CopyKat Answers – What is Oleo Margarine?

a tub of oleo margarine

I actually get asked this question very frequently, what is Oleo? A lot of older recipes call for Oleo.

We all love recipes that we grew up with, but sometimes they have unfamiliar ingredients. You may love digging through old recipes too, but you have to wonder what some of these ingredients are.

Oleo is actually an old brand of margarine. Of course, if you are a regular crossword solver, you are probably familiar with the word.

It’s eminently suitable as an answer to the clue “margarine” in four letters because it contains three vowels.

About Oleomargarine

Oleomargarine is how this margarine product would originally have been named. Margarine was originally made with beef fat and was intended to be a cheaper and less perishable option than butter.

In due course, vegetable oils such as soybean and cottonseed oils came to replace animal fats.

When Oleomargarine first came out, it wasn’t even yellow; it was white. It came with a capsule of yellow coloring if you wanted your oleomargarine to look like butter.

Margarine and the Fight with the Dairy Industry

Margarine wasn’t allowed to color itself to look like butter because the dairy industry didn’t want people to confuse it with butter. They went into a big tizzy and managed to get legislation passed against the coloring of margarine.

In Wisconsin, the Dairy State, and six other states, margarine was actually made illegal. And, three states stipulated that margarine should be dyed a bright pink!

Such laws stayed in effect for many years and you can read an interesting article from the New York Times archive about them.

Who Created Margarine?

Margarine was actually created in 1869 during the time of the Franco-Prussian wars by a French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. His invention was in response to a competition run by the French government under Napoleon III.

They wanted a cheap and stable substitute for butter and were offering a big prize to anyone who could pull it off. Fast forward to World War II – margarine increased in popularity due to butter shortages.

Other Butter Substitutes

While butter is a dairy product, margarine today is typically made from hydrogenated vegetable oils, which have been proven to have adverse effects on health.

Read more about why butter is better for you. So, if you buy margarine, read the ingredients carefully. However, there are other butter substitutes available for those who have allergies to dairy or just wish to eat dairy-free.

What is a substitute for Oleo?

You can substitute butter for Oleo.

Can you substitute butter for Oleo?

Yes, you can.

What is the difference between oleo and butter?

Butter is made from dairy, and oleo is made from vegetable oils.

Continue Reading Those Old Recipes

So next time you read an old recipe, and you see an ingredient called Oleo, you don’t have to wonder what it is anymore. You’ll know that Oleo is just an old word for margarine and you can swap it out for butter.

Of course, your kids will miss out on the fun of adding in the yellow coloring!

Love that buttery taste? Try these recipes!

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of's Dining Out in the Home, and's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Gloria Phelps

    I’m old enough to know about oleo/margarine but my concern is oleo has changed over the years and some are not good for old recipes that called for it. Some are 80% vegetable oil, some are not. Which is closest to what I used 45 years ago? Thank you for your help.

  2. Vickie Rea

    Okay, just to have a laugh! My husband thinks “oleo” is the chant the wicked witch’s guards recited in The Wizard of Oz. Somebody save me!!!!

    Seriously, this was an interesting article. Appreciate it.

  3. HeftyJo

    Got here because I saw this picture on Imgur:

    Mom always makes the best Christmas cookies.

  4. Elizabeth

    Got here by researching this not because of an old recipe but because I remember my grandma always using the word “oleo” (I think even when it was butter but cannot exactly remember), just remember that word being used all the time. Your website was the first I found.

    • Stephanie

      Many of my Grandmother’s recipes have the Oleo as an ingredient in them too 😉 You can use margarine in it’s place, but honestly, I really like to use butter when I can.

      • Donna

        Yes but today’s margarine has more water added to it so you will need a little extra flour to hand the same consistency and reciepes back in the day.

  5. Ivan Willis

    You have to be nuts to eat that crap. Hydrogenated vegetable fat is infinitely worse than real butter in almost every regard except price.

    • Ken

      Today Parkay is made without hydrogenated oil and uses nonfat milk in it as do other margarines. I am old enough to remember the actual brand Oleo and was born in 1961.

  6. ber76

    I see this is a old thread but I’ll post anyways.Our local newspaper does a section called ‘a hundred years ago’ and they made mention of the dairy farmers in our area complaining about Oleo hurting their butter sales,real milk dairy butter was expensive and Oleo was using cheap beef fat and underselling them. It sounds like the first Oleo used beef lard instead of vegetable oils How do you think that would go over today with the ‘health conscious’?

  7. Gregory Wonderwheel

    If Oleo and margarine are just synonyms, then why is “Oleo” spelled with a capital “O” and margarine is not?

  8. VlastaRose

    My grandma’s kolache recipe calls for 4 T butter, 3 T oleo, and 2 T chicken fat. Help! Should I use 9 T butter – or should I use some shortening?

    • mi

      I believe either way would work. The recipe is calling for a total amount of fat, the specific kinds are probably about flavor more than workability. (The chicken fat is definitely a flavor thing, and a fairly soft kind of fat.) Good luck, have fun cooking, experiment a bit with different fats to see if it makes a difference in taste.

      • stephaniemanley

        Thank you for the response. I appreciate your insight. I agree chicken fat makes many things taste so much better.

    • Maylene

      I think all butter would give you a completely different result. Oleo is hydrogenated oil, and has a fair amount of water in it, and has a burn-point that is higher than butter. You will end up with a much more crisp result using all butter. My mother left behind a cherry pudding dessert recipe. Her recipe calls for oleo. I used butter and it gives a completely different texture, one we aren’t used to.

    • stephaniemanley

      Well she must have had something there. I would try 4 T butter, 3 T margarine, and 2 T of rendered chicken fat. I bet they are amazing.

  9. Kathy Patlakis

    A friend,some long time ago, would give me recipes using oleo. I was not sure what it was. I looked it up, but I wanted to double check. So, I put it in again, on a search engine. Then I found your site. I was happy to find you. And, for sure, this is margarine. Since then, I also go to yard sales with my daughter. And, have several old fashioned books, that call for oleo. I was just wondering, though, can a person substitute something else. And, what would be the best choice on what to use! Thank you so much!

      • Kathy Patlakis

        Thank you so very much! I thought so, but did not know which was best to use. Perhaps this is something for everyone to ponder. How about coconut oil. I keep mine in the fridge. It is trans free, but I am intimidated on using it. I really am but, at the same time know that it must be healthier in some ways. I am so very big on extra virgin olive oil. My Mediterranean heritage, I suppose. I love your website. My friend that gave me these recipes was just the best! She came into my life when I needed her the most. One recipe with an old fashioned name brought so much love & warmth! Who would of guessed! I loved this article, thank you, again! I also asked another friend if I could put oregano in biscuits & gravy. She said, no, you can’t! Because then you would have something else! I have thought about it since, and thought it was kind of funny! She should not be scared to experiment, as I sometimes am! Great site!

  10. Yellowowlwings

    Ok I understand that olel is margarine but when the receipe asks for both oleo and margarine of butter how do I adjust for that.Its my gramdmothers egg noodles receips thanks.

  11. Mlnorstrom

    I’m trying to find a WHITE oleo for a buttercream receipe, to keep the frosting nice and white. This receipe calls for White shortening, White olel and butter.

  12. Alireza Sahebalam

    This is Alireza Sahebalam my company has most activity about oil and oleo chemical field therefor I will be so glad to know more about your company and its products and probable

  13. Lynne

    If you’re recipe calls for a “stick” of oleo, and all you have is soft margerine or stick butter, which would be best to use in a candy recipe that is dropped onto wax paper to harden?

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