Like egg yolks and full-fat dairy products, butter has recently crept back onto the list of fats no longer deemed unhealthy. But some people remain unswayed by the return of butter, and opt instead for oil-based buttery spreads like margarine. One of the most well known brands of margarine is I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, which is available as a spread and a spray. Created in 1979 as a cheaper alternative to butter for the food service industry, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter was marketed as a product that can be used interchangeably with the real deal for anything from sautéeing to baking.
According to the Unilever-owned company’s historical archives, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter got its name from a comment made by the husband of one of the company’s secretaries during a taste test. Cute story, but considering what I know margarine to taste like, I do wonder when this husband in question had last eaten real butter. I’m also curious as to what’s really lurking under that tub’s lid.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’s website makes it clear that they keep no secrets from the public when comes to their products. “Our spreads taste so good because we use real, simple ingredients,” says the site, stating their recipe to be “a blend of plant-based oils, purified water, and a pinch of salt.” But that’s not all they say. Linking directly to a site that details nutrition facts, ingredients, allergens, and other information (including claims, certifications, and GMO disclosures) for all I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter products, it’s clear that the company is committed to transparency.
The ingredients listed in the entry for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Original Soft Spread are: purified water, soybean oil, palm kernel oil, palm oil, salt, soy lecithin, natural flavors, vinegar, Vitamin A Palmitate, and beta-Carotene (for color). Each ingredient entry includes a description and a country of origin and growing method, if applicable. I won’t list them all, but they define soy lecithin as “a yellow-brownish substance from soybeans used as an emulsifier helping to keep oil and water mixed.” Vitamin A Palmitate is a “stable form of Vitamin A and added to enrich the nutrition of the product.”
None of the ingredients in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter are unhealthy, per se, but the palm oil industry has been found to contribute to deforestation, animal cruelty, and indigenous rights abuses (among other issues) in the countries in which it's produced. On the other hand, the palm oil industry also provides jobs for millions of people in those countries.
Ultimately, if every product gave information as clearly as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, we’d probably all know a lot more about what we put into our bodies—and that’s definitely a good thing.