/ Food & Drink, Health

Butter vs spreads – what goes on your bread?

Are you a butter or a spreads fan? I’m very much in the butter camp – nothing else quite cuts it on my morning slice of toast. Even though it is 80% fat…

One of my best childhood memories is of being given a piece of toast, still slightly warm, and smeared with gently melting butter.

The creaminess and hit of smooth flavour on a cold winter’s morning was a glorious wake-up call to my taste buds after years of having eaten flavourless margarine.

How healthy is butter?

Advice has generally been to stay away from butter – it’s 80% fat after all. However, provided your doctor hasn’t told you to cut your saturated fat intake, you can use butter on your toast guilt-free as long as you bear in mind how much saturated fat you’re consuming from other sources. And, unlike spread, butter naturally contains Vitamin D. Although many spreads are fortified with added Vitamin D.

The British Heart Foundation advises people to swap butter for spreads and, as you can see in the graph below, you’ll be eating less saturated fat if you do.

Butter versus spreads for saturated fat

This shows how much of your Reference Intake (RI) of saturated fat you’ll get from a standard 10g serving of block butter, spreadable butter and spreads (enough for one to two slices of bread, depending on how thickly you like to spread it!).

The taste of butter

Personally, I much prefer the taste of butter. I don’t really like eating spreads on my toast all by itself. I’d have to add jam or marmalade, which means I’d be eating sugar I could’ve avoided if I’d simply used butter. Decent butter is packed full of flavour, so you don’t need to add anything else to your toast.

OK, not everyone likes butter. The best-selling product in the UK is actually dairy spread, which is why we asked members of the public to taste 11 of them so we could recommend the best dairy spreads. I even use it myself in sandwiches, as it’s easier to spread on the bread – especially in winter.

But for me, butter is best on toast. I love toast and even make my own bread, so it’s important to me that my butter is right. When I was a kid, Anchor butter did the job but it doesn’t seem to taste the same to me anymore.

French butter doesn’t work for my British taste buds – it’s too milky, as is alpine butter. Upmarket butters with sea salt aren’t right, are too expensive and a bit too subtle for my liking. After lots of research and chomping my way through many, many rounds of toast, my latest personal favourite is Waitrose Essential Butter.

Are you a butter or spread person? Which, if any, would you recommend?


I agree that toast tastes better with butter but we use olive spread and then I cover it with Marmite which makes everything perfect.

I notice that your favoured butter is Waitrose Essential Butter. I dislike the misuse of the word “essential” in this sense. There is nothing absolutely necessary about butter [i.e. without which life could not be sustained]. It is possible that Waitrose are using “essential” in its other sense, of pertaining to the essence of a thing, but that would be pretty abstruse. So they are trying to make out that it is vital to eat butter. Or perhaps they are just ignorant, or have been seduced by the modern terminology of “essential oils” which are indeed derived from the essence of a substance although, again, the language is being projected into a more suggestive meaning that borrows from the indispensability connotations of “essential” rather than its compositional features.

The butter in question and other products are marked ‘essential Waitrose’, so perhaps the silly people in marketing think it is necessary to shop at Waitrose.

Our butter is marked “simply M&S”. This is all a response from all the supermarkets to one introducing the concept of “basic” everyday foods. You are right, it is marketing speak, but many people will buy them because they will believe they will be decent quality no frills groceries – which they may well be. Kepping inl ine with the competition, and it give the marketing departments something to do.

I wonder when we will see “essential (or simply or everyday or value) gas and electricity”?

Bob Fasoli says:
20 January 2015

Marmite….the food of the devil. LOL. It reallys is a love or hate product.

I can remember when there was a black glass shortage and for a period Marmite came in clear glass jars with white lids. I kept one of the jars and it is now in the shed full of galvanised fencing nails.

Are those for the mice in your shed to have fencing competitions?

I confess to sitting on the fence about Marmite. I love the taste but hate how salty it is.

Thankfully no one has proposed spreading mayonnaise on their bread or toast.

I often have mayo or salad cream instead of butter or spread especially in pitta bread.

Also, if you have a dairy allergy, mayo can be a good butter substitute for sandwiches if you eat out.

LOL, haven’t seen that convo before.

I take it you don’t like mayonnaise then Patrick !!!!!!!!!!

A pitta bread filled with cheese, salad cream or mayo and a bit of salad.
Tuna mixed with lemon juice, chilli, touch of tomato ketchup and mayo.
Chilli bean burger with mayo.

Give me plain butter (or dairy spread) in my sandwiches please Alfa. You can have all the mayo in the world, just as long as you keep it 🙂

I am not aware of any evidence from the well known Mayo Clinic to support the use of mayonnaise.

Wavechange, the Mayo Clinic go for fat-free mayo and I really don’t want to know how it is achieved.

Waitrose low-fat suffices.

I’m with you alfa, hands down. I sometimes spread mayo directly on bread (without butter). I’ll have to try it with pitta – do you toast it first or eat it cold?

Definitely toasted so you get a fillable gap in the middle.

The quality of pitta bread seems to have deteriorated in recent years and it is getting harder to find whole undamaged pittas in the shops. Another problem with them is moisture in the packs as it makes them smell mouldy. I don’t know if they are packaged too quickly before they are cold, but an awful lot on the shelves are affected.

A couple of years ago, I posted that I was having trouble buying a new 2 slice long slot toaster as there was only one on the market at the time. Maybe manufacturers took note, as a year later there were quite a few to choose from and we were able to get one that we are very pleased with.

p.s. Hope you and Patrick don’t need a referee !!!

I’ll leave you guys to it… blergh

Sound’s absolutely delicious alfa, yum! Tomorrow’s lunchbox idea, Patrick?

Jack says:
21 April 2015

Nothing like a sprinkling of GM in your mayonnaise –

Some recent research was said to confound the view that natural saturated fats from animals were bad for you. That is a big relief to me. I like cream, fat on meat (flavour), dripping from a beef joint (on toast) oh, and butter. My memory of the best toast ever was fresh bread done with a toasting fork by a coal fire – it cooked quickly to give a dark brown outside and a steamy soft inside. Then a dollop of butter, spread roughly.

I don’t much trust manufactured food like margarine (revolting greasy stuff) and whilst olive oil spread is OK, it doesn’t have the right flavour or melting texture.

On the subject of manufactured food – but nothing to do with this – watching “How it’s made” on Quest one night showed the manufacture of American hot dog “sausage”. I was appalled at the number of mechanical and chemical processes it went throught to produce a pink paste. Never eat one.

The balance of evidence is still that we should restrict the amount of saturated fats in our diet.

Maybe Jack Spratt and his wife got it right but licking the platter clean would not go down very well in some circles!

If we take the working that Jack Spratt COULD eat no fat, he may have suffered from chronic pancreatitis. Alternatively, if he WOULD eat no fat he was probably some sort of health crank. 🙂

I’m not sure about his wife.

Gallstones probably!!!

David Dixon says:
21 January 2015

The ‘nice’ way of licking your platter clean is to use a Zeal mini-scraper. Wouldn’t be without it!!

I started to avoid greasy food almost 30 years ago because it sometimes gave me indigestion. I buy butter for baking but never put it or spreads on bread. Bread that is full of seeds has a wonderful texture and you don’t need to bake it yourself or search out specialist bakeries to find it these days.

The food industry responded well when it was discovered that trans-fats could be harmful, and it is years since I last saw partially hydrogenated vegetable oil on ingredient lists. Dairy products and meat contain some trans-fats. These are not mentioned on labels because they are natural and not added. Some have argued that natural trans-fats are less harmful than those that used to be present in margarine, but that is far from proven.

Anchor butter used to be made in New Zealand but they now make it here in the UK and I agree it doesn’t taste as anywhere as nice as it used to. It used to be my favourite also.

I have also tried a few different butters trying to find one I really like so will try the Waitrose Essential next time.

Sophie Gilbert says:
20 January 2015

When I was a kid I sometimes cut off the end bit of a baguette, 10cm or so, scoop out the soft middle bit and fill the hole with butter. Heaven in a few bites. Now I don’t do this any more, largely because I too am generally disappointed by the taste of butter (and partly for health reasons…). What could it have to do with, what cows eat, how they are treated (nearly typoed “teated”, that would have been funny), how industrialised the whole butter making process is? Mind you, if I tell you that the last time I tried butter it was Tesco Everyday Value Unsalted butter, it won’t come as a surprise if I say I didn’t like the taste. But it was all right in the recipe I bought it for.

Jack says:
21 April 2015

When I was a hollow legged child I used to make think white toast, cut it in half lengthwise and butter both bits, stick them back together and then butter the top as well…….. yum!

Bob Fasoli says:
20 January 2015

Food proves there isn’t a god……What god would make everything that was bad for you taste wonderful and everything that was good for you be really yuk.

All other animals eat what is right for them and obviously it tastes good to them, so why is the human animal made differently?

Butter, Ice Cream, Chocolate, Cakes that’s the way to go.

If you eat everything that is ‘bad for you’ all the time, what do you eat as a treat? Celery? 🙂

If food proves there isn’t a God then what about manna from heaven which is what butter is for me, strictly eaten as a treat every now and then. I normally stick to Benecol Light Spread that contains the plant stanol Ester that claims to lower cholesterol levels but I am not sure whether it does. It advises not to use it if you take statins, but as I don’t, maybe it does what it says on the tin (or plastic container in this case.)

Marmite is a bit of an April Fool for me, although I love it, it contains an amino acid called tyramine that is a known trigger of migraine in certain people, so a definite no no for me.

Beryl – It’s worth having a look at the article on page 61 of the February magazine, which suggests that we would have to eat a lot of these spreads to have a useful effect. There may be better alternatives.

Tyramine isn’t an amino acid, but health writers who have little understanding of what they are talking about often make this mistake. 🙁 Tyramine can induce migraine, as you say, and is produced from tyrosine, one of the amino acids found in proteins. Some proteins contain more tyrosine than others, hence the advice to avoid eating much of certain foods.

Wavechange, it’s amazing what can emerge from these debates! For example mayoclinic.org Depression (Major depressive disorder) clearly states tyramine is an amino acid although it is as you correctly say a derivative of tyrasine. The website lists foods high in tyramine that should not be eaten if taking MAOI antidepressants. Do Doctors advise patients against eating these foods? Marmite is definitely listed as one of them.

The Magazine arrived this am and I have read the article on page 61 re Butter v Spreads. Interesting stuff. Thank you for your referral.

I’ve learned a lot from the Conversations in the past few years. I have some useful pages bookmarked and can often find others with a Google search.

It’s disappointing that the Mayo Clinic should confuse tyrosine and tyramine. Hopefully it is a careless mistake but it appears a couple of times on their site.

Hi Beryl, there is some info on our website about functional spreads. It includes info on those heart-friendly spreads as well. You’ll have to log in to see it, but if I remember correctly, you’re a member 🙂


Thanks Alex.

It’s good that we have links because it would not occur to me to look at:

home and garden > small appliances > food & drink > spreads

Maybe the webmasters are helping out with a Which? review on wine. 🙂

” The researchers say that their study confirms that organic milk has higher concentrations of beneficial unsaturated fatty acids, and that this difference is greater in summer. They acknowledge that there are seasonal differences and differences that may be due to the quantity and quality of food available for the cows.”
From NHS site

So it would seem very likely that butters do vary in taste. I am a great fan of butter – with home-made bread, and cake and biscuit
production we consume quite a lot.

Bear in mind that butter is about 50% saturated fat, so there are better sources of unsaturated fatty acids. The flavour of butter certainly does vary, even from batch to batch.

I agree too. We never have milk other than the full fat ‘blue top’ in our house. All that skimmed stuff is like pouring water into your tea or over your cereal. So you end up with soggy cereal and cold tea (because you have to use so much more skimmed milk to get the tea the same colour).

Butter for flavour and consistency. Those artificial substitutes taste like muck and are really greasy.

Beside, as we are now informed by the experts, fat is not the enemy once thought: it is SUGAR, in all its disguises, that is the true enemy.

The article suggests that 10 g is typical for a sandwich: that means just 25 sandwiches from a 250 g tub of spreadable butter, which sounds more than a generous buttering to me.

terfar, the recent research I saw suggested animal fats were not the enemy but sugar was, as you say. Trouble is I also have a sweet tooth. Still, if you can’t enjoy what you eat, what is life all about!

Mr Tayro says:
21 January 2015

I like butter so much I coat bars in melted milk chocolate and freeze to become choc butter ices!

if you look on mercola.com the doctor advocates butter rather than spreads, organic butter from grass fed cows to be exact he reckons it is a healthier alternative over spreads!

I’ve read that too!
“Butter is very high in saturated fat. Even so, studies show that high-fat dairy products are linked to reduced risk of obesity, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in countries where cows are grass-fed.”

Please have a look at the entry for Joseph Mercola on Wikipedia.

David Dixon says:
21 January 2015

With butter and margarine (not to mention mayonnaise, streaky bacon, turkey dripping and cassoulet) all being so bad for you, I wonder how on earth I’ve survived so long. Perhaps by enjoying them all at the right time, and (mostly) in moderation!

James Burnett says:
21 January 2015

I, myself, have searched around for the best butter spread as I also just love the flavour of buttered toast. I have tried it from Waitrose, M&S, Sainsburys and even Lidl’s but I am always drawn back to either Clover or Lurpack. They have the best flavour I have experienced so far.

Today’s Mail Online cropped up when I searched for the ingredients of Clover (vegetable fat and buttermilk lovingly made apparently). An extract:

“Big-selling butter alternatives are not the healthy option many believe, say consumer experts.
Millions have switched to low-fat spreads, margarine and olive-based products, hoping to ease the strain on the heart and reduce their intake of calories.
But a Consumers’ Association study of more than 100 spreads found many had high levels of dangerous fats. ”

I know processed products can be made to taste nice, but I’ll stick with butter (and beef dripping on odd occasions).

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-53436/Hidden-dangers-low-fat-spreads.html#ixzz3PTt48l00

Malcolm – That article was written recently about 15 years ago. It’s certainly not recent.

At that time, margarine and spreads contained trans-fats, produced by partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to achieve the right consistency for spreading. We discovered the dangers of trans-fats and the main spreads currently sold in the UK only contain significant trans-fats if butter is included as an ingredient.

Dairy products and meat contain some natural trans-fats. It has been suggested that this may be safer than manufactured trans-fat. It may be years before we know.

Oops. Ignore ‘recently’ in the first sentence.

Anchor butter is not the same as it used to be as it is no longer made with milk from New Zealand and is a brand of the Arla company. Butter similar to Anchor can still be found as Morrisons source some of the butter for their “Savers” range from New Zealand. Tesco did as well for some of its “Everyday Value” butter although I have seen any recently.

I can always tell from the taste of milk [it gets sweeter and there is also a subtle change in consistency] when the cows have gone back out onto pasture in the springtime. This must also affect the taste of butter so, for the best flavour, use New Zealand butter in our winter and UK butter in the summer [West Country for preference].

I’ve gone off the taste of Clover and have switched to another butter/oil spread -equally unhealthy but a nicer cholesterol hit. Block butter is hard to spread from the fridge, that is why these processed tubs appeared in the first place, doubling also as health(ier) alternatives. I remember margarine as part of the fat ration -horrid then and still unpleasant now. We got toast and dripping instead….I’m still alive. If I was ever forced to give up dairy products on my toast, banana would be a good substitute. It’s surprisingly O.K. as a spread and much better than toast on its own.

Our butter lives in a china dish with a lid in the kitchen, so is never difficult to spread (unless we forget to replenish it, then its a gentle microwave treatment on a block from the fridge).

The good part about dripping – preferably beef – is a combination of the fat and the gravy that sits underneath. Great on bread, greater on toast – with a touch of salt.

You’re spreading banana as if it’s butter!? That’s a new one, though my mum used to make me peanut butter and jam (not jelly, Americans!) with banana sandwiches. I expect there was some butter in there too (there’s no butter in peanut butter).

Grainne says:
26 January 2015

can’t bevel no one has mentioned kerrygold butter. I only ever use that or handmade organic butter in the summer – SOOOO creamy.

Sometimes i take spread, but usually take butter. Haven’t found yet the one to really like

Jack says:
21 April 2015

Organic butter when I can afford it, the least processed the better..


A study with flaws but an interesting indicator of where further studies could explore.

Amazing that a study of just 60 people came to such conclusions, let alone the flaws and any conclusive link between the presence of glutathione in the brain and Alzheimer’s. And who would have guessed that the US Dairy Research Institute would have any bias.