Butter or butter-flavoured cookies?

February 11, 2007

What is a butter cookie?

Is it:

  1. A cookie made with butter?
  2. A cookie flavoured with butter?

If you picked answer #1, well, that’s how I understand it too. But if you read the ingredient’ list of butter cookies and similar products, you will realise that both answers are equally “correct”.

Those of us who are older might remember Kjeldsen’s Butter cookies. When they first appeared in Singapore – I cannot even remember when I first ate them, must have been in the 60s when I was still a little boy – they were considered the most delicious cookies ever!

I had not seen them for a long time, partly because I had not been looking. But recently, because of the interest in trans fats, I actually went looking for Kjeldsen’s, or any other butter cookies, but could not find any at the supermarket.

So I was quite excited to find a whole lot them at Jucso supermarket in Johor Baru yesterday. Later, I realised they are traditionally eaten and given as presents during Chinese New Year, that’s why they appeared in such abundance.

Anyway, there was a shelf full of butter cookies, Kjeldsen’s as well as Jusco’s own house brand. So I took the opportunity to have a closer look at the ingredients list on the food label…

I looked first at the Jusco butter cookies. I was disappointed but not at all surprised. The ingredients list read: Wheat flour, sugar, margarine, butter… So butter is the fourth most abundant ingredient, after margarine.

This, to me, is a butter-flavoured cookie, not a butter cookie. It is made mainly with margarine, which contains harmful trans fats.

Next, I picked up a tin of Kjeldsen’s. The ingredients list read: Wheat flour, butter, sugar… there was no mention of margarine, vegetable shortening, vegetable oil or any thing else that might point to the presence of trans fats.

Moreover, sugar was listed as the third ingredient, not the second. It’s probably not as sweet as the Jusco house brand.

My little bit of “research” on butter cookies was a follow-up to another “study” I did aout two months earlier. Back then, the closest I could find to a butter cookie was “Julie’s Butter crackers”.

I saw that it was made from vegetable shortening, and so I wrote to the press, saying that the name was misleading as it “did not contain butter” and that it “contained trans fats”.

Unfortunately, I was mistaken on both counts, and the PR officer of Julie’s corrected me on it. She responded that the crackers did contain butter, listed on the ingredients list as “milk fat”. Moreover, she said the company had recently switched to using a new type of shortening with “no trans fat” and the NUtrition Facts Label put the trans fat content as 0 gram.

I went back to re-read the food label. Yes, “milk fat” was listed… but almost at the end of a long list of ingredients. It was not even immediately after vegetable shortening, but another few items down, around item #7 or #8. I don’t eat the stuff so I don’t have a pack with me right now to confirm the exact position – but it’s very far down!

So once again you have a “butter” product that is merely flavoured with butter, not made with butter.

Always check the ingredients list. The name of the product itself will not tell you the whole story.

I actually checked a bit further in the case of Kjeldsen’s. I did a quick Google search and discovered that the cookies are made with the same recipe since 1933. At that time, margarine already existed, but it was not yet commonly used. And Kjeldsen’s stuck to its original recipe. Good of them to have done so.

Kjeldsen’s, by the way, comes from Denmark, which banned trans fats in 2003 (with the ban taking effect on 1 January 2004). Kjeldsen’s therefore did not have to re-formulate its products to comply with the ban.

The thing is, cookies, crackers, biscuits, pastries, eakes and other similar products existed long before trans fats did. Bread had been eaten by humans for thousands of years. How come the people that long ago knew how to make bread without trans fats, but modern food scientists need months, or even years, to figure out how to do it?

There are two issues involved here:

  1. The food scientists need to find a way to make these products last a long time. How long? Well, one nutritionist in the US has a cup cake made with trans fats that she bought in 1981. Today, the cup cake still looks fresh, long after its plastic packaging deteriorated. Do we need foods to last that long?
  2. Food scientists, health authorities are still stuck with the mistaken belief that saturated fats, such as butter, are also harmful.

This second issue is a serious obstacle that needs to be crossed. Once people realise that saturated fats like butter are not harmful, but healthy, then going trans fat free is a simple matter of using butter, lard, coconut oil and other traditional oils. Not need for extensive research to come up with yet another strange new fat, such as interesterified fat which could be even more harmful than trans fats.

Just make butter cookies as butter cookies.


  1. I am still confused as to why vegetable shortening is considered “No trans fat”, but I guess that it does have trans fat, just not above the recommended must print quantities, right?

  2. I am not 100% sure myself about “No trans fat” shortening. Apparently it is done by blending rather than by hydrogenating oils.

    Still, it puzzles me how various liquid oils can turn into a semi-solid simply by blending.

    It could, of course, also be made from FULLY hydrogenated oils or interesterified fat, which is worse than trans fat.

    Anybody in the know can enlighten on this?

    • Awesome work! now A VIDEO contest! I think this song could have a beautiful and inspiring video to appreciate the world and life its!Tfelhis could be huge!!!

  3. Just as confused I came across “unhydrogenated vegetable shortening” on Bonjour bread package.

    Does this mean the shortening is achieved by blending and contains no trans fat?

  4. I think that if we are not sure, better avoid!

  5. Best to take bread, cakes etc made with butter, olive oils and other natural fats and oils – even lard.

    My ex-neighbour, whose family owns one of Singapore’s most well-established mooncake businesses, tells me that the “piglet” cookies sold during mooncake festival, if made from pork lard, are absolutely delicious.

    As for me, I stick to bread from Cedele and other small bakeries. Yes these breads cost more and so I don’t eat them as often, on average one loaf (that lasts me a few days) in 1 or 2 weeks only.

    Took me a long time to fork out $4 to $7 for a Cedele bread, bought my first loaf only few months ago. But now I find that other breads no longer taste good.

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