Butter

The Canadian Butter Crisis, Explained

We spoke with the writer behind this dairy important supply chain revelation.

February 25, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

So, so much has changed over the past year. Apparently, the texture of butter in Canada is one of those things. There’s a storm brewing online over what some outlets are calling “Buttergate.”

It all started on Twitter (where else?) when Canadian food writer, Julie Van Rosendaal, stared into the digital abyss and pondered a seemingly innocuous query: Was the butter in Canada different? Had the texture changed? More specifically, was it less soft at room temperature?

She followed up the tweet with a few theories of her own. The difference in supposed butter texture, she posited, could be explained by either changes in Canada’s tariff rate quota (limitations on the quantity of products that can be imported into the country) or a result of adjustments in the feeding practices of dairy cows.

Whichever it was, Van Rosendaal was determined to find an explanation. Her posts started to garner a significant response, and she soon found herself at the center of a larger conversation. “I had well over a thousand responses on social media, and most of them said the same thing—I thought it was just me!” she tells me over email. “So I really dug into it a few weeks ago, with a theory that it was a change in the fatty acid profile that was making butter more solid at room temperature.” As it turns out, saturated fats remain solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid.

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It wasn’t until she received a tip via Instagram DM that she located the potential explanation. What she realized was that the change in butter texture could be explained by a “supply chain disruption affecting ingredients that come from overseas, like palm fats. It triggered the connection—highly saturated palm fat in feed could affect the fatty acid profile of the resulting milk.” Essentially, palm fat (which is oil derived from the oil palm fruit) could be to blame.

In a Globe and Mail article published just this week, Van Rosendaal suggests that due to the massive increase in pandemic baking, dairy suppliers altered their livestock feed in order to increase production. According to a BBC article, palm fat-based supplements are used to “increase the milk output of cows and increase the milk’s fat content.” This ultimately results in butter that is more solid at room temperature

Palm oil is a notoriously controversial ingredient. The oil palm industry is often cited as environmentally detrimental, and a large contributor to deforestation.

Since the article’s release, Van Rosendaal has been met with a surprising amount of support, and very little pushback from the dairy industry. “It seems this is a conversation a lot of farmers, processors and industry leaders have been wanting to have,” she says. “Industry groups have already begun to address it. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.”

Have you noticed any changes in the butter texture where you live? Let us know in the comments.

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More Butter Knowledge

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nancy H.
    Nancy H.
  • BlackMagwitch
    BlackMagwitch
  • Chris Iulo
    Chris Iulo
  • sadenis
    sadenis
  • LionToes
    LionToes
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

15 Comments

Nancy H. March 4, 2021
Guess we'll be buying less butter but making sure that it's the "good stuff" (I was already buying local from the last independent family-run creamery in Ontario, Canada, but they get their milk from many sources and cannot verify what those animals are fed) . I'm definitely alarmed by the progressive denaturing of the food supply - my daughter is a vegan because of environmental and animal welfare concerns, and veganism is seeming more and more to be the best direction to go in for health reasons as well.
 
BlackMagwitch March 1, 2021
Okay, great but “Explained” is a leap.
Rosedaal made a suggestion of what the problem may be, and it was mentioned in the Globe newspaper. That is not an explanation of anything.
 
Chris I. February 28, 2021
Land o lakes butter is still the same but the European land o lakes is different. The consistency when you cut into it makes it piecey nstead of solid.
 
sadenis February 28, 2021
I have been using the Finlandia Perfectly Salted butter for all non-baking uses but sometimes they don’t have it so recently I tried the Kerrygold salted butter and was surprised at how much softer it was at room temperature. Do the Kerrygold cows get more grass than the Finlandia ones? I also noticed it was saltier and thought that had kept it softer. Will follow for more comments.
 
LionToes February 28, 2021
Noticed the same in Montreal, but late to the game as I had brought a bunch of grass fed Kerry Gold butter up from NYC and continued to buy the insanely pricey grass fed organic butter here throughout the summer. Wasn’t until I had taken out some local butter to bake the night before then much later read about this that did the math. A writer friend here (surprisingly!) makes her own butter. Uses 35% organic cream and pink sea salt along with Jacques Pepin Foundation “making butter” instructional. I may be soon to follow!
 
Renee March 1, 2021
Tutorial? A blender and heavy cream.
 
LionToes March 1, 2021
Touché! Though the squeezing of the separated solids from the whey in a sieve before rolling and freezing...should have been a no brainer but sometimes the obvious evades even the experienced!
 
Renee March 1, 2021
All you have to do is overwhip your whipped cream and you'll have butter. Easy peasy.
 
HalfPint March 5, 2021
To have butter that keeps for more than a couple days, you'll need to wash and knead that butter. That's all LionToes is saying. If you are going to go to the trouble of sourcing good cream and turning it into butter, good prep is a great thing to learn.
 
Renee March 5, 2021
Ah, I've only made butter on accident. :)
 
Jess K. March 8, 2021
As have we all!
 
connie R. February 28, 2021
I notice the exact same thing on a pound of butter i bought at Whole Foods (365 Brand). I use to be a buyer of dairy products for an upscale grocery store and I have tried a lot of butter in my day. I thought it very starange when I took the whole pound out of the refrigerator the night before I was going to bake and the next morning it was still hard. Flavor tasted a little off like it was shortening but again not soft. I suppose there are regulations to adding palm oil to butter during the make but not if it's fed to the animal. I can't imagine it's good for them.
 
Jess K. March 3, 2021
Thank you for letting us know! So many people have noticed off-textures.
 
Mary K. February 28, 2021
This is fascinating, because I've been thinking the exact same thing in USA. I put it off on the fact that we've been going through a really cold February. But the consistency is different. My toast keeps getting tears. So I wonder if it's happening here, too. And pandemic baking makes sense.
 
kershy38 February 26, 2021
obsessed with this reporting!!!