According to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of 1913, 'bog butter' is "a hydrocarbon of
butterlike consistence found in the peat bogs of Ireland". The following is from a more recent
scientific characterisation, which I take from http://www.wisc.edu/larch/sas/ARK96.htm:
'Bog butters' are lumps of white, waxy material that have been discovered on a number of
occasions during peat cutting in Scotland and Ireland, It is clear that the bog butters were
buried in the peat quite intentionally, possibly for the purposes of preservation or perhaps to
modify the properties of the original material to provide a more desirable commodity for
some household use, e.g. as an illuminant. Previous analytical work has shown that 'bog
butters' are essentially deposits of degraded fats. The original fat has been diagenetically
transformed into an 'adipocere' during burial in the wet, anaerobic conditions of the peat
bogs. Bog butter consists almost entirely of free, saturated fatty acids, in particular palmitic
and stearic acids, with few intact acyl lipids. Assuming that 'bog butters' were originally lumps
of animal fat then the major degradative process that has occurred is ester hydrolysis,
probably due to the action of lipolytic enzymes produced by degradative organisms, or by
slow chemical hydrolysis in the waterlogged burial environment.
It seems the science says that 'bog butter' was tallow, not butter. However, the Irish sources
I've found, including the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, invariably state that it's butter.
Some even go further. Listen to this from the Munster Express newspaper in May 2000: "A
700 year old lump of butter found in a County Mayo bog last week was found to be not only
edible but absolutely delicious! The two-stone [28 lbs] pat of butter, wrapped in tree bark, was
discovered in Charlestown Bog and local historians believe it was hidden away to prevent
landlords from seizing it in lieu of unpaid rents. Several people who tried out the butter on
cream crackers described it as lovely with a particularly nice after-taste."
Have 'bog butter' hoards been found in bogs outside the British Isles?
What were the usual ways of storing tallow on the Continent?
Is there any scientific evidence that 'bog butter' was butter, not tallow?
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