Advert from 1974 for Stork Margarine.
Margarine as a generic term, can indicate any of a wide range of butter substitutes. In many parts of the world, the market share of margarine and spreads has overtaken that of butter. Margarine is an ingredient in the preparation of many foods and, in recipes and colloquially, is sometimes called oleo. It is also sometimes called “marge”.
Margarine naturally appears white or almost white: by forbidding the addition of artificial colouring agents, legislators in some jurisdictions found that they could protect their dairy industries by discouraging the consumption of margarine. Bans on adding color became commonplace in the U.S., Australasia and Canada; and, in some cases, those bans endured for almost 100 years. It did not become legal to sell coloured margarine in Australia, for example, until the 1960s.
Margarine originated with the discovery by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1813 of margaric acid (itself named after the pearly deposits of the fatty acid from Greek μαργαρίς, -ρῖτης or μάργαρον (margarís, -îtēs / márgaron), meaning pearl-oyster or pearl). Scientists at the time regarded margaric acid, like oleic acid and stearic acid, as one of the three fatty acids which, in combination, formed most animal fats. In 1853, the German structural chemist, Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz, analyzed margaric acid as simply a combination of stearic acid and of the previously unknown palmitic acid.
In 1869, Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory substitute for butter, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes. French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés invented a substance he called oleomargarine, the name of which became shortened to the trade name “margarine”. Mège-Mouriés patented the concept in 1869 and expanded his initial manufacturing operation from France but had little commercial success. In 1871, he sold the patent to the Dutch company Jurgens, now part of Unilever.