Margarine is a butter substitute with a long and noble history. Did you know that margarine was first invented to answer Napoleon’s call for a cheap butter substitute to feed his armies with?
Whether you’re marching into battle, baking the perfect soft sponge or trying to lower your cholesterol, there are many reasons why you may choose margarine over butter. Whereas butter is made from animal fats, margarine is produced from plant fats and water until you get that perfect spreadable texture.
There are many competing margarine recipes – Napoleon’s army ate a mixture of beef tallow combined with milk. Nowadays margarine is often vegan, but sometimes milk, lactose and whey are added.
If you’ve been clearing out your fridge and found some margarine at the back, you may be wondering how long margarine lasts. The answer to that question will depend on the recipe used, but there are some basic principles we can work with. Another variable is how your margarine was stored. If you want to know how to store your margarine to maximize its lifespan, and how long margarine can last at the best of times, read on!
How Long Does Margarine Last? Can It Go Bad?
Like everything else in your fridge, margarine can go bad. If you’ve had it around for a long while, you’ll need to treat your margarine with caution. Whether you buy your margarine in sticks or plastic tubs, it will come with a best-by date, and you can use this as a guide.
Most products have a best-by date that is super conservative, and there’s no need to chuck your margarine if it’s coming up to that date.
If your margarine is sealed, it’s going to last longer than if you’ve opened it. Maybe you got carried away by a discount in the grocery store, and now months later you’re only just getting round to using it.
Sealed margarine lasts longer because it’s protected from the oxidizing process that begins when the product is exposed to the air. Unopened margarine should last for a couple of months past its best-by date, with no deterioration of the product.
Your margarine might even be good for six months beyond the best-by date. Since most margarines have a best-by date of three to six month from the date of production, that means margarine can stay good for up to a year.
Once you unseal your margarine, you dramatically reduce its lifespan. Products with a high fat content tend to go rancid eventually as contact with the air begins to oxidize that fat.
This is a slow process, however, especially if your margarine is stored correctly. You can expect your margarine to stay good for a month or two once it’s opened, so there’s no rush to use it.
Out Of The Fridge
Often, we’re looking for a perfect spreadable texture in our margarine. Whether it’s going on crackers or toast, margarine needs to be soft enough to spread. And some recipes call for softened margarine – perfect pastry requires the ingredients to be combined at room temperature. Some recipes ensure that margarine is spreadable right out of the fridge, but other margarines might be hardened in those low temperatures.
This means that it can be tempting to keep your margarine out of the fridge if it’s of a fairly tough consistency to start with. I associate the butter dish as a relic of my grandparents era but it’s still a practical tool if you’re spreading marge far and wide.
You can keep small chunks of margarine out of the refrigerator for two or three days, but it will spoil quickly in a room temperature environment. Keep it in a covered dish and only take out as much as you need for a day or two.
Remember, these dates are rough estimates, and because the recipe for different margarines vary greatly they may be unreliable. How long your margarine lasts will depend partly on how you have stored it. But the individual ingredients in your margarine will also affect how long it lasts. Fat ratios, added salt and other preservatives will all change how long your margarine stays good for. When it comes down to the wire, you need to be able to judge for yourself if your margarine has gone off.
How To Tell If Margarine Has Gone Bad
Because there are so many recipes for it, the margarine in your fridge could go bad at a different rate from what’s expected. If you’re keeping margarine around for months on end it’s important that you can tell if your margarine has gone bad.
Keep an eye on your margarine for any visual changes taking place under the lid. A change of colour is usually an obvious indicator that your margarine has started to go bad.
As air comes into contact with the fatty product, oxidation takes place. One of the key signs of oxidation is that the colour of your margarine will darken. Margarine, as a butter substitute, will be imitating that light buttery color – if this is degrading into a darker amber or brown, your margarine has begun to spoil.
It’s common for the surface of the margarine to darken without the whole container becoming spoiled. If the dark layer is thin then it’s perfectly safe to scrape this into the trash and use the unoxidized margarine beneath it. But if the darkened margarine is on the thicker side, it’s best to toss the whole tub.
Smell and Taste
If your margarine looks okay you can use the tests of taste and smell to check if it’s still good to eat. Margarine will usually have a very mild smell, and if there’s a strong scent coming from it then it’s definitely going to be in questionable condition. An acrid, bitter smell is a sure sign that your margarine is going rancid.
The last test for your margarine is to give it a small taste – even if your margarine has gone off, you won’t do yourself any damage with a small amount. If the usual mild , butter flavour has been replaced by something acrid or unpleasant, it’s time for your margarine to be tossed.
Fatty products tend to go rancid rather than moldy, but it’s always possible for your margarine to become contaminated by something else in the fridge and begin to sprout. If there’s any visible mold on your marge – you’re looking for grey, furry invaders – then don’t risk it.
Finally, the date of your margarine is an indicator of if it’s still good. If your margarine has been opened for more than a couple of months then it’s likely to be going bad, no matter what the signs tell you. At this stage your margarine won’t kill you, but the quality of the product will be compromised. For the best flavours, it’s time for a new tub.
How To Store Margarine
In order to maximize your margarine’s lifespan, you need to store it well. For all margarines, opened or unopened, you should find space in the fridge for it. This will dramatically slow down the processes which turn margarine bad, and keep it good for longer.
Once you open your margarine the process of oxidation begins. Keeping your margarine at its best means restricting how much air is flowing around the marge.
To this end, your margarine should be kept in a sealed container in the fridge. If you’re using margarine in sticks, then rewrapping a used stick in plastic wrap or aluminum foil will protect it from the elements. If your margarine comes in a plastic tub, it’s usually enough to ensure the lid is replaced tightly on top.
The Butter Dish
As we discussed, you’ll find that some margarines are tough to spread straight out of the refrigerator. If you need your margarine softened up, keeping it at room temperature is a great idea, but you’ll need to do this in small doses as it will spoil much faster in this environment.
Keep your margarine in a butter dish or other sealed container that protects it from the air. A tupperware works well for this, but a bespoke butter dish can add a vintage flair to your breakfast table!
Can You Freeze Margarine?
If your fridge is overflowing with more margarine than you can shake a stick at, you may be thinking about freezing it. The good news is that margarine freezes well. Some fatty products don’t reconstitute themselves when you thaw them, but margarine stays well combined when it’s frozen and defrosted.
When freezing margarine, be sure to wrap it tightly. Fatty products are prone to absorbing the flavours of things stored around them in the freezer and margarine is no exception. Wrapped in plastic, aluminum or tucked into a freezer bag, your margarine will be good in the freezer for a year or more. When it comes time to defrost it, place it in the refrigerator for a day before use.
Margarine is a great option for anyone staying away from animal products, or trying to boost your heart health by reducing your cholesterol. Now you know how long margarine lasts and how to store it, you can start stocking up!