Imperial is a popular brand of spread with a butter-like taste. Technically speaking, It cannot be considered as margarine (more on that later). Although most people know that margarine and butter-tasting spreads are derived from plant oils, only a few people are aware that they can also contain dairy derivatives.
Is it vegan? No, Imperial margarine is not at all vegan. It contains vegetable oils in place of milk fat. Also, it has‘whey’ as one of its ingredients. The protein called Whey is found only in milk and hence is always a dairy-based product and thus considered a non-vegan.
Now we will look at the different reasons for the unsuitability of Imperial margarine for 100% plant-based eaters.
Why Imperial Margarine Is Non-Vegan
Its ingredients include:
· Vegetable Oil (Palm, Soybean, and Palm Kernel Oils)
· Salt, water
· Whey (Milk)
· Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin)
· Potassium Sorbate and Calcium Disodium EDTA (to Protect its Quality)
· Citric Acid
· Artificial Flavors
· Vitamin A Palmitate (Fortification) and Beta Carotene (for Color)
Why do manufacturers of plant-based butter substitutes need to use milk products as one of the ingredients?
The most important reason for using milk products is that they have many useful properties, which make it an ideal ingredient for making processed food products.
For example, the bread products use milk sugar, lactose to make their baked products look brown. Manufacturers of confectionery and frozen desserts also use them for the same reason.
On that logic, lactose is found in some margarine products.
Casein and Whey are the major proteins found in milk that contribute to 80% and 20% of the proteins in milk, respectively.
Both these proteins are usually added to processed foods to improve their nutritional value. Whey, as well as Casein, are stabilizing and emulsifying ingredients. Whey protein helps in getting the texture and for gelling purposes.
Milk is used extensively in the food processing industry to improve protein contents, mixing ability, moisture levels, foaming, flavor, and texture, etc.
Please note. Not all the margarine and butter-tasting spreads contain dairy products. Instead, the margarine is primarily a vegan-friendly product. i.e., Most of the brands in the market don’t contain dairy ingredients in any form.
But this fact is not yet proved
However, you will still find some usage of dairy ingredients in butter-like spreads from time to time, and Imperial is not an exception.
Whey is the sole dairy ingredient in this product—no lactose, milk fat, or Casein.
There could be several reasons to use Whey protein. Some of the most essential uses of Whey include:
· Used as a food thickener/gelling agent
· Food stabilizer/ emulsifier
· A fat or dairy replacement
· In making edible films or coatings
Whey is most probably used in margarine products to stabilize the water-in-oil (W/O) emulsion properties.
Several foods are considered as emulsions, ranging from milk to condiments, dressings, ice cream, and sausages also.
Oil/water emulsions reduce the shelf-life since they are inherently unstable.
Margarine is preferred to butter due to its longer shelf-life. It doesn’t become rancid in a short period. The emulsifying properties of Whey ensure the longevity of margarine. It prevents the separation of fat and water instead of preventing rancidity.
Other Potentially Problematic Ingredients
These types of ingredients don’t make a food product non-vegan as per most food standards. However, prudent vegans start avoiding the consumption of certain additives. They can be termed as vegan if they are made from a specific ingredient or non-vegan if they are sourced from animal-based parts.
Let us take the example of glycerides. In addition to Whey, Imperial margarine also contains emulsifiers (valid for all emulsions) like Lecithin and mono-/diglycerides.
Lecithin must be termed as non-vegan since it is sourced from egg yolks, but this specific product mentions that soy lecithin is used. So, there are no issues here.
It still contains glycerine-based ingredients like mono and diglycerides. This additive is mentioned as a non-vegan in PETA’s list and hence may contain non-vegan ingredients.
The manufacturers react glycerol with triglycerides to produce them. Both of these ingredients are available in the plant as well as animal fats.
Another grey area is the palmitic acid found in the vitamin A palmitate of this product.
Generally, manufacturers Palmitic acid from palm oil, which can also be sourced from animal fats.
Moreover, palm oil also has the maximum adverse effects on our environment.
Palm or palm kernel are among the several plant oils used in the Imperial spread. It is interesting to see that the Imperial range contains lesser oil as compared to other spreads. Hence, even though it is referred to as margarine, but technically speaking, it is not margarine at all.
Imperial margarine contains only 53% oil, whereas FDA stipulates that a food product must have 80% plant oils to be defined as margarine.
If you are worried about the environmental effects of your choice of food products, then you may consider using a spread based on Soybean and Canola only.
That’s all for a factual vegan status of Imperial margarine. Thanks for your interest.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
1. Imperial 53% Vegetable Oil Spread, 16 oz, two ct. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Imperial-53-Vegetable-Oil-Spread-16-oz-2-ct/37402299
2. Is Margarine Vegan? Jolinda Hackett – https://www.thespruceeats.com/is-margarine-vegan-3376907
3. Animal-derived Ingredients Resource: Living. https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
4. Palmitic Acid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmitic_acid#Occurrence_and_production
5. CFR – Code Of Federal Regulations Title 21. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?FR=166.110
6. Imperial margarine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_margarine