Invention of Margarine

The Invention of Margarine: A Cheap Butter Substitute Born Out of Necessity

Margarine was invented in 1869 by French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès in response to a challenge by Emperor Napoleon III to create a butter substitute from beef tallow for the armed forces and lower classes. At the time, butter was scarce and expensive in France due to increased demand from citizens moving to cities and the need to feed large armies.

Mège-Mouriès created a product called oleomargarine, which combined beef tallow with milk to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of butter. He patented his invention but had little commercial success initially. In 1871, he sold the patent to the Dutch company Jurgens, now part of Unilever.

Reasons for Invention

butter, knife, ingredient

There were several key reasons margarine was invented:

  1. Cheaper alternative to butter: There was a need for a more affordable butter substitute to feed the armed forces and poorer citizens of France. 1
  2. Longer shelf life: Margarine was less perishable than butter, making it useful for long military campaigns and storage.
  3. Consistent supply: Margarine provided a reliable source of fat that was not vulnerable to conditions affecting butter production like weather, seasonality, etc..
  4. Prize incentive: Emperor Napoleon III offered a prize for anyone who could invent an adequate and affordable butter replacement, motivating Mège-Mouriès.

Subsequent Developments

After its invention, margarine evolved in the following ways:

  • Vegetable oils replaced animal fats as the main ingredients by 1900.
  • Manufacturers colored margarine yellow to resemble butter and marketed it as a butter substitute.
  • Hydrogenation was discovered in the early 1900s, allowing vegetable oils to be hardened into spreadable margarine.
  • Margarine became popular during food shortages in World Wars I and II.

So in summary, margarine was invented in 1869 as a cheap, long-lasting butter alternative to feed armies and the poor. Its creation was driven by necessity and incentive, but subsequent innovations in ingredients and processing were focused on making margarine an appealing butter substitute.


  1. The History of Margarine,[]

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