Scientists reveal healthier ‘butter’ spread mostly made from water

21 Aug 2019

Image: Jason Koski/Cornell University

As part of efforts to create the healthiest butter possible, scientists have developed a new spread made mostly of water.

Low-calorie butter spreads remain a popular item on the supermarket shelf, but a team of food scientists from Cornell University has revealed a new spread that pushes the definition of butter to its limit.

In fact, while using ingredients derived from milk, this butter is mostly made from water, with 2.8g of fat and 25.2 calories per tablespoon. On the other hand, a tablespoon of traditional butter – which is about 84pc fat and 16pc water – has about 11g of fat and nearly 100 calories.

Writing in Applied Materials and Interfaces, the team said it figured out a new process to emulsify large amounts of water with minuscule drops of vegetable oil and milk fat to mimic butter without artificial stabilisers.

While emulsifying water and oil is not new, the scientists’ use of high-internal phase emulsions (HIPE) allowed for a butter that was 80pc water and 20pc oil.

‘Makes it feel like butter’

Lead author of the research, Michelle C Lee, said: “Since the HIPE technology features high water-to-oil ratios – while simultaneously delivering unique texture and functionality – it can play a role in providing healthier solutions for consumers.”

As for figuring out how it will taste, senior author Alireza Abbaspourrad said that with the groundwork laid for its consistency, food chemists can now adjust for taste, preferences and health benefits.

“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 flavours,” he said. “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.”

Research has found that manufacturers of spreads are looking to find healthier alternatives to many popular items to stay on top of current food trends among younger people.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic