Why Is Butter Yellow?

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Here’s a brain teaser on toast: Would butter by another colour – say, white – taste as delicious? Not so fast! The answer lies in one of India’s biggest success stories, the making of Amul butter, and a picky Indian palate.

Amul Butter Pack
Amul Butter Pack | Wikimedia Commons

Today, Amul is the world’s largest cooperative but it began as an attempt to break the monopoly of a Parsi businessman, Pestonjee Edulji Dalal. While Dalal exploited Gujarat’s dairy farmers, he earned massive profits from what was then India’s No 1 brand of butter, Polson’s.

The Amul Dairy at Anand in Gujarat
The Amul Dairy at Anand in Gujarat | Wikimedia Commons

So in 1946, Tribhuvandas Patel and Verghese Kurien got started on the Amul cooperative movement. It was such a success that Kurien had to find ways to use the extra milk being produced. Making butter was an obvious solution and, in 1955, the first pack of Amul Butter rolled out of the factory.

Verghese Kurien
Verghese Kurien | Wikimedia Commons

Guess what? It flopped. Indians had been spoilt by Polson’s fermented, salted butter and to them Amul’s unsalted butter made from fresh cream was pale and tasteless. Kurien was stumped, especially since he thought his product was healthier and superior to Polson’s. The young dairy engineer was forced to do something very unpalatable – he had to make his butter look and taste like Polson’s.

So he added a chemical normally produced in fermented cream to his butter, which he then salted. But there was another challenge. Polson’s was using cow’s milk, which naturally produces yellower butter, and Kurien was using buffalo milk. To colour his butter yellow, Kurien added a plant extract as well as a chemical additive.

Finally, Kurien’s new offering – the Amul Butter we know today – was acceptable to the Indian palate. And, in no time, it was being lapped up. It was utterly butterly delicious!

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