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
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.