A chef’s choice: the key differences between alternative ingredients

No two chefs are ever the same. Some carefully dole out ingredients, while others abandon all recipes and instead cook through pure intuition. Perhaps nowhere is this dynamic more apparent then in the various choices of ingredients. Some chefs only use mayonnaise, while others swear by Miracle Whip. Similarly, there’s even a split vote between powdered and evaporated milk. And lest we forget the never-ending debate between margarine and butter. In the name of allowing chefs to make informed decisions, here is a breakdown of the crucial differences between these ingredients

Butter vs. margarine
Though they may seem similar enough, there are key nutritional differences between butter and margarine, according to the Mayo Clinic. At their most basic level, specifically fat and oil content, the two are essentially the same ingredients. However, it’s in regard to more specific fats that the differences become clear.

Because margarine is made from fat and vegetable oil, it has much higher levels of both mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Each of these fats has their own health benefits, according to a 2004 study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine. Monounsaturated fats help with insulin resistance, while polyunsaturated fats have proven to fight cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, butter is known to mostly contain saturated fatty acids, usually from various animal products. For years, various health organizations around the globe linked saturated fats with cardiovascular disease. However, a 2014 study (via the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph) found that the link remains unclear, and more research into the connection must be conducted beforehand.

Mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip
The difference between mayo and Miracle Whip isn’t quite as clear. For anything to be considered mayonnaise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires it contain at least 65 percent vegetable oil, and since the exact ingredients of Miracle Whip remain a mystery, it has to be called something else entirely. Still, the two do share the same core ingredients of vinegar, water, eggs and soybean oil. Miracle Whip features a few additional components that give it that much tangier taste, namely sugar and sorted spices. Because Miracle Whip also contains some high fructose corn syrup, it’s often perceived as the less healthy option. However, as the Mayo Clinic points out, there’s a lack of evidence of just how harmful the syrup might be, and sugars in general should be consumed carefully.

Powdered vs. evaporated milk
Just like mayo and Miracle Whip, the difference between these two varieties of milk may not be substantial but is definitely worth noting:

  • Powdered milk – Made by heating regular milk under extreme temperatures until the majority of the liquid has been evaporated. If stored at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the remaining powder can last up to two years. This milk is usually fat free, as any fat content is difficult to reconstitute after heating.
  • Evaporated milk – Also called condensed milk, this is created by evaporating away 50 to 60 percent of the total water. It’s much thicker and heavier than normal milk, with a slightly sweeter taste (thanks to the lactose and protein browning during the heating process.) The usual shelf life is three to four months.

Perhaps knowing these many subtle differences will prove crucial for all future online culinary school students.

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