Friday, February 13, 2015

Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread: The Better Butter?

I love unhealthy food. This includes butter. Especially when it comes to baking, NOTHING can substitute butter. Yep, I do love my butter. To make myself feel less gluttonous, I also keep butter spread in the house and use it for stir fry veggies or breads. It's called reasoning with myself.

Recently, Influenster let me reconsider my options when they asked me to try a brand of buttery spread that was new to me. If you've never heard of Influenster, it's an online review community where you review products to unlock "badges" and connect your social media networks to increase your Impact score. The higher your score and activity level, the greater your chances of receiving a specific product or maybe even a free VoxBox containing several full-sized items for review. 

This time around Influenster wanted me to review an Earth Balance Spread. Challenge accepted! Sounds fun since I've never tried Earth Balance products before. I received a coupon in the mail for the full face value of a tub of my choice. But before I dive in to the review, here's a little tutorial on the difference between butter, margarine, and spreads in case you were wondering. Not that it'll really matter for this review, but it's useful knowledge. Basically it's all about the fat:
% Fat Fat Source
Butter 80% Milkfat
Margarine 80% Milkfat and/or vegetable
Spreads Varies Vegetable
Source: http://www.landolakes.com
So there you have it. Butter and margarine must be at least four-fifths fat, with margarine being a tad bit "healthier" because its fat source can be from vegetables. Spreads are probably the "healthiest" choice because fat content is not regulated so companies can put as little as they want. This is why they discourage using spreads in baking - you need the fat or else you might end up with dry cake and burnt cookies. Oh, and the fat is sourced from plants and vegetables. This supposedly healthier butter alternative will be the focus of this review.

THE PRODUCT
I hardly ever look at the buttery spread selection in the supermarket (I only buy it about once a year), so when I visited Safeway's spread selection I was impressed. Even more unbelievable was the Earth Balance product selection. It didn't occur to me until later that I should've taken a picture of it; it was huge. How have I not noticed this before?? Here's a glimpse of what Earth Balance has to offer:
Their assortment includes six spreads; Safeway had five of them to choose from: Original, Olive Oil, Soy Free, Omega-3, and Organic Whipped. I ended up picking the olive oil variety off the shelf. Why? Because I don't care if my food isn't soy-free or organic so my selection was immediately narrowed to three choices. Eeny-meeny-miney-moe did the rest. Then I realized that the olive oil one was soy-free anyway, so I really don't know what advantage the "Soy Free" variety had.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
  • vegan
  • lactose-free
  • gluten-free
  • non-GMO
  • have no trans fat

It's a nice dairy-free alternative for vegans and those with sensitive stomachs. The Olive Oil variety of buttery spread has an added oomph in the taste department with a hint of extra virgin olive oil. 
With the cover removed, it looks like any other container of buttery spread. I wanted to compare its consistency texture spreadability (I make up words when I'm frustrated) so I put it side-by-side on a slice of bread with Country Crock Original Shedd's Spread (the one I already had at home).
Country Crock Original Shedd's Spread (left) and Earth Balance Olive Oil Spread (right)
Earth Balance did spread rather nicely, but that doesn't mean anything if the taste isn't there, so I took a bite from each half. I couldn't taste any hint of olive oil. Must be a really tiny hint. But the Earth Balance had a sweeter, more true-to-butter aftertaste, though it wasn't incredibly noticeable. If I hadn't compared them side-by-side I wouldn't have been able to tell. 

And no wonder I thought it tasted yummier; it has a higher fat content than the Shedd's spread with 9g per tablespoon (versus 7g). The nutrition facts label shows how those 9 grams break down:


First of all, I want to point out that this is not "healthy" spread compared to others. It's over 80% fat (for comparison, Country Crock Shedd's spread is about 50%). Aiyeeeee! But there's always a silver lining, and in this case it's that there are more unsaturated than saturated fats. These so-called "healthy" fats can be beneficial in improving blood cholesterol levels. Not that you should eat a tub of this in one serving, because I'm sure that's pretty gross no matter which way you look at it. Naturally, I wanted to see where the unsaturated fats came from so I consulted the ingredient list:
This spread contains only plant-based oils. It does have palm fruit oil though , which isn't as bad as regular palm oil, but that's probably where the saturated fat comes from. On the bright side, the flax and canola oils contain omega-3 fatty acids which have some heart benefits.

THE VERDICT
So how do I feel about Earth Balance buttery spread? I'll probably give this a shot and see how it fares in the baking department since it has about the same fat content as butter. I'd much rather buy just one product that does everything anyway. But since butter and the spread don't have the same kinds of fats, I'm guessing my cookies will taste a bit different. If you love to live healthy though, I'm not so sure you'd choose this brand as there are others that still have the same saturated:unsatured fat ratio but have less fat altogether. Now I have two full tubs of buttery spreads to finish in the next year. Time to get cooking!


Note: I received a coupon for the face value of Earth Balance Buttery Spread from Influenster for testing purposes. All opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

2 comments:

  1. I've been using the original Earth Balance for years and have had success baking with it. It's not identical to butter, so if you're trying to get a flaky butter crust or something I don't think it would really work, but for recipes that just need a bit of fat (butter, oil, etc.) it works a charm. Never tried the olive oil variety, but it sounds pretty tasty.

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    1. Ooh, thanks for the confirmation! I only make heavily-buttered yums during the holidays so I think this should work for most of my baking purposes. I think I may have found my new butter!

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