Nazi Coal Butter

The world’s first synthetic food.

March 5, 2024  |  by Alexis Baden-Mayer
Organic Consumers Association

If you’ve seen my timeline of the plot to replace real farms with synthetic Frankenfood, you known that the first synthetic food was coal “butter” invented in 1937 and used by the Nazi’s to feed their U-boat crews.

The illustration on this slide is from a 1935 photo collage by John Heartfield, an anti-fascist German artist. It’s called “Hurrah, There’s No Butter Left!” and satirizes the words of Hermann Goering who said, “Iron has always made an empire strong. Butter and lard have only made the people fat.”

I first heard about the Nazi’s coal “butter” reading the article, “Ultra-Processed Food: how it’s making you sick and unhappy” by Andrea Hill where she wrote:

Ultra-processed food doesn’t start with food and add something to it, it starts with chemicals. I really grasped this when I read the example of ‘butter’ made for the Nazi regime in the 1938. Two scientists at the Kaiswer Willhelm Institute found a way to create fuel from coal. It left a waste product: paraffin. A man called Arthur Imhausen was working on turning that waste paraffin into soap, when he realised that chemically soap is a lot like fat. By adding glycerine the scientists could produce an edible fat instead of soap. The trouble was this fat was white, tasteless and waxy, so nobody in their right minds would have eaten it. A easy problem to fix if you’re a chemist: they added diacetyl to create a buttery taste, salt and beta-carotene for colour and created the first ever totally synthetic food. Now lots of right minded people eat all sorts of ‘butter products’ happy that those industrially manipulated chemicals make it magically spread straight from the fridge. Top tip: do what your grandmother did, buy real butter and keep it in a butter dish in the cupboard.

Nazi coal “butter”?! I suspected there was a connection to I.G. Farben, the conglomerate that Bayer, which merged with Monsanto in 2018, was part of during World War II, and indeed there was.

Coal “butter” inventor Arthur Imhausen was half-Jewish (by his mother), but he was shepherded into Nazi circles by Wilhelm Keppler, founder of a group of German businesses that funded Hitler’s rise to power, including I.G. Farben, known as the Keppler Circle. Keppler was chairman of the board of two I.G. Farben subsidiaries: Braunkohle-Benzin A.G. and Kontinental Oil A.G. When Imhausen opened his coal “butter” factory Deutsche Fettsäure-Werke in Witten in 1936, Keppler arranged for Hermann Göring to attend the ceremony.

To deal with Imhausen’s Jewishness, Keppler and Göring went straight to Adolph Hitler. In a letter dated the 18th In June 1937, Keppler reported to Göring that he had discussed Imhausen with “the Führer and he said that if the man really invented the thing, then we will make him an Aryan.” In July 1937, Göring told Arthur Imhausen that he was recognized by Adolf Hitler as a full-man; this liberation from the Nuremberg laws was extended to Imhausen’s entire family in November 1937.

Imhausen’s coal “butter” company, Deutsche Fettsaure Werke in Witten, became an I.G. Farben subsidiary and during the war, I.G. Farben erected it own large-scale plants for the production of synthetic fatty acids.

Keppler ran a three-year human experiment with Imhausen’s coal “butter” on the prisoners of Sachsenhausen, one of several death camps (the most infamous is Auschwitz) where I.G. Farben located factories to exploit slave labor and subjects for human experiments.

Based on Keppler’s Sachsenhausen experiments, the Nazi’s determined that daily consumption of coal “butter” at up to 100 grams “is harmless and causes no irritations or disorders whatsoever.” According to the Max Planck Research Institute, “Germans fighting in the American campaign and on U-boats ate almost exclusively Imhausen’s fat. It was easy to digest, didn’t go rancid and is reported to have had quite a nice taste.”

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