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Apparently Margarine Used to Contain a Lot of Whale

For our modern minds, it can be tricky to imagine that the world was once largely illuminated by whale-oil-powered lamps. It's even harder to imagine people spreading a little whale on their toast in the morning — but yep.


For our modern minds, it can be tricky to imagine that the world was once largely illuminated by whale-oil-powered lamps. It's even harder to imagine people spreading a little whale on their toast in the morning — but yep.

For years, margarine, the butter substitute we know (and probably don't love) today, was made with whale oil.

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And yes, it apparently did add a fishy flavor to the buttery substance, according to Atlas Obscura.

To explain how this came to be, we have to dive a little bit into margarine history. Weirdly, Napoleon III of France spurred the creation of the first margarine by challenging inventors to come up with a butter substitute that was more affordable for the common folk and military.

When you're the emperor, you're the boss, we guess!

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A clever inventor did come up with a solution and won the emperor's cash prize: He combined beef fat with water, milk, sodium bicarobonate and some yellow food coloring. Ta da! In 1879, margarine was born.

At the same time, whale oil was starting to go out of fashion in lighting, being replaced by petroleum.

Whale-oil companies needed something else to do with all of that gross whale oil, and margarine seemed, for some reason, like a natural solution.

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Margarine reached peak popularity in 1929, particularly in Europe. Whale oil was also, at that time, the cheapest oil around. Its popularity had dropped, but there were still a lot of whaling ships in the whale game, so there ended up being a surplus of whale oil.

Two different companies were competing with each other to provide tasty whale oil to margarine users everywhere. Then they decided that it was better to join forces.

Those companies, weirdly, became Uniliver, the huge company that's today with $40 billion and sells everything from Axe body spray to Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Neither of which currently contain whale oil ... right?

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These days, margarine sales have dropped quite a bit, according to an article kind of meanly called "Margarine Sales: Investors Can't Believe They're Not Better."

As butter became more popular again, margarine just couldn't cut it. In fact, in August of 2017 Unilever announced that they were selling off the margarine branch of their business: the very piece that brought the two original businesses together to begin with.

We like to think the whales would find that news satisfying.

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