In Search of Better (Healthier) Butter

Most people I think want to eat and be healthy, and butter tastes awesome, but butter is bad for us right? So we shouldn’t eat it? Maybe, maybe not.

The Story Until Now

Once upon a time we ate butter, and fries cooked in beef tallow from small farm cattle operations, and we were generally healthier, then, many misguided people, including people you should never listen to like The Center for “Science” in the “Public Interest”, went on a publicity campaign saying how saturated fats were going to kill us and we should use trans fats instead. Turns out, they were wrong, as our health as a society deteriorated we’ve since discovered saturated fats aren’t all bad, trans fats are bad, omega-6 fatty acids are bad. Now those nutjobs are advocating against trans fats, and conveniently forget they’re largely responsible for the original adoption of those products. Shame on them.

Saturated fat is in fact, not bad for you. See here, here, here, here, here. All those butter substitutes we’ve been eating over the years, those are bad for you.

For men in particular, saturated fat aids testosterone production.

A Spoonful of Science

Butter substitutes have largely been made of trans fats or other fats that aren’t healthy. What is a trans fat, by the way? Well, it is about hydrogenation. What is hydrogenation? I’m glad you asked. A saturated fat is a fat in which all available bonding locations on the molecule are full with a hydrogen atom. If you remember High School chemistry you’ll remember that some molecules are more stable than others and generally that stability is caused by the molecules ability or inability to bond to other things. Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms preventing anything else from bonding to them, so they’re incredibly stable, and generally take a long time to spoil. Manufacturers love them because they make foods last longer.

Monounsaturated fats have a single free bonding location, polyunsaturated fats have multiple free bonding locations. These fats are not nearly as stable because that free bonding location can bond with something, and it will eventually, which is why monounsaturated fats (Omega-3s) and polyunsaturated fats (Omega-6s) go rancid (at which point they’re not healthy to eat). So they don’t make good additives to manufactured foods because of shelf life. This lack of stability also effects their ability to take high heat, and high heat can also make such fats less healthy.

Hydrogenation is the process of taking an unsaturated fat and adding hydrogen to it to make it more shelf stable. Then it becomes a trans fat. So read the ingredient list. The FDA has minimum thresholds for having to list grams of something on the label in the nutrition information, which is why cooking spray, which is fat, can claim to have 0g of fat. But every ingredient has to be listed so if you see “hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” it has trans fat, and you should avoid it.

Manufacturers initially loved trans fats because they could take a cheap vegetable oil, hydrogenate it, and make it stable (for frying or shelf stability), without having to put the scarlet letter of “saturated fat” on their label. They got the benefits of saturated fats, without the (what we now know to be misplaced) negativity.

Omega-6 and Omega-3

So, just stick to MUFAs (monounsatured fatty acids, known as Omega-3s) and PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as Omega-6s) right? Sorry, its more complicated. Our bodies do best with a certain ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s, and the modern diet is generally out of whack. When we eat far more Omega-6s we induce inflammation in the body and chronic inflammation is now known to be the cause of so much of our modern lifestyle diseases.

Further complicating the issue is that most fats are not comprised of a single type of fatty acid. See this nice chart. Olive oil, one of the truly healthy oils, and something you should eat at every opportunity, is 77% monounsaturated fat, 14% saturated fat (yes, there is saturated fat in olive oil), and 9% polyunsaturated. Soybean oil is 61% polyunsatured, corn is 62%, sunflower is 69%.

For animal products, fat profile is largely a product of what the animal eats. The old adage, you are what you eat, largely applies. What do you think most of our modern meat machine is fed?

Organic is NOT the Answer

So you might think, just buy organic and you’re good. No. Organic is largely a label and most people don’t know what it means. It doesn’t mean healthier, it doesn’t mean safer, it doesn’t mean tastes better. If you buy organic animal products it means the animal was raised without antibiotics, which has no bearing on the nutrition of the meat, it means the animal was not given synthetic hormones (it may have been given natural ones), which may or may not affect you depending on when the last dose to the animal was, generally though I would not worry about that, it also means the animal was generally fed organic feed, and organic feed would be feed that was raised without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, and instead natural pesticides and herbicides would be used (which are still chemicals, by the way). By ordering a milk from a cow fed organic corn and soy you may be doing something for the environment, but you’re not doing much for your health. Buying organic products is largely an environmental choice, not a health one. That is fine of course, just know what you’re buying.

When buying animal products the better label is “Grass fed” or “pastured” (which is not the same thing as pasteurized remember). A cow or pig or chicken fed corn and soy is going to have an unhealthy fatty acid profile regardless if that corn and soy are organic or not. When they’re grass fed and given a more natural diet however the fatty acid profile of the animal products changes, and they also pickup more vitamins and minerals as well. When a cow is fed corn and soy, they produce milk with more Omega-6s, when they are fed grass, they produce more Omega-3s, plus a bunch of other benefits.

This applies to fish too. Why do we think of fish as healthy, and a good source of Omega-3s? Because fish swim in the ocean eating kelp. In actuality, farm raised fish does NOT have as good of a fat profile typically, because farm raised fish is often fed corn and soy. Four legged animals function the same way, give them a good diet, and they’ll give you healthier meat and milk. Lard from pastured pigs (when they eat grass, weeds, bugs, whatever a natural pig will eat) actually has an Omega-3 content approaching that of salmon. Pigs fed primarily acorns can best it even. Pigs from islands where they eat a lot of coconut (super low in Omega-6) also end up with a really healthy fat profile. This is also why game animals (deer, elk, etc) have a reputation for healthy, they’re not out there eating corn and soy from a trough.

In short, to be healthy, it isn’t about what meat you eat. It is about what your meat eats.

The Butter Quandary

Knowing all of the above, I wanted a better butter. I have been able to find grass fed beef at our local farmer’s market, bison and pork over the Internet, and I finally found a local farmer with pastured pork I bought a half pig from. I could find some varieties of grass fed cheeses at the grocery store, but no milk, no butter, no eggs. Eggs may have to wait until I have room to raise my own, but after some research I did find some butter.
Better Butter Options
Kerrygold is butter from Ireland where all cows are pastured. I found it at Sams’s Club in stick form but I wanted to find a sub for spreadable butter still. I finally found a Kerrygold “spreadable” butter in a tub from Kroger. My wife also found some Organic Valley organic whipped butter at a health food store, and I also picked up a new “I can’t believe its not butter” product because I thought it might be a viable alternative. Some Organic Valley products are pastured or grass fed, but this particular tub of butter does not say anything about it on the label (also, based on color, I don’t think it is).

I decided to do a taste and usage test. Here is how they stack up nutition and ingredient wise:

Kerrygold Naturally Softer Irish Butter: 100 calories tbsp, 35% saturated fat (not that I care). Ingredients: Pasteurized Cream, Salt.
Organic Valley Whipped Butter: 50 calories tbsp, 18% saturated fat. Ingredients: Organic pasteurized sweet cream, salt.
I Can’t Believe It’s not Butter Deliciously Simple: 100 calories tbsp, 10% saturated fat, 3g Omega 6, 6g Omega 3. Ingredients: Canola oil, water, palm oil, nonfat yogurt, palm kernel oil, salt, natural flavor, lactic acid, vitamin A, beta carotene (for color).

Kerrygold states that they get their butter softer by making it from early Spring milk which is softer for some reason to do with the type of grass the cows eat that time of year. Organic valley gets theirs softer by whipping it, incorporating air, so you’re essentially buying 50% air which is why you’ve got 50% less calories, half of that tablespoon is air. ICBINB is getting it done just by using softer oils.

In the spread/melt test, right out of the fridge on hot toast, the ICBINB spread and melted super easy. The Kerrygold performed the worst, it may be softer than stick butter, but it isn’t soft, the organic valley was better than the Kerrygold, but still not very easy to spread.
Butter Spread Test
On taste, Kerrygold won easily. It tasted like nice rich butter. The ICBINB tasted like canola oil mostly, which as the first ingredient makes sense, and compared to Kerrygold the Organic Valley just tasted bland.

Also, look at the color. Kerrygold is yellow, Organic Valley is almost white. Why? What the cows eat. That is beta carotene and other good stuff the cows accumulate from the grass they eat, color is a good way to know you’re getting grass fed animal products, the fats (yolks, dairy) should also be more yellow.

If you absolutely need something to spread very easily right out of the fridge I like the ICBINB. I like that I can pronounce every ingredient it has, I like it has double the Omega-3s to Omega-6s. However, real butter is fairly shelf stable and will not go bad if you let it warm up some, so for everything else I have to recommend the Kerrygold. You can fix the spread problem by letting it warm up, and the flavor and health profile is just so much better because it is grass fed (all Kerrygold products are by the way, including their cheeses).

If you’re wondering what about ordinary cooking. I’d never use corn, soy, or “vegetable” oil. I even do not like canola oil. Canola oil doesn’t have the ratio of corn or soy oil, but it isn’t close to ideal still, and I think it can often give foods a bad fishy taste. Olive oil, coconut oil, pastured lard or beef tallow, these are what you want to cook with. And of course, rather than worry about your fat intake, worry about your refined carbs.

BBQ Pork and Apple Pie

I am an experimental cook, I follow recipes, but I also use my own knowledge and intuition to tweak things. The problem with this is sometimes I don’t remember how I made something, and then I cannot recreate it. I need to take notes I guess. So a year or two ago I made a really nice braised pork loin dish with an apple gravy, and I forgot what all I did with it and have been trying to recapture the flavors. This this dish, I think I might have succeeded.

I bought the new Feast of Ice and Fire cookbook from the A Song of Ice and Fire book series (Game of Thrones on HBO). In addition to all the very nice photography from the blog, which I had seen before, the cookbook is neat because it includes both a traditional (medieval) recipe, and a modern version.

One of the recipes is a pork and apple pie, this piqued my interest both because of my desire to reclaim my lost pork and apple success, and the fact that I’ve also been interested in savory pies lately. The recipe essentially called for mixing onions, pulled pork, ritz crackers, cheddar cheese, various seasonings, and apples in a covered pie. I took inspiration from this, but didn’t follow the recipe. I used my own seasonings, and cut both the ritz crackers and the cheese as unnecessary calories, I wanted to focus on the pork and apples.

BBQ Pulled Pork and Apple Pie

  • 1 pork loin
  • BBQ rub, white wine, and vinegar for marinade
  • 1 big sweet onion
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Butter or other fat (duck, chicken, turkey, lard)
  • 2 granny smith apples
  • some kale, beet greens, spinach, or other leafy green you have lying around
  • pastry dough

So I made pulled pork, and how I do this is I take a pork loin, rub it with a BBQ rub (usually bought at the store), marinate it in a zip top bag in white wine and vinegar and salt for a day, then put it in the crock pot (marinade with it) to braise for 8 hours until it is falling apart. This can be, and was in my case, done ahead of time.

When I wanted to make the pie first I made the filling. I took a very large sweet yellow onion and sauted it until carmelized, then I added the torn up pork I had made previously, maybe a quarter cup of homemade pear butter, enough of a sweet store bought BBQ sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s in my case) to get the consistency I wanted, which was pretty wet, like a good pulled pork sandwich. I also added some finely chopped kale from my garden which I add to almost all dishes in the summer month as a nutrition boost. Don’t be afraid of leafy greens, kale, spinach, or beet greens can be added to almost anything.

Then I made my pie crust, which was a relatively standard pastry pie crust, a few minor tweaks.

Pie Crust Dough

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter (or other fat, I used duck fat since I had some saved)
  • 3 cups flour – I used 2 of all purpose, 1 of whole wheat, to make it healthier
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Tablespoon of smoked paprika (I thought it’d go well with the dish)
  • 2 teapsoons of salt, bland crust is not fun, you can use less (no) salt if you use salted butter

What you normally do to make your crust flaky is you take cold butter, dice it, and cut it in the flour (with paprika and salt) so the flour forms crumbles. You definitely want to add cold fat to your flour, whatever kind of fat you use, you can do this in a food processor (gently). Basically you want it to have a crumbly texture, then you can add the water and the eggs and other stuff and make it a dough, don’t overwork it, just let it come together.

Once you have your dough, roll it out pretty thin, about a quarter inch, drape it over your pie pan, cut off the excess, reroll said excess.

Now you can ladle your pork mixture into the pie.

Then take two granny smith (or other) apples, peel, core, and slice then. I sliced very thin using my v-slicer (another tool every kitchen should have).

Put a layer of apple slices on the pork, sprinkle with brown sugar, put another layer, sprinkle with brown sugar, rinse repeat until you’re out of apples.

Now take your remnant pie crust that you rerolled out, drape it over the pie pan, remove the excess and crimp the edges of the top and bottom crust pieces with your fingers or a fork, and cut 4 vent holes in the top. Your pie is assembled.

Bake it for between 45 minutes and 1 hour at 375 degrees.

Your pie will be delicious.

How to Make Stock from Leftovers for Free

I don’t know why more people don’t do this. It is fun, it is tasty, and it is cheap.

Every time you eat a chicken, or especially a turkey, save all the scraps. The bones, the skin, the connective tissue. It isn’t pretty, meat can still be attached. Toss it in the fridge overnight in big plastic bags.

The next day get your biggest tallest pot (tall is better than wide, less surface area at the top for evaporation) and fill it with the carcass bits, then fill with water or store bought broth, how much to fill depends on how much stock you want, or how strong you want it to be. Toss in some salt (you can add more later) and any aromatic veggies (carrots, garlic, onion, celery) or herbs (thyme, bay, rosemary, parsley) you want, you can also wait and just add the veggies to your finished soup later. With herbs you can add them now though, I like to go out and just pick a few big sprigs in the garden and toss them in, they don’t need to be chopped. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, simmering or lightly boiling, for 4-8 hours (do this in the morning while making breakfast).

Strain all the the solids with a colander, saving the liquid of course, and then use a fat seperator or skim off as much fat as possible, and you have liquid gold.

If you put this stuff in the fridge, chances are it’ll end up looking like jello because of all the delicious collagen (techically protein, but the finger licking good quality of it will make you think it is fat) that you pulled out of the chicken carcass. This stuff makes the best soup, or you can add a little bit to mashed potatoes, or use in any recipe that would call for chicken stock or broth.

To make the soup transfer your liquid gold to a new pot or crock pot, add in left over or new chicken meat (chopped small) your vegetables, potatoes, etc. And cook, add noodles or dumplings later for appropriate cooking times, or serve with fresh baked bread. Best soup ever, and pretty healthy, darn near fat free if you separated the fat out. Store bought stock or broth has salt in it, but your homemade stuff will not unless you add it, so you need to season it to taste. Put a little salt in, try a spoonful, ask yourself, does it need more? If so, add a little more, try again. That is what “season to taste” means. Knowing when it has enough is a skill chefs develop over time. Remember, you can always add more salt, you can’t take it back out, so go slowly until you get better at estimating.

The day after is even better, it gels up in the fridge and the soup gets ultra thick.

And to think, you were just going to throw that chicken or turkey carcass away.

How to cook brussels sprouts, you roast them

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I love brussels sprouts, I cook them at least 3 times a week, but it was not always the case.

I grew up thinking brussels sprouts were gross, because they have that reputation, that no one likes them, right? My mom didn’t cook them growing up, and I had never tried them until I was maybe 23. I saw them at the store once in the frozen food section, one of those “veggie and sauce” microwave deals, wanting some variety, I bought them, and tried them, they were alright, nothing to write home about.

A few years later I got more into cooking and roasting vegetables. Roasting, the application of high dry heat, carmelizes the sugars in most vegetables vastly improving them. I decided to try roasting some sprouts, and I made a discovery. Brussel sprouts were actually very very very good.


Not only are sprouts good, they’re very good for you. They’re a cruciferous vegetable along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage. This family of vegetables are all extremely healthy for you. In addition to the normal vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, you find in most vegetables, there are two very special things that these do for you.

Apparently, there is a compound within these plants that helps activate the process that flushes toxins from the cells of your body. Cancer is helped by carcinogens that encourage cell mutations, you should avoid such toxins, but in addition to avoiding them you should also ensure that any that make it into your body get expelled as soon as possible. One reason why a high fiber diet helps prevent colon cancer is that, quite frankly, it keeps things moving out quickly. This is the same concept, but on the cellular level. So eating these vegetables help purge your body of toxins. This is real science folks. I know using the phrase “purge your body of toxins” is reminiscent of various snake oil concoctions throughout history, but in this case, it is real hard science, tested and proven in the laboratory. For more on that science see here.

But wait, there’s more. There is a compound in cruciferous vegetables that literally encourages cancer cells to commit suicide (apoptosis), making them invaluable for people suffering from that disease. But additionally there is a theory that we actually have cells in our body forming tumors all the time, many many small tumors, that our body naturally kills off, and we develop malignant cancer when our body fails to do this house cleaning. So if that is true, then cruciferous vegetables also help terminate these micro-tumors, preventing malignancy in the first place.

So why not make broccoli?

Because brussel sprouts taste better? (they do, seriously) However, honestly, I hate cooking broccoli. It is just so fragile. If you undercook it, it is tough, if you overcook it it is bitter, and there is a very short window between the two. Cauliflower is more forgiving, and can be roasted well and used in things like mac ‘n cheese, but it is also the least nutritious of the lot. Both broccoli and cauliflower too I think are best fresh (frozen is not nearly as flavorful in my opinion) which is of course a little more expensive and a little less practical to keep in the house. Then there is cabbage, which I like, and I add it to meatloaf, casseroles, and of course make things like coleslaw a lot in the summer, but it isn’t quite the hot vegetable side you usually want.

Brussel sprouts work great frozen, have a huge time window for cooking, and are very nutritious (possibly the most nutritious of the bunch). I’ve actually tried this recipe with fresh sprouts a number of times, and it is never as good as with frozen (I don’t know why, it just isn’t). And, despite rumors to the contrary, it is very hard to overcook a brussel sprout (in the oven anyways). To top it all off, it is easy, it takes me less than a minute of labor to prepare this dish.

So, without further ado, your directions:

How to Roast Brussel Sprouts

  1. Cut open a bag of frozen sprouts and empty it into a 9×9 glass baking dish so sprouts form a single layer (use a bigger dish if your bag was bigger than from my store).
  2. Sprinkle olive oil over, I use my little oil bottle (you know the kind made for oils that pours it slowly) and make a zig zag from one side to the other and back. Probably 2-3 tablespoons total.
  3. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of kosher salt, I just grab a fat pinch, I don’t measure.
  4. Grind a few grinds of fresh black pepper over it.
  5. Shake the pan to promote even coverage, then toss it into a cold oven and set the over to 425 and your timer to 30 minutes.
  6. After 30 minutes, remove, and stir it. Put it in for at least another 30 minutes, but as I said it is very forgiving, and can go as long as another hour at the high end.

You can serve it as is, and I love them, but you can also dress them up with some butter or freshly grated parmigiana cheese.

They are sweet, crispy and brown on the outside, soft and savory on the inside, and a little salty.

Now I’ve seen many so called food experts warn against overcooking brussel sprouts (they must be thinking of boiling I’m sure) because they get mushy and whatnot, as if anything mushy is bad. We all like mashed potatoes don’t we? After an hour in the over the sprouts definitely no longer have the crispness of a fresh vegetable, but to those who would turn their nose up at my sprouts, I would ask them to try them first, perhaps they will echo my brother who, upon first trying them said, “The brussel sprouts are amazing.”

So I eat these at least three times a week, and I recommend you do too. They’re easy, they’re cheap, you can buy a lot and store them in your basement freezer, they taste amazing, and they’re incredibly healthy for you. In the future one day should you meet a Vulcan and should they tell you to “Live long and prosper.” You can answer that you will, because you eat brussel sprouts.