented margarine (also called Oleomargarine) and how is it made?
(Grab some popcorn and the drink of your choice – this is going to be a longish article.)
Answer: Firstly, I want to touch on how butter came along because I want to compare that to margarine. Milk was carried in skin bags on long trips, and the motion of the animal it was attached to – some say horses, others say camels – as it walked sloshed the milk almost as if it were being churned and at the end of the trip, they opened the skin bags and found butter. Or at least, that’s the myth… but the main point is, it comes from milk.
Whatever the case, one source says that butter has been around for around 4,000 years! Just think – that’s when Abraham was supposed to have lived. Did he eat butter on his bread while in the land of Ur? I guess only he and God know that for sure now. 😉
The word “butter” comes from a combination of Greek words. Bous (meaning cow) and turos (meaning cheese). I wonder then, what they called actual cheese they made from cow’s milk? However, that’s for another post another day, I suppose. 😉
So now we look at butter’s competition, which didn’t come along until 1869. (Butter had no rival for over 3,800 years! What a monopoly!) That’s the year when a French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès (yes, I copied the name from the source link above – I didn’t want to butcher his name XD) created a cheaper spread made from beef tallow. Which is another way of saying beef fat. Ew. Anyway.
Mr. Hippolyte called his beef fat spread “oleomargarine,” which comes from the Latin word “oleum” (meaning beef fat) and the Greek margarite (meaning pearl). I find it odd that he combined two languages to name his beef fat spread. And how strange is “Beef Fat Pearl?” Ew. Anyway.
Emperor Louis Napoleon III offered a prize for a patented cheap spread that would benefit the lower class, and while he was at it, feed it to the military. I’m sure they really appreciated that. (Note the sarcasm there.) No wonder Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo if he was feeding his army that stuff…
(Oh, that was in 1815 and not the same Napoleon? Then nevermind.) I digress… getting back on topic…
Mr. Hippolyte sold his patent to a Dutch company specializing in making butter – and now oleomargarine.
Sadly, Mr. Hippolyte died in 1880 as poor as the people he was aiming to sell his beef fat pearl spread to. Indeed, it must have been hard for him, because he lived long enough to see that the oleomargarine was gaining international fame, and he wasn’t getting paid anything.
The beef fat spread found its way to America in the 1870’s, to the dismay of American dairy farmers. And this is when the butter wars began…
Tune in next week for part two of the history of oleomargarine!
Also, out of curiosity, how many of you guys call it Oleo? In my research, I came across several people calling it that. I’ve always heard “margarine.” My dad said that his grandma called it Oleo. This was a new word for me.