US: Butter consumption at 40-year-high

Butter’s growing popularity in the US  — consumption has risen 25% in the last decade — coincides with more understanding about the health hazards of its processed counterparts.

For generations, butter got a bad rap. It was thought to be cloying, fattening, dangerous for your arteries, and it took a creaming from oil-based substitutes like margarine.

Now with the trans fats in those alternatives under fire, everyone from top chefs to home cooks is reexamining butter’s place on the refrigerator shelf.

That shift toward natural ingredients and the backlash against trans fats pushed butter consumption in the US to a 40-year high in 2012, according to the latest statistics.

Americans now eat 5.6 pounds (2.54kg) of butter per capita, up from a low of 4.1 pounds (1.85kg) in 1997. In the last decade alone, butter consumption has grown 25%.

“Everything tastes better with butter,” said David Riemersma, president of the American Butter Institute and head of Butterball Farms in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Consumers also want real, natural wholesome products. They want to understand all the things on an ingredient list. Butter fits perfectly. It’s either just cream or cream and salt.”

The American Butter Institute, a trade association in Arlington, Va, that represents roughly 90% of the nation’s butter producers, recently launched a marketing campaign on social media called “Go Bold with Butter.” The group sees young Americans raised on the Food Network as key to the industry’s continued success.

“They’re just starting to cook and bake with butter,” Riemersma said.

The growing popularity of the ingredient also coincides with more understanding about the health hazards of its processed counterparts.

Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been blended with hydrogen to boost shelf life and reproduce the qualities of butter or lard. But research shows the ingredient raises levels of LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol. Trans fats consumption impairs levels of the better HDL cholesterol, which helps prevent heart disease.

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed new rules in November that would all but ban the artery-clogging processed fats. Some producers of butter-like spreads have already adapted. Unilever, the maker of Country Crock margarine, eliminated trans fats from its products in 2012.

Still, even healthier margarine will struggle to stand out in a nation increasingly captivated by foodie culture. Butter has become a symbol of America’s growing appreciation of authentic cooking.

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