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CopyKat Answers – What is Oleo Margarine?

I actually get asked this question very frequently, what is Oleo? A lot of older recipes call for Oleo. We all love recipes that we grew up with, but sometimes they have unfamiliar ingredients. You may love digging through old recipes too, but you have to wonder what some of these ingredients are.
what is oleo

What is Oleo

Oleo is actually margarine, more than fifty years ago, Oleomargarine is how you would have found this named. This was made from vegetable oil, and used as a more economical substitute for butter. When Oleo margarine came out, it originally wasn’t even yellow, it was white. You had to mix in the capsule of yellow coloring if you wanted your oleomargarine to look like butter. Oleomargarine wasn’t allowed to be colored to look like butter in many areas because the dairy industry didn’t want people to confuse margarine for butter, and they passed legislation against the coloring of margarine. Many of these laws stayed in affect for many years, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that Australia’s law allowed margarine to have the same color as butter.
Oleomargarine was actually created in 1869 by French chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries. During World War II, Oleomargarine increased in popularity due to shortages in butter, and it was economically more feasible, than more expensive butter. Both butter and margarine have to be at least 80% fat, while butter is a dairy product, margarine is typically made from vegetable oils. Margarine is often a good choice for those who wish to eat dairy free, and butter and margarine are often used interchangeably.
So next time you read an old recipe, and you see Oleo, you don’t have to wonder what is Oleo anymore, you will know Oleo is just the old word for margarine, and you know you can cook with butter and margarine interchangeably.

  • Ivan Willis

    You have to be nuts to eat that crap. Hydrogenated vegetable fat is infinitely worse than real butter in almost every regard except price.

  • anon

    Crossword puzzle clue… “Margarine”… answer: Oleo… hmpf Well learn something new!

    • Stephanie Manley

      It is in a lot of old recipes. Glad that we could help out.

  • Michael Renn

    you should never use margarine. Always use butter. It’s natural and healthy.

  • Jamie Mcintyre


  • ber76

    I see this is a old thread but I’ll post anyways.Our local newspaper does a section called ‘a hundred years ago’ and they made mention of the dairy farmers in our area complaining about Oleo hurting their butter sales,real milk dairy butter was expensive and Oleo was using cheap beef fat and underselling them. It sounds like the first Oleo used beef lard instead of vegetable oils How do you think that would go over today with the ‘health conscious’?

  • Gregory Wonderwheel

    If Oleo and margarine are just synonyms, then why is “Oleo” spelled with a capital “O” and margarine is not?

    • stephaniemanley

      I believe it is because “Oleo-margarine” was a brand, so the “o” remained capitalized.

  • VlastaRose

    My grandma’s kolache recipe calls for 4 T butter, 3 T oleo, and 2 T chicken fat. Help! Should I use 9 T butter – or should I use some shortening?

    • mi

      I believe either way would work. The recipe is calling for a total amount of fat, the specific kinds are probably about flavor more than workability. (The chicken fat is definitely a flavor thing, and a fairly soft kind of fat.) Good luck, have fun cooking, experiment a bit with different fats to see if it makes a difference in taste.

      • stephaniemanley

        Thank you for the response. I appreciate your insight. I agree chicken fat makes many things taste so much better.

    • Maylene

      I think all butter would give you a completely different result. Oleo is hydrogenated oil, and has a fair amount of water in it, and has a burn-point that is higher than butter. You will end up with a much more crisp result using all butter. My mother left behind a cherry pudding dessert recipe. Her recipe calls for oleo. I used butter and it gives a completely different texture, one we aren’t used to.

    • Jami

      Do you mind sharing that…My husband is Polish and I would LOVE to make a good recipe for him?

    • stephaniemanley

      Well she must have had something there. I would try 4 T butter, 3 T margarine, and 2 T of rendered chicken fat. I bet they are amazing.

  • Kathy Patlakis

    A friend,some long time ago, would give me recipes using oleo. I was not sure what it was. I looked it up, but I wanted to double check. So, I put it in again, on a search engine. Then I found your site. I was happy to find you. And, for sure, this is margarine. Since then, I also go to yard sales with my daughter. And, have several old fashioned books, that call for oleo. I was just wondering, though, can a person substitute something else. And, what would be the best choice on what to use! Thank you so much!

    • stephaniemanley

      You can substitute for margarine or better yet, butter.

      • Kathy Patlakis

        Thank you so very much! I thought so, but did not know which was best to use. Perhaps this is something for everyone to ponder. How about coconut oil. I keep mine in the fridge. It is trans free, but I am intimidated on using it. I really am but, at the same time know that it must be healthier in some ways. I am so very big on extra virgin olive oil. My Mediterranean heritage, I suppose. I love your website. My friend that gave me these recipes was just the best! She came into my life when I needed her the most. One recipe with an old fashioned name brought so much love & warmth! Who would of guessed! I loved this article, thank you, again! I also asked another friend if I could put oregano in biscuits & gravy. She said, no, you can’t! Because then you would have something else! I have thought about it since, and thought it was kind of funny! She should not be scared to experiment, as I sometimes am! Great site!

        • Stephanie

          I am not sure what you mean by the coconut oil, sometimes I use coconut oil. I don’t bake with it, because I haven’t tried it. Good luck 😉

  • Jenn

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  • Kazi

    Im so gonna share this keep it up :)

  • Kazi

    Thank you so much

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  • Yellowowlwings

    Ok I understand that olel is margarine but when the receipe asks for both oleo and margarine of butter how do I adjust for that.Its my gramdmothers egg noodles receips thanks.

    • stephaniemanley

      It’s just one thing. You use it just like you would butter.

  • Mlnorstrom

    I’m trying to find a WHITE oleo for a buttercream receipe, to keep the frosting nice and white. This receipe calls for White shortening, White olel and butter.

    • stephaniemanley

      I think one thing you can do is to use clear vanilla.

    • Patricia Downs Shrock

      white shortening is Crisco solid.

  • Alireza Sahebalam

    This is Alireza Sahebalam my company has most activity about oil and oleo chemical field therefor I will be so glad to know more about your company and its products and probable

  • Lynne

    If you’re recipe calls for a “stick” of oleo, and all you have is soft margerine or stick butter, which would be best to use in a candy recipe that is dropped onto wax paper to harden?

    • Stephanie Manley

      Soft margarine is not for baking, use a stick of butter or a stick of margarine.

  • Slkgeneral

    today margerine oil content ranges from 53% or lower and some as high as 80%, any idea what % the oleo would be more similar too? i’ve noticed some recipes actually call for margine with a certain % or higher oil and i wasn’t sure which one to use for recipes with oleo? thanks

    • CW

      Not sure, but I do know that in my baking and candy making these days, I have switched to using butter. Margarine seems to be really watery in the past few years and for candy – it never ‘sets up’!

  • Planking

    Oleo reminds me of the gasoline that was called ethyl. I do remember it being called oleo, but I am old…

  • trista

    Thanks for the help! I recently got a bunch of my grandma’s old cookbooks and wanted to try some recipes out but wasn’t sure if oleo was margarine or shortening! Thanks

    • Stephanie

      Glad I could be of service!

  • CanadianShe_Wolf

    Amazing how far we have come, huh? I had the honour/honor of being the chosen one elected to blend a bag or 10 of Good Luck only a few times….and have often wondered where that brand went. In musing over the stories written here this a.m., I would offer here that Imperial Margerine just “might be” Good Luck in disguise? From what my fading memory provides me with,..(65-past here)..I would suggest that because I seem to recall that Good Luck & Imperial both have the “same colored/coloured” packaging?

  • Richy

    Ofcourse, I have my grandmothers old recipe book with loads of recipes mentioning Oleo. That’s funny. There are so many trademark names that have become the calling name for a certain type of product. Should have quessed.
    Thanks. :)

  • Kris

    Why would you need it to be yellow anyway? Homemade butter is white, not yellow. Thanks, though, I’ve been wondering a long time what exactly oleo was–I was beginning to think it was shortening, so at least I was close!

    • Stephanie

      I believe the theory was, if it was yellow it would look more like butter.

  • Marcia

    It is what they call margarine now.
    When I was young that is what it was called, however it was white and you had to mix it the yellow coloring that was in the package.

  • http://Website(optional) Sam Stevens

    This made me fell really old because I didn’t have to look to know what oleo was

    • OSU

      We are old Sam!

  • Jen

    Awww, this post took me back to when I would always hear my great-grandma say “oleo”. As a little girl I remember asking my mom what it was and “butter” has always stuck in my head but I really enjoyed reading the reasoning behind it. Thanks for bringing back a lot of memories!!!

  • Kellie

    When I saw this post, It made me think of my Mother. Her name was Olis and everyone in her family called her Oleo. I just recall in the early 70’s when the commercials came out it’s Butter no its margarine, My Brother and I started calling her Butter.
    That just got us grounded. I still write it down on my list as Oleo. Yes, when my husband & I first got married he was confused. Those dye packs were fun to mix, but if you got it on your hands they would be yellow for day’s.

  • Deborah

    I grew up in Wisconsin on the WI/IL border. At that time (the 50s) margarine was not allowed to be sold in WI so my mom and her girlfriends would take turns crossing the border to IL to bring home the margarine. Then they would gather at one house and split it up between them. Resourceful housewives those of the 50s.

    • Maria

      I was so glad to see Deborah’s response. I lived in Milwaukee from 1979 to 1981 and was amazed when people told me that margarine was once illegal to be sold in Wisconsin, the dairy state. I’ve told people this story many, many times over the years.

  • Elisabeth

    Oleo was the brand name of the margarine. My mother still calls it Oleo. We use butter at our house. :)

  • Anonymous

    Oleo is margarine. Use the solid stick margarine in recipes. Soft spread has water and air in it and will not meaasure right. I prefer Crisco butter flavored shortening sticks. It makes better cookies. You can also substitute real butter. We used oleo margarine as a kid, too (the bag witht the colored capsule.) I believe it came out during WW2 because of all the shortages and economy.

  • JoAnn Cook

    What I remember most about Oleo is the taste. I did NOT like the taste. To me, it had a fishy oil taste that I remember well. Nothing at all like butter tasted or what margarine now taste like. My grandma would use it much of the time when I was a child.

  • http://Website(optional) disijudy

    Does GoodLuck oleomargarine ring a bell? It’s what we always used growing up.
    On the other hand, my grandpa & grandma ran a farm & used real butter. We called it the “udder butter,” not even getting our own connection with the real thing :)

  • Anonymous

    Thank god I stumbled upon this post! I have scanned in tons of my grandmothers old recipes and run across Oleo quite a few times. Now I know! Thanks.

  • Suzan

    I am allergic to whole milk and milk products, which includes butter; therefore, I’ve had to use oleo. Now days you can get oleo w/o trans fat and other stuff. The butter fat is what I can’t have.

  • Stephanie

    My parents called it “oleo” and we never had butter in our house, even for baking. My niece (who was 6 yrs younger than I am) called it “Grandma’s plastic butter.” When I went to someone’s house and they had butter, it was such an exotic luxury.

  • Loy

    Oleo is margarine-When it first came out, iIt was called oleo-margarine when I was a kid and came white with a little yellow dye capsule that you kneaded into the white to make it yellow. Had something to do with not being real butter.

    • Larry Rape

      It came with the separate dye because it was not legal to sell yellow margarine; if you wanted it to look like butter, you had to mix it in yourself.

  • Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

    I’ve got a bunch of cookie recipes from my Italian grandmother that call for Oleo – they’re hilarious to read and fun to piece together as you try to figure out how to make the things.

    And man, does that food coloring capsule sound disgusting.