Buttering Up Tastes

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Butter is making a strong comeback into the food scene, and in new applications. Stanley Goh, regional director, food service-asia & middle east, Fonterra, tells APFI why in an interview.

Butter, as we all know, is a milk fat made through the separation of milk components by churning fresh/fermented cream or milk. It can be used as a spread for bread or toast by the end-consumer, or in the hot kitchen environment for the foodservice industry. In the baking industry, butter is very much used in key applications like pastry, cakes, cookies and buns, informed Mr Goh.

Despite these applications that use the ingredient, butter has not always been the first option that foodservice and bakery manufacturers have turned to—at least not for most of the last 50 years. What did they use instead?

Mid-20th Century: The Emergence Of Margarine

“Around the ‘50s, people deemed butter as unhealthy and that synthetic alternatives such as margarine were considered healthier,” said Mr Goh. Made of refined vegetable oil, water, and in some, milk, margarine saw growing worldwide use with the increasing adoption of the Western diet. Also, being non-dairy, it suited the requirements of Kosher, vegetarian and vegan consumers.

“Back then, people also saw only how ‘fat’ butter was, and since margarine is vegetable-oil based, margarine was perceived by the average consumer as healthier and less fat,” Mr Goh asserted. It was no wonder that butter consumption was overtaken by margarine, but only until recent years.

The Natural Side Of Butter Revealed

At present, butter consumption is shooting through the roof. Mr Goh explained: “The demand for butter has actually increased by significant amounts over the last few years, to the point where news agencies are foreseeing shortages of butter as soon as this Christmas. This is all because of the changing perception of butter by consumers.”

Today, butter is seen as naturally fat and this ‘natural’ factor has helped create a healthy halo effect of the ingredient because of the health and wellness trend—that promotes consumption of all things natural e.g. food, ingredients, colours, flavours—that has captured consumers around the world.

With consumers more interested in consuming health-benefitting foods, and being more well-read thanks to easy accessibility to information, they understand that butter is a real natural food, thus driving up consumption. And this applies to all consumers: not only the tech-savvy Millennials, but also the older generation who first saw margarine as the better option, Mr Goh said.

Buttering Up Food Quality

“Butter is a critical component because it contributes to mouthfeel and texture. In baking applications, the presence of butter allows the pastry or cakes to rise better, giving the product a softer texture. And in hot kitchen applications, the basic application of butter with garlic, onion, or spices provides a creamier taste,” informed Mr Goh.

But how butter affects the mouthfeel, texture, and taste of food can be different. “It all depends on the quality of milk that is being used for the butter,” he said.

He gave Anchor Food Professionals as an example: “Our Anchor butter comes from New Zealand, where we get our milk from pasture-fed (or grass-fed) cows. They produce golden-yellow milk, which when processed, produces butter that is creamier in flavour and mouthfeel, and contains more beta-carotene and vitamins. These are important aspects that foodservice professionals or chefs require in their products.”

“Such quality butter also demonstrates better functionality in terms of being able to trap sugar and air which give us the rise of a cake or pastry, or provide creamier textures in such products, which a lot of consumers— especially Millennials today—begin to appreciate and understand,” he continued.

Millennials are a very important group of consumers, he said, and terms them the YERs: the Young, Educated and Rich. The natural aspect of butter is an important factor for these Educated Young consumers, who are also showing for food that they know will benefit them or that are of higher quality, they are willing to pay higher or premium prices (hence referred to as ‘Rich’).

Where Is Butter Going From Here?

“Butter has been used recently in more interesting applications,” Mr Goh mentioned. “For example, there is a trend on social media now where butter is used in certain forms of diets, like the Bulletproof Diet.” The Bulletproof diet is one that is overtaking US by a storm, and centres on getting 50-60 percent of one’s daily calories from healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado and grass-fed or pastured animals—e.g. butter.

But beyond food, butter use is also expanding to something more unique: coffee. “Bulletproof coffee, spun off from the Bulletproof diet, basically uses butter in coffee and has a niche following in the US. Followers believe the right mixture of butter and coffee (caffeine) can improve your energy level and focus for the day,” Mr Goh explained.

“Butter has gone beyond traditional applications because people have realised the nutrition one can get from the ingredient, which has encouraged its use in a number of various applications,” he added.

On where he thinks butter might go next, Mr Goh is not sure. “It could go to anything, but when it does, it will pick up a niche group. From a food perspective, markets like the US and Europe tend to set the new trends. Whatever trend butter sets next will be very niche, millennial, and definitely socialmedia driven,” he concluded.