Realistic low-calorie and low-fat 'butter' alternative is 80% water

Researchers with Cornell University have developed a low-fat, low-calorie alternative to butter, one that is made primarily from water. Though butter alternatives already exist, they often either feature similar calorie counts or unappealing textures, leaving users without a suitable diet-safe option. That may change in the future thanks to this new butter-like spread.

The 'butter' is detailed in a new study that was published by the American Chemical Society this summer. Though the spread isn't actually butter, Cornell researchers describe the emulsion as having 'the mouth feel of butter and creaminess of butter,' only without the high levels of fat and animal products.

Whereas real butter is made using the cream from milk, this new low-fat spread is made using 80-percent water and 20-percent fat originating from vegetable oil and milk fat. The secret to this particular product is high-internal phase emulsions (HIPE), which allows for the high level of water and lack of artificial stabilizers.

With this process, the researchers explain, water and oil emulsify into spheres that slowly deform and begin to firm up, forming a product with a butter-like consistency. When comparing a tablespoon of this spread with a tablespoon of butter, the spread had only around a quarter of the calories at 2.52 compared to the nearly 100 found in butter.

As well, a tablespoon of the spread had 2.8 grams of fat versus the 11 grams found in butter. The development comes amid growing consumer demand for food products that have lower calories, fat, and animal products, but that don't require a major sacrifice in quality. We've seen this demand give rise to products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, as well as the budding lab-grown meat industry.