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Margarine has been butter's fierce competitor since its creation -- a classic example of how food can influence public policy and opinion. Over the years, researchers and government officials have churned back and forth in favor of one over the other. Margarine has evolved dramatically since its inception, and nutritionists consider it either a hero or a villain for its dietary impact. Here’s the spread on margarine.

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1. A Prize Concoction

During the 1860s, French emperor Napoleon III issued a challenge for a low-cost alternative to butter. Chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès rose to the task by processing beef tallow with milk, salt, water, and margaric acid. He named his mixture “oleomargarine” based on oleum, the Latin word for beef fat, and margarite, the Greek word for pearl. The scientist won a generous monetary award and recognition throughout Europe and received a US patent in 1873 for his product.

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