“With enough butter, anything is good.”
So said Julia Child, the beloved television chef who taught our mothers and grandmothers how to bring French dishes into the American home.
Having grown up believing the iconic woman who maintained that “Every woman should have a blowtorch” – words to live by, I might add – the thought that butter might not be good for me never entered my mind.
Yet, there are people in the world who are giving butter a bad rap, claiming its high saturated fat content raises blood cholesterol counts to heart-threatening levels. This food of the gods has been called a “heart attack on a plate” by those who fear the goodness of butter.
Butter has been around since domestic animals, about 10,000 years. It is the most popular fat in the world, by far. The first written reference to butter was discovered on a limestone tablet that is 4,500 years old which illustrates how to make butter.
Any animal milk can be used to make butter, including not only cows but sheep, goats, and even buffalo.
In a page almost lost from U.S. history, but a common image when I was a child in the 1960s, frontier Americans kept a butter churn handy for the energetic task of transforming dairy cream to lumpy butter. There were plunge or dash churns, paddle churns, and barrel churns.
Churning cream separates the solid fats (as butter) from the liquid buttermilk. Working a churn is hard work, as anyone who has tried it knows. Why go to all this effort?
Because, in the words of Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu) in the Queen Latifah movie hit Last Holiday, “The secret of life…is butter.”
Ancient tribes of Asiatic India not only consumed butter but burned it in lamps for heat and light. They also spread it on their skin to buffer the cold. In those days, butter was expensive and typically reserved for religious ceremonies. This practice is still observed in Indian and Tibet.
Old-timer Greeks and Romans massaged a butter mousse into their hair to make it shine. Ancient Egyptians used butter to cure eye problems and to put on poultices to treat burns and reduce infections.
Given the divine status our forebearers gave to butter, how could anyone doubt its benefits and accuse it of causing heart disease? Decades of butter disrespect are now melting away with revelations about the false accusations, such as this one:
“Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease rose precipitously to become America’s number one killer. During the same period butter consumption plummeted from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in statistics to conclude that butter is not a cause.”
One tablespoon (14 grams) of butter contains the following nutrients:
• Calories: 102
• Total fat: 11.5 grams
• Vitamin A: 11% Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
• Vitamin E: 2% RDI
• Vitamin B12: 1% RDI
• Vitamin K: 1% RDI
Butter is the most available and easily-absorbed source of vitamin A, which the body needs to maintain adrenal and thyroid health which, in turn, affect the cardiovascular system.
Lecithin in butter helps the body assimilate and metabolize cholesterol and other components of fat. Anti-oxidants fight artery-weakening damage from free radicals.
Butter assists human growth and development, gut health, arthritis, and guards the immune system.
Commercial butter from a grocery store comes in several varieties, including salted, unsalted, lightly salted, clarified, and grass-fed (from cows fed only grass, thought to produce milk with more healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins, a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and fewer toxins).
Unsalted butter is preferred for people limiting their salt intake or in recipes to ensure the exact amount of added salt. Many people prefer the taste of butter with some salt added to it.
Butter is not, in fact, 100 percent fat. It is an emulsion of about 80 parts of fat to 15 parts of water, with 5 percent mostly milk proteins. Wikipedia says:
“Clarified butter is milk fat rendered from butter to separate the milk solids and water from the butterfat. Typically, it is produced by melting butter and allowing the components to separate by density. The water evaporates, some solids float to the surface and are skimmed off, and the remainder of the milk solids sink to the bottom and are left behind when the butterfat (which would then be on top) is poured off. This butterfat is the clarified butter.”
How much butter is too much butter, you ask? Experts recommended limiting daily saturated fat consumption to less than 10 percent of total calories. This works out to 22 grams of saturated fat for a 2,000-calorie-a-day regime, which, in turn, equals about 2 tablespoons of butter.
Ironically, eating a steady diet of high-fat butter may help reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, and coronary problems. The trick is to enjoy some beautiful butter without overdoing it.
Julia Child shared the other secret to life (besides butter) with us – and it certainly applies to my life-long relationship with butter:
“Everything in moderation…including moderation.”