The daily struggle of a million mums and dads to spread rock-hard butter onto school or picnic sandwiches is almost over. Pure butter that spreads straight from the fridge, and is much healthier into the bargain, has been created by a team of CSIRO scientists.
The new spreadable butter heralds a revolution in one of humanity’s most traditional foods, which has been consumed with pleasure for more than 7000 years.
The reason butter spreads so poorly when cold, compared with margarine and blended spreads, is its high proportion of saturated, or hard, fatty acids, says Dr Suresh Gulati of CSIRO Animal Production.
This lack of spreadability, combined with negative consumer health perceptions, are the main factors behind a long-term decline in butter consumption by Australians.
The CSIRO team has achieved a double breakthrough, by developing special diets for dairy cows that mix mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats in an ideal combination – and then found ways to ensure these desirable fats pass into the milk and butter.
“Dairy pastures are naturally very high in polyunsaturates, but these are broken down by microbes in the cow’s first stomach (rumen), leaving the harder saturated fats,” Dr Gulati explains.
By feeding the cows a special blend of canola and soybean meal, and then protecting it against microbial attack in the first stomach with a coating of protein, the scientists have managed to ensure the desirable fats are carried right through into the end products of milk and meat.
The result is a doubling in butter’s spreadability, when taken out of a fridge at 5 degrees C, making it nearly as spreadable as margarine, without losing its special eating qualities.
It has also decreased the level of undesirable fatty acids in butter and replaced them with the healthier mono- and poly-unsaturates.
“Clinical trials by CSIRO Human Nutrition have shown that if you feed consumers butter, milk, ice-cream and other dairy products made from this kind of milk, it significantly lowers the amount of ‘bad cholesterol’ (low density lipoproteins or LDLs) in their blood.
“These studies concluded that fat modified dairy products, in a normal diet, may help lower the risk of heart disease and save lives without greatly changing people’s eating habits.”
The special diets for dairy cows have already been commercialised by an Australian firm, Rumentek Industries. Both the Australian and New Zealand dairy industries have expressed interest in developing commercial dairy products based on the new technology.
“Butter fat possesses a unique, luxurious flavour and characteristics such as mouth feel which are highly desirable to the human palate. It is perceived by consumers as a high quality natural product, without additives, that has been used for generations in cooking and as a spread,” says Dr Gulati.
“This wonderful flavour and texture of butter is due to the complex mix of fats that it contains, and it is very difficult to duplicate synthetically.
“By swapping some of the undesirable fats in butter with more desirable ones, we have managed to retain the unique eating qualities while at the same time giving consumers two other features they prize, spreadability and a healthier profile.
“My wife makes sandwiches for three schoolkids every day, and she was thrilled about this new product when I brought some home,” Dr Gulati says.
More information: Julian.Cribb@nap.csiro.au
Materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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