Margarine has slowly taken over the table spread market since its beginnings more than a century ago. The reasons for this are low cost, high quality taste and texture, and, arguably, nutritional value better than that of other spreads. It is interesting to many to find that margarine was invented, or that there was even a need to invent another spread. The following outlines the beginning of the margarine industry and its current state.

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution farming and cattle herding decreased significantly. This had several effects, one was the rise of butter prices and another was a rise in malnourishment. In 1869 Napoleon III commissioned French food research chemist, Hippolyte Mège Mouriès, to produce a butter substitute that would be economically efficient and nutritious. While it is commonly assumed that the substitute was primarily requested to be an affordable supply for French troops, some say that the major concern was to aid the malnourished working class.

In 1870 Mège Mouriès used margaric acid, a fatty acid that Michael Eugene Chevreul had isolated in 1813, that produced pearly white drops. Michael named his discovery after margaritis, the Greek word for "pearl". Using this acid and different fats, Mouriès perfected his butter substitute and named it margarine. His first margarines were made mostly of animal fat and small proportions of vegetable oils. Over time, through the improvement of the vegetable oil refinement process and the development of a process that turned liquid vegetable oils into solid fats on a commercial scale, larger proportions of vegetable oils were used.

Mouriès obtained an American patent for margarine in 1873. He had hoped to expand his margarine production to the United States but had died before his dream was realized.

To understand the growth of the margarine industry it should be noted that in 1930 margarine consumption per capita was 2.6 pounds versus 17.6 pounds of butter, today the consumption per capita of margarine is 8.3 pounds versus 4.2 pounds of butter. These figures include vegetable oil spreads under margarine.

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