New, Healthier 'butter' Spread is Almost Entirely WaterUsing a special emulsion process, water is added to oil. When the water-to-oil ratio is 4 to 1, the oil spheres begin to deform and pack tightly against one another, resulting in a product that behaves like butter.Credit: Jason Koski, Cornell University

ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell University food scientists have created a new low-calorie 'butter' spread that consists mostly of water. A tablespoon of this low-calorie spread has 2.8 grams of fat and 25.2 calories. Butter, on the other hand, which is 84 percent fat and about 16 percent water, has about 11 grams of fat and nearly 100 calories.

They figured out a new process to emulsify a large amount of water with miniscule drops of vegetable oil and milk fat to mimic butter, at approximately one-fourth the calories of real butter and without artificial stabilizers.

"Imagine 80 percent water in 20 percent oil and we create something with the consistency of butter, with the mouth feel of butter and creaminess of butter," said food science professor and senior author Alireza Abbaspourrad.

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Emulsifying water and oil is nothing new, said Abbaspourrad, but by using high-internal phase emulsions (HIPE), "we keep adding water to that oil until the final composition is 80 percent water and 20 percent oil."

The demand for low-fat, high-protein products has rapidly increased due to consumers' growing health awareness, said lead author Michelle C. Lee, a doctoral candidate in Abbaspourrad's research group.

"Since the HIPE technology features high water-to-oil ratios—while simultaneously delivering unique texture and functionality—it can play a role in providing healthier solutions for consumers," Lee said.

Abbaspourrad said food chemists can adjust for taste, preferences, and health.

"We can add milk protein or plant-based protein, and since the water acts like a carrier, we can adjust for nutrition and load it with vitamins or add flavors," he said. "Essentially, we can create something that makes it feel like butter—and instead of seeing a lot of saturated fat, this has minute amounts. It's a completely different formulation."