By: Ben Harman

If, like me, you pull most of your groceries from the perimeter of the grocery store (typically: fresh produce, bakery, raw meat, dairy, and freezer sections) then you’ve probably wondered about these three products. On the surface, they may seem to solve a problem for you, but when you think about it they’re not too difficult to do on your own at a lower cost.

For the examples, I’ve shown the labels and ingredients for the Land O’Lakes version of each product. This is merely because Land O’Lakes is an iconic industry leader, not because there’s any reason to avoid products from this particular agricultural co-op. 

 The first product on the list is a very simple upgrade to regular butter. The ingredients are as simple as cream and salt, and it costs less than a similar tub of plain butter or “spread”. But, if you compare the cost per ounce, you’ll find it’s more expensive than plain butter. The explanation for this is quite intuitive when you think about what’s different about “whipped” butter. That’s right, half the volume of whipped butter is plain, old air – which also explains the “45% less fat” claim, since air has no fat at all!

Luckily, there’s a simple solution you can do in the kitchen in just a few minutes. Just buy the pure Land O’Lakes tub or stick butter, let it soften to room temperature in a bowl, add a few tablespoons of cream or milk, then beat it (slowly for a minute or two, then quickly for a minute or two). It’s just that easy, and you can include any additional flavors you’d like to have in your whipped butter spread (eg. Honey, cinnamon, herb, etc.). 

 Spreadable/Squeezable Butter

Sometimes we want to be able to pull that butter right out of the fridge and

spread it on a cold piece of bread, instead of a hot piece of toast. Since the hardness of fat at different temperatures is generally related to the hydrogen saturation of the fat (see how spreadable canola oil is right out of the fridge), the solution that the dairy companies have found is simply to cut the (more saturated) milk fat with (more unsaturated) vegetable fat and cream.

My mother used to do this all the time by blending her butter 50/50 with olive oil to create slippery, spreadable “better butter” to go with her fresh-baked breads. You can do the same thing easily in a blender by combining softened butter with your favorite oils. As an added bonus, you can also include many of your favorite flavorings (eg. Honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, herbs, etc.). 

 Fat-Free Half & Half

Have you ever wondered how to get someone to pay cream prices for something that’s mostly just skim? This is one of a few products the FDA could probably call mislabeled – if “Half & Half” is defined as “half milk, half cream.” But, maybe it’s similar enough to actual half and half that it can stay as a substitute. I assume the only use of this product is to weaken overbold cups of coffee anyway?

However, skim milk is cheaper, so why not just use that? This skim milk has

been thickened with corn syrup and seaweed. That’s not a hard mixture to

whip up at home either, if thick skim milk is all you need. Some other ideas would be evaporating the skim milk or using other fat-free thickeners like corn starch.