In the food world, the term “Spreads” generally means “spreadable fats.”
The fats can be vegetable or animal in origin. Though one might immediately think of butter or margarine when one thinks of spreads, there are also meat spreads, such as potted meats or potted shrimp. And there are confectionary ones, which are often chocolate or nut based, such as Nutella or peanut butter. There are also yeast spreads such as Marmite, fruit spreads such as Apple butter, and “sugar-based” spreads such as Maple Butter.
In the UK, spreadable fats labelled as vegetable, sunflower, etc., aren’t necessarily vegetarian or kosher friendly — by law, up to 2% of the total fat can still be animal-based and be labelled “vegetable.” So something that is 40% total fat (vegetable) could have animal fat of 2% in it, meaning in this ratio instance, animal fat of .8%.
In the UK, the following terms are in use to classify spreads:
- Three-quarter Fat: between 60 and 62 percent
- Reduced Fat: fat content between 42 and 62 percent
- Half-fat: 39 to 41%
- Low-fat, or Light: fat content of 41% or less
The terms are, admittedly, somewhat hard to keep straight in your mind.
The European definition of fat spreads is defined under EU Regulation 2991/94. (As of 2007, a review of this begun in 2000 is still ongoing.)
Some spread manufacturers, such as margarine producers, are now (2007) having to compete for their basic ingredients such as rape seed and corn with the biofuel sectors, which wants to divert them into fuel instead.
Literature & Lore
It’s a myth that the European Union in 1998 planned to force Brandy Butter to be renamed to “Brandy Spreadable Fat” (The European, 6-12 April 1998, p13) as per EC regulation 577/97/EC. In fact, specific exemptions were negotiated not only for brandy butter, but for rum butter, sherry butter and buttercream, as well. They did, though, end up ruling that something sold as Brandy Butter had to be a minimum 20% milk fat.
MAFF/DoH Bulletin. Spreadable Fats – New Regulations (Brandy Butter). UK Food Law News. April 1998. Retrieved July 2006 from http://www.foodlaw.rdg.ac.uk/news/uk-98-14.htm.