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Why Unsalted Butter?

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Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 03:04 PM

After years of occasionally buying the unsalted butter that certain recipes demand... and having the remainder sit around unused after that, I've begun to question exactly why do some chefs insist upon it? Most recipes that call for it also add more salt elsewhere or "to taste" later in the recipe so it really doesn't make much sense.
Can't you just use regular salted butter for everything and cut the additional salt by a smidgen.... if it really matters?

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  1. b
    Bruce RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 03:25 PM

    It is easier to add more salt than to try to make an oversalted dish palatable.

    1. g
      GG Mora RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 04:02 PM

      Salt was originally added to butter as a preservative. I suppose people just got used to the taste of salted butter. The truth is, unsalted butter is purer; more care must be taken in manufacturing to remove the milk solids (which are what spoils in the short term; butter, like any fat, will eventaully turn rancid, but that takes a long time). Unsalted butter is specified A) because the amount of salt you then add to your recipe will be a precise and known quantity, B) because it tastes better – more buttery and B) it's less apt to be old and have off flavors.

      Just for kicks, try a side-by-side comparison: melt a stick of salted butter in one pan and a stick of unsalted butter in another. Note the greater quantity of milk solids, foam and other crud in the salted butter.

      I use unsalted butter exclusively, and salt my food as necessary.

      2 Replies
      1. re: GG Mora
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        Lisa RE: GG Mora Jan 29, 2006 04:07 PM

        yes, just clarified butter this afternoon for a recipie and can't believe all the foam I skimmed off...

        I use unsalted for everything and salt as I go. I also bake a lot so my butter never sits around for very long...

        1. re: GG Mora
          s
          SteveT RE: GG Mora Jan 29, 2006 04:13 PM

          Two comments that are completely NOT meant as negative criticism, just observation.

          1) the comment about a precise amount of salt amuses me because recipes rarely call for very precise amounts. The difference between 1/8 tsp and 1/4 for salt is huge. As is the difference between 1 3/4 cups flour and 2 cups. Yet no recipe calls for 1 7/8 cups. (skipping the weight vs volume issue).

          2) if you use 1/2 stick salted butter you get a significant amount less butterfat than if you use 1/2 stick unsalted butter. (and as per my first comment, it's doubtful the recipe developer tried the recipe with 3.75 Tbl unsalted butter anyway)

        2. o
          oakjoan RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 04:43 PM

          I used to only eat salted butter and couldn't stand the taste of the "bland" butter. I started buying more unsalted for baking and then used it as "regular butter" . Over the years, snobbishness had a role here I'm sure, I've come to prefer unsalted and salted now tastes funny to me. The difference is greatest when you get some of the Eurobutter now on the market, such as Plugra or Celles sur Belle. There is a very great diff btwn these and Land o Lakes and Challenge, etc.

          Of course, thinking butter tastes delicious is not exactly a wonderful thing as the waist enlarges.

          2 Replies
          1. re: oakjoan
            s
            susancinsf RE: oakjoan Jan 29, 2006 07:11 PM

            true, although at least with the unsalted you can feel good about keeping your sodium intake lower :-)

            1. re: oakjoan
              sunshine842 RE: oakjoan Mar 20, 2011 01:30 PM

              of course there's a difference! European butters have a higher butterfat content than their US counterparts, and European salted butter tends to be *considerably* more salty than that in the US.

              I buy unsalted butter for baking, and salted for my toast.

            2. l
              lynn RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 04:48 PM

              tightly wrap what you have left in foil and keep in freezer for next time.

              and never mind the melting and comparing the amount of foam. for a real taste test, just bite into a small piece of high quality unsalted butter, then try a piece of salted.

              1. m
                mshpook RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 05:32 PM

                I don't think the whole salted v. unsalted butter question is totally an issue of oversalting a dish. I believe that most professional cooks prefer unsalted butter as there is no salt to cover up impurities in the taste and so the unsalted has to be of the highest quality.

                1. k
                  Karl S. RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 07:27 PM

                  For the normal American butters, unsalted is fresher; salted butter can be made from unsalted butter past its prime and salted to cover up poorer flavor. Traditionally, unsalted butters was also wrapped in foil to keep it from developing off-tastes (which butter easily does if not wrapped in foil), but the former gold-standard -- Land O Lakes - has fallen mightily in this regard (now wrapped in waxed paper of no particularly fine quality). In fine baking, the finer qualities of unsalted butter can assist excellence.

                  That being said, with fine European butters -- particularly the traditional butters of Brittany and Normandy, for example -- there are exquisite salted butters that surpass most anything found on this side of the pond. I think my grandmother* would have loved them.

                  * Irish-born, worked her family's dairy a hundred plus years ago, and had quite the nose for fine butter. She always preferred unsalted butter.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: Karl S.
                    d
                    David RE: Karl S. Jan 29, 2006 09:28 PM

                    I could not agree more. I tend to use European butters as my "table" butter, on bread, vegetables, pasta, etc..

                    For this, I generally prefer the salted variety. If the butter is well-wrapped and handled properly, there are no off flavors and it just seems much tastier to me.

                    For general cooking, I think a good unsalted butter is generally the best choice. For the life of me, I can't understand why Land O'Lakes switched away from their foil packaging. These days I've been happy with Plugra, Organic Valley, or Horizon unsalted butters. If you have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's nearby, I find these stores offer a nice selection of quality butters that are still affordable.

                    1. re: David
                      m
                      mshpook RE: David Jan 29, 2006 09:42 PM

                      Butter can certainly pick up strange flavors if not wrapped or handled properly, but the thing about salted butters is that they can mask the flavor of butter that was not so great to start with.....something not possible with unsalted butter.

                      1. re: mshpook
                        d
                        David RE: mshpook Jan 29, 2006 10:29 PM

                        Yes, I understand that salt can mask other off flavors, but the salted European butters are so flavorful and in no way inferior to their unsalted counterpart. Some even have large crystals of sea salt that are a great flavor and textural contrast. And on pancakes, the contrast with maple syrup is divine. Same for any type of soft caramel.

                    2. re: Karl S.
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                      Fleur RE: Karl S. Jan 30, 2006 03:28 AM

                      The salted butter of Normandy and Brittany are used in specific dishes, not for general use. They are not made by adding salt, but from the milk of cows that graze on grasses growing in the salt marshes

                      1. re: Fleur
                        m
                        mateo21 RE: Fleur Mar 22, 2011 02:49 AM

                        hmmm... is this like chocolate milk comes from brown cows?

                        On a more serious note, I couldn't find a single reference to this, do you have one? My (admittedly lacking) knowledge of physiology of mammals would suggest that any salts ingested by the cow would be processed by the kidneys -- for the cows of Brittany to produce a saltier milk (enough to significantly change the salt concentration of the resulting butter) the physiology of the organism would have to change, which I personally doubt.

                        1. re: mateo21
                          sunshine842 RE: mateo21 Mar 22, 2011 04:29 AM

                          you can doubt all you like -- but the lambs pastured on the saltgrass marshes have a delicate salty taste of the sea...and the butter from cows in Brittany has the same lovely flavor as well. (Deer in the American Midwest can taste sublime if they've been raiding cornfields, or musky and gamy if they've been eating mostly the shoots of pine trees)

                          Part of the testing for dairymen (in Florida and in France, I know, and likely elsewhere) includes tasting milk to see if the cow has been eating onions or garlic, and there are dozens of cheeses produced in Europe because they taste of alpine grasses in the spring and summer. (Epoisses being one of the better-known ones).

                          It's also documented in humans -- babies will seek or reject the breast, depending on what Mom's been eating.

                          You are what you eat is not only true, but applies to critters as well as people.

                          1. re: sunshine842
                            c
                            Chowrin RE: sunshine842 Jun 27, 2012 04:07 PM

                            mmm... mercury

                            1. re: Chowrin
                              sunshine842 RE: Chowrin Jun 27, 2012 10:42 PM

                              I was trying to keep it to things that actually give flavor to the food.

                            2. re: sunshine842
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                              foreverhungry RE: sunshine842 Apr 11, 2014 07:09 AM

                              There are definitely flavors that transfer from diet to milk. At a family dinner in France a few years ago, two hunks of butter, one a few weeks old and one fresh, were on the table. Both locally produced, both the same manufacturer, both purchased at the same market. One tasted garlicky, the other didn't. A few nearby pastures had something garlicky blooming, I could smell it on morning runs. It was the newly bought one - that morning, so no possibility for off tastes from the fridge - that tasted of garlic, but not in a bad way. I was really astounded by that experience, living in the midwest I'm used to Land o Lakes mass produced homogenous tasting butter. The side by side of same maker, different tastes based on a few weeks difference.

                              All of that said, while dietary compounds can surely make their way into milk, that doesn't mean that everything does. A mom that eats a lot of chillies isn't going to produce spicy milk. Salt - NaCl at it's basest form - is absorbed by the intestine, enters the bloodstream, and is dealt with by kidneys. Milk from individuals - human or otherwise - is not saltier if someone is on a high sodium diet, nor less salty if that individual is on a low salt diet. Perhaps other minerals *may* make their way into milk, such as magnesium, but from a physiological perspective, I doubt it.

                              1. re: foreverhungry
                                sunshine842 RE: foreverhungry Apr 11, 2014 03:40 PM

                                oh, please ask any mother who breastfed her babies what happened when she ate broccoli or cabbage.

                                Plenty of drug warnings, too, about compounds that are passed on in breas tmilk.

                                1. re: sunshine842
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                                  foreverhungry RE: sunshine842 Apr 11, 2014 09:23 PM

                                  Again, some compounds are passed. I completely agree. Strawman? Others aren't. You're assuming that all are, including salt. The physiology doesn't agree with that.

                                  1. re: foreverhungry
                                    sunshine842 RE: foreverhungry Apr 12, 2014 05:35 AM

                                    I never said all things are passed...but enough are passed to affect the taste and safety of what was consumed.

                                    Thus garlic-flavored butter and gassy babies.

                                    1. re: sunshine842
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                                      foreverhungry RE: sunshine842 Apr 12, 2014 07:10 AM

                                      There seems to be a reading comprehension issue here. Clearly some compounds are passed through to milk that affect the composition and taste of the milk. We all agree on this.

                                      Broccoli and garlic are not the issue, though. Salt is. You claimed that eating a high salt diet affects the salt content of milk. From a physiological perspective, I don't see how that can be possible. Is there any evidence of this?

                                      1. re: foreverhungry
                                        sunshine842 RE: foreverhungry Apr 12, 2014 07:23 AM

                                        sorry -- my original part of this conversation is now three years old.

                                        The evidence is the flavor of the lamb and milk -- just as I indicated three years ago -- and Fleur indicated 7 years ago.

                                        Take a trip to Normandy and try it for yourself.

                      2. m
                        Miss Priss RE: Pressingham Jan 29, 2006 07:52 PM

                        We never used salted butter at home when I was a child, and it always tastes "wrong" to me (except for some of the pricey European brands). My mother and many of my friends' mothers were fairly serious cooks--it was the era when Julia Child reigned on public television--and they preferred unsalted for all the reasons listed by previous posters. It wasn't until I went away to college that I realized how many people prefer salted butter. Though I do like the flavor of butter and salt on good whole-grain bread, I'd much rather use high-quality unsalted butter and sprinkle on some Maldon or the like.

                        1. f
                          Fleur RE: Pressingham Jan 30, 2006 03:24 AM

                          Butter is always better when fresh.

                          Salt is added to butter only to give it a longer shelf life.It is never as fresh as sweet butter, and makes it impossible to control the saltiness in a dish.

                          Buy sweet butter and freeze the quarters wrapped in saran wrap in a freezer baggie and use as needed.

                          It is never possible to correct for salt in a recipe when salted butter is used.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Fleur
                            iheartcooking RE: Fleur Apr 11, 2014 04:57 AM

                            "It is never possible to correct for salt in a recipe when salted butter is used."

                            Really? You can't adjust it to taste?

                          2. t
                            TorontoJo RE: Pressingham Jan 30, 2006 10:41 AM

                            I was taught by a pasty chef that unsalted butter is preferred in baking because it has a lower water content than salted butter. Water is added to help dissolve the salt.

                            So recipes call for unsalted butter to tightly control the amount of liquid in the end result. The amount is obviously small, but for those perfectionist pastry chefs and bakers out there, it makes a difference.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: TorontoJo
                              t
                              TorontoJo RE: TorontoJo Jan 30, 2006 11:04 AM

                              Mind you, the person who told me this could just have been making it all up! But it sounded reasonable to me at the time... :)

                            2. c oliver RE: Pressingham Mar 20, 2011 01:07 PM

                              Old thread but I'm glad I searched before starting a new one. I've been using unsalted butter for a few years now (Bob dragged his heals thinking salted tasted better but I've spent 20+ years weaning him) and I honestly don't know why anyone who professes to know their way around a kitchen would use the salted. Just these few posts explains the origin (preservation). Are there many CHs who used salted butter and, if so, what's your rationale? I'm not being critical; I sincerely want to hear "expert" opinions.

                              21 Replies
                              1. re: c oliver
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                                smtucker RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 01:21 PM

                                The salt used in salted butter tastes bad, so I only use unsalted and add salt as needed.

                                1. re: c oliver
                                  I used to know how to cook... RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 01:40 PM

                                  Hi c oliver and smtucker,

                                  I don't use salted butter at all. It doesn't seem as fresh as unsalted. Could be related to the difference in inner wrappings. Foil vs. paper.

                                  For baking, I'm beyond fiddly-precise in my measurements. Haven't run into any recipes calling for salted. I suppose if I did, I'd go get some salted butter.

                                  As far as the water content, I have no opinion on that. Seems to me clarifying salted butter will eliminate more solids than unsalted because of the salt. Makes sense to me anyway... :)

                                  Lucy

                                  1. re: c oliver
                                    s
                                    sedimental RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 01:40 PM

                                    "I honestly don't know why anyone who professes to know their way around a kitchen would use the salted."

                                    That doesn't make any sense. It's about taste preference and use.

                                    I make my own butter. I like it with salt for spreading on bread or potatoes, unsalted for baking or to top more "delicate" foods. Compound butters for other foods.

                                    1. re: sedimental
                                      s
                                      smtucker RE: sedimental Mar 20, 2011 01:44 PM

                                      But that is a different animal! You have freshly made butter with salt that you choose to add. Very different than commercially produced salted butter. And yes, I am jealous! Do you have cows or do you buy cream?

                                      1. re: smtucker
                                        c oliver RE: smtucker Mar 20, 2011 01:48 PM

                                        What you said :) Safe to say most of us don't. If I want some salt in or on my butter I can add it. I'm really talking about people who only buy and use salted butter.

                                        1. re: c oliver
                                          I used to know how to cook... RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 01:51 PM

                                          Hmmm... People who only buy and use salted butter...

                                          I wonder if you'll have many responses? :)

                                          Lucy

                                          1. re: I used to know how to cook...
                                            c oliver RE: I used to know how to cook... Mar 20, 2011 01:55 PM

                                            I just figure most people only buy one type of butter but I could be wrong. I've seen comments/recipes here on CH (not CHOW!) where the poster will comment that the recipe called for unsalted but s/he always used salted.

                                          2. re: c oliver
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                                            foreverhungry RE: c oliver Apr 11, 2014 07:26 AM

                                            Old thread, but I'll bite. Most, but not all, of the butter I buy is salted. I use salted butter for most of my cooking.

                                            The claim that salted butter makes it hard to calibrate the amount of salt in a dish (a claim made by many in this thread) is ludicrous. 1 Tablespoon of commercial butters, such as Land o Lakes, contains less than 100 mg of salt. 1 teaspoon of table salt is equivalent to about 6000 mg of salt. The amount of salt in a tablespoon of butter is negligible compared to the salt added in any well seasoned dish. I doubt anyone weighs their salt to a tenth of a gram when adding to their dishes.

                                            For most cooking purposes, ditto with the water content. Who weighs their water to the nearest tenth of a gram when making a loaf of bread, or even croissants?

                                            When I care about the butter I'm using, the distinction between Land o Lakes salted v unsalted is non-existant, unless one prefers, for taste purposes, one over the other on toast or hunk o bread. Both are mass produced butter with a "meh" flavor, but are affordable to be used on a daily basis. The European butters, salted or otherwise, are, in general, much better than the US supermarket counterparts. Whether it's salted or not doesn't matter.

                                            1. re: foreverhungry
                                              Becca Porter RE: foreverhungry Apr 11, 2014 08:00 AM

                                              In baking you typically add 1-3 sticks of butter. Each stick has 1/4 t salt in it. An extra 1/2-3/4 t of salt will definitely make a difference in taste.

                                              Plus, unsalted is usually fresher.

                                              1. re: Becca Porter
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                                                foreverhungry RE: Becca Porter Apr 11, 2014 08:45 AM

                                                In baking, perhaps. Maybe. I've never baked anything that required 3 sticks of butter, unless I'm making 3 cakes. As for fresher, when used in recipes, I highly doubt anyone can taste a difference in two cakes made, one with salted and one with unsalted butter. Lets not kid ourselves about how well refined everyone's taste buds are.

                                                When used as a solo act, on a cracker, bread, toast, etc., I completely agree that salted v unsalted, fresh v not fresh, European v US, etc. can make a big difference. In recipes, I doubt it.

                                                1. re: foreverhungry
                                                  Becca Porter RE: foreverhungry Apr 11, 2014 10:22 AM

                                                  I've made layer cakes that have 6 sticks in it between the cake and frosting. That would be 1 1/2 tsp of extra salt.

                                                  I just prefer to buy the fresher butter myself, regardless of if I can taste the difference. I do occasionally buy Kerrygold salted butter. It's foil wrapper keeps the butter fresher.

                                                  1. re: Becca Porter
                                                    g
                                                    GutGrease RE: Becca Porter Apr 11, 2014 11:08 AM

                                                    ...and people like my wife will still say that it lacks salt, even with the extra 1 1/2tsp of salt. IMO - the use of salted vs unsalted is only noticed by a small number of people. Those type of people rarely taste the foods that I cook or bake

                                          3. re: smtucker
                                            s
                                            sedimental RE: smtucker Mar 20, 2011 01:48 PM

                                            I buy fresh milk weekly with cream on top -unless I need alot of butter- then I just buy cream. It only takes a few minutes to make in the food processor. I don't understand why more people don't make it.

                                            1. re: sedimental
                                              j
                                              jessinEC RE: sedimental Mar 20, 2011 09:35 PM

                                              Does the cream have to be unpasteurized? I'm curious to try this!

                                              1. re: jessinEC
                                                s
                                                sedimental RE: jessinEC Mar 21, 2011 10:13 AM

                                                It can be pasteurized, just not "ultra-pasteurized". Organic creams are often not ultra-pasteurized. If the only thing you can find is the ultra-pasteurized kind, you can still make it but it takes longer and doesn't taste as good.
                                                Edit: I use Organic Valley brand if I need to make alot at once. They have two kinds of heavy whipping cream, one is just "pasteurized".

                                                1. re: sedimental
                                                  j
                                                  jessinEC RE: sedimental Mar 21, 2011 12:30 PM

                                                  Thanks! Do you really just put it into the processor and let it rip? What's the yield -- a pint of cream will make how much butter? I usually keep my butter in one of those French butter crocks with water. Any reason not to keep using that? I'm so excited about this! My Cuisinart is 15+ years old and I'm using it so much these days...hummus/peanut butter/soup and now this!

                                                  1. re: jessinEC
                                                    s
                                                    sedimental RE: jessinEC Mar 21, 2011 05:27 PM

                                                    Yes, you really just let it rip to separate it, you will get both butter and buttermilk from the cream. If you are going to keep it for more than a few days, then you need to "wash it" with water.

                                                    Just google "making butter in a food processor" and you will get a million ways(some with photo's). It is very easy. Some people use a blender or a KitchenAid- but I think the Food Processor works the best. Have fun.

                                                    1. re: sedimental
                                                      sunshine842 RE: sedimental Mar 22, 2011 12:39 AM

                                                      I'm keeping an eye out for an antique butter churn -- the glass bottle with the crank-operated paddle mechanism. THEN I will make butter til our hearts cry out for mercy.

                                                      We were allowed to use one during a living history day when we were kids -- and we were blown away by how fast that little jar made butter out of cream...

                                                      And they look cool.

                                                2. re: jessinEC
                                                  NonnieMuss RE: jessinEC Apr 11, 2014 07:41 AM

                                                  It also works with ultra-pasteurized, although I assume the taste might be slightly different. UP is all I can buy in my area and I've made butter several times with it. I use my stand mixer - I've never tried the food processor, which is harder to clean. It's also WAY more expensive to buy cream than it is to just buy butter.

                                          4. re: c oliver
                                            mamachef RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 01:47 PM

                                            IMO, salted and unsalted butter have completely different tastes; not so remarkable (though I can taste the difference) in baking, but a world of difference when used en plein. Unsalted (especially European butters made of cream that is allowed to stand while it develops a tangy flavor) butter has a purity of taste and even texture that salted butter can never hope to have. I use unsalted for everything, adding salt as necessary; to the extent that I'll even lightly salt my toast when I spread it with unsalted butter. At this point, after years of using nothing other, salted butter has a chemically "off" taste to me, straight out of its' well-wrapped, well-refrigerated package.

                                            1. re: c oliver
                                              i
                                              Isolda RE: c oliver Mar 24, 2011 04:07 PM

                                              I bake and cook only with unsalted butter. For toast, not only do I use salted butter, I use that extremely salty butter/canola or olive oil combo made by Land O' Lakes. I would never have bought it if I hadn't tried it at my non-CH parents' house, but on toast or waffles, it is delicious.

                                            2. w
                                              Wisco RE: Pressingham Mar 20, 2011 03:20 PM

                                              Just wanted to add my vote as someone who hardly ever buys unsalted butter. Salted seems to work fine for me, and I don't notice a difference in baked goods or any other use when I use one vs. the other. Your mileage may vary!

                                              18 Replies
                                              1. re: Wisco
                                                c oliver RE: Wisco Mar 20, 2011 03:25 PM

                                                Cool. So if they taste the same to you, why not use unsalted? Seems from reading this that there's no reason to use salted. I think I need to 'borrow' a pat of salted and do a taste test.

                                                1. re: c oliver
                                                  e
                                                  escondido123 RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 03:31 PM

                                                  I have both in the frig because I prefer salted butter on toast or a baked potato. For everything else, I use unsalted.

                                                  1. re: escondido123
                                                    c oliver RE: escondido123 Mar 20, 2011 03:35 PM

                                                    Okay. I add salt to baked potatoes. Guess you cut out the middle man :) But I like more butter taste than I would want salt taste. I've been known when just having a piece of toast or untoasted even to put a 'few grains' of salt over the butter.

                                                  2. re: c oliver
                                                    w
                                                    Wisco RE: c oliver Mar 20, 2011 04:02 PM

                                                    I guess I should have said I don't notice a dif. when cooking/baking. When buttering bread or whatever, I prefer salted. But it's not something I'd defend to the death...

                                                    1. re: Wisco
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                                                      FoodDabbler RE: Wisco Mar 20, 2011 04:19 PM

                                                      "it's not something I'd defend to the death..."

                                                      Any defense of butter, salted or otherwise, is a defense to the death -- an early death.

                                                      I say that as a man who loves his butter and will not give it up (till, of course, death).

                                                    2. re: c oliver
                                                      t
                                                      tarka RE: c oliver Mar 21, 2011 03:07 AM

                                                      There are plenty of reasons to use salted butter.

                                                      1) It's a preservative. It'll keep the butter fresh longer.

                                                      2) It "amplifies butter aroma" (McGee, Keys to Good Cooking, p. 200)

                                                      3) It's cheaper and easier to find (at least here in Denmark).

                                                      That obviously doesn't mean there aren't equally good reasons to use unsalted butter.

                                                      1. re: tarka
                                                        Becca Porter RE: tarka Jun 27, 2012 06:12 PM

                                                        The preservative factor of the salt is actually a bad thing. It means the salted butter at the store can be really old. The unsalted has to be sold very fresh.

                                                        1. re: Becca Porter
                                                          paulj RE: Becca Porter Jun 27, 2012 06:37 PM

                                                          With refrigeration, does that really matter?

                                                          I was going to write: compare the sell by dates in the grocery between the 2 kinds of the same brand. But I can't find such a date on the box of Trader Joes unsalted in my freezer.

                                                          Do you know why buttermilk is sour? Now it's cultured, but originally it was the milk left over from making butter. Farmers would collect the cream over several days until they had enough to churn. In the mean time it often soured. Now some butter makers intentionally culture the cream - more so in Europe than the USA. That leads me to suspect that the reputed freshness of unsalted butter isn't such a big issue.

                                                          1. re: paulj
                                                            s
                                                            sandylc RE: paulj Jun 27, 2012 07:09 PM

                                                            Like in sourdough starters, the good or bad flavor of something cultured depends upon what wild things are captured and grow in your medium. It is the difference between something being spoiled and something being a treasured flavor.

                                                            1. re: sandylc
                                                              c
                                                              Chowrin RE: sandylc Jun 27, 2012 07:36 PM

                                                              my pizza dough sours by itself over a period of days. ain't never seen an icky batch.

                                                              1. re: Chowrin
                                                                s
                                                                sandylc RE: Chowrin Jun 27, 2012 07:48 PM

                                                                Do you begin with yeast, and/or do you just have good-tasting things floating around your house?

                                                                1. re: sandylc
                                                                  c
                                                                  Chowrin RE: sandylc Apr 11, 2014 06:22 AM

                                                                  Start with store-bought, leave the dough in the fridge for a couple days (using as I go along).

                                                            2. re: paulj
                                                              Becca Porter RE: paulj Jun 27, 2012 07:32 PM

                                                              When I buy butter, I want the freshest butter. If I want cultured butter, I will make cultured butter through a controlled process. (Not by aging salted butter??)

                                                              http://ruhlman.com/2012/04/making-cul...

                                                              1. re: Becca Porter
                                                                paulj RE: Becca Porter Jun 27, 2012 09:24 PM

                                                                How do you identify fresh butter at the grocery?

                                                                I wouldn't be surprised if, in the typical American grocery, the salted butter is fresher, just because with more demand the turn over is faster. Mind you I haven't looked a 'sell by' dates to test that hypothesis.

                                                                I seriously doubt the claim that salted butter is recycled unsalted.

                                                                1. re: paulj
                                                                  Becca Porter RE: paulj Jun 29, 2012 06:40 AM

                                                                  Unsalted has much shorter sell by dates for one thing. It is cycled through the store faster.

                                                                  1. re: Becca Porter
                                                                    paulj RE: Becca Porter Jun 29, 2012 07:29 AM

                                                                    Finally a dairy that talks about the difference in sell-by dates - 5mths v 6. So there is a difference (due to salt), but not 'much shorter'. And not because salt masks off flavors.

                                                                    http://www.challengedairy.com/tips-an...

                                                                    "Salt acts as a preservative so salted butter has a slightly longer shelf life, but the “sell by” dates on Challenge products automatically reflect this difference. The “sell by” date on the regular lightly salted Challenge Butter is 6 mos. beyond the manufacture date and the date on Challenge Unsalted Butter is 5 months."

                                                          2. re: tarka
                                                            t
                                                            Transplant_DK RE: tarka Jun 27, 2012 09:11 PM

                                                            Hi Tarka--whereabouts are you in Denmark? I'm near Aarhus myself (a transplanted American)

                                                            1. re: Transplant_DK
                                                              t
                                                              tarka RE: Transplant_DK Jun 28, 2012 02:38 AM

                                                              Hi, I'm in Copenhagen, and I'm Danish. Hope you like it here. :)

                                                      2. LaureltQ RE: Pressingham Mar 20, 2011 05:45 PM

                                                        So comparing salted vs unsalted within the same brands will net you a different quality of butter?

                                                        Until recently, I used exclusively salted. Now I generally use unsalted for baking and salted for eating. This changed when I made a buttercream with salted butter accidentally, and it tasted too "buttery."

                                                        1. l
                                                          lidia RE: Pressingham Mar 22, 2011 07:27 AM

                                                          To the OP, just do a test: take the same brand of butter in salted and un-salted versions.

                                                          Put them on a neutral matrix, like a piece of bread, some cooked rice, or a not-too-salty cracker. Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on the unsalted version, then taste both. I think you'll be surprised at the difference.

                                                          I used to not care which kind I used, but after coming to live in Europe (where the "regular" butter is unsalted, and you have to go out of your way to find salted butter: the reverse of the US) I now really dislike pre-salted butter. I don't consider myself that much of a food snob, but I will go to the extent of buying my own unsalted butter when I visit at my mom's house or my sister's house in the US. That's how much different it is to me, although I never ever would have thought so!

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: lidia
                                                            sunshine842 RE: lidia Mar 22, 2011 08:27 AM

                                                            where are you, lidia?

                                                            Here in France, there's at least as much demi-sel as the unsalted (doux) -- if not a bit more of it.

                                                            But as above-- I keep the salted (made with fleur de sel) for the table --- I only cook with unsalted.

                                                            1. re: sunshine842
                                                              l
                                                              lidia RE: sunshine842 Mar 24, 2011 03:57 PM

                                                              Central Italy. There are tons of brands of butter available in the larger supermarkets (many more than in the US), but I would say out of the 20-25 available maybe 2 or 3 are salted? Maybe even only one? Next time I'm at a larger supermarket I will do a survey.

                                                              1. re: lidia
                                                                sunshine842 RE: lidia Mar 25, 2011 12:31 AM

                                                                oh, lucky you -- I would have overdosed on olive oil by now if I were in your shoes. (Umbrian olive oil is my all time hands-down favorite. I'm still kicking myself for only buying 1 litre of the sublime stuff I bought from a little old man on the roadside in the hills on the way to Norcia)

                                                                Interesting, though, on the butter...I'm guessing it's because my region is much more dairy-intensive than yours -- there's easily a half an aisle just dedicated to butter -- from all the regions, with salt from Brittany, from the Camargue...it makes your head spin, actually.

                                                          2. d
                                                            deveds2 RE: Pressingham Jun 27, 2012 10:13 AM

                                                            Why would you ever buy SALTED butter?!?!

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: deveds2
                                                              paulj RE: deveds2 Jun 27, 2012 05:59 PM

                                                              Salt in butter is not a uniquely American thing. Some posters have said that salt is added as a preservative. That may have been the case a long time ago. With god refrigeration that isn't an issue anymore. Now it's just a matter of taste. Many people prefer the taste of salted butter; many because they grew up with that taste.

                                                              I think there has been a resurgence of interest in unsalted butter, mainly because many 'fancy' cookbooks use it. But with the appearance of salted, cultured European butters on the market, unsalted has lost some of that 'gourmet' status.

                                                              1. re: sunshine842
                                                                Delucacheesemonger RE: sunshine842 Jun 28, 2012 04:04 AM

                                                                There are some raw milk butters in US, and of course you can legally bring back any French butter you wish to the states.

                                                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger
                                                                  sunshine842 RE: Delucacheesemonger Jun 28, 2012 05:01 AM

                                                                  Didn't realize that butter was deemed acceptable....I also heard that the FDA has just relaxed its rules on bringing in young raw-milk cheeses (like Brie) -- maybe somebody's finally seeing the light!

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842
                                                                    Delucacheesemonger RE: sunshine842 Jun 28, 2012 05:25 AM

                                                                    Have not heard that, and find it hard to believe. What is the source ?

                                                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger
                                                                      sunshine842 RE: Delucacheesemonger Jun 28, 2012 12:28 PM

                                                                      I saw it on another forum -- but it checks out:

                                                                      http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_expo...
                                                                      (scroll to page 448) This document is dated 04/2012 -- so this is a brand-new change.

                                                                      and

                                                                      https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/deta...

                                                                      both say Brie and Camembert are allowed with no mention of age or raw milk.

                                                                      "-Cheese- Solid cheese (hard or semi-soft, that does not contain meat); butter, butter oil, and cultured milk products such as yogurt and sour cream are not restricted. Feta cheese, Brie, Camembert, cheese in brine, Mozzarella and Buffalo Mozzarella are permissible (USDA Animal Product Manual, Table 3-14-6). Cheese in liquid (such as cottage cheese or ricotta cheese) and cheese that pours like heavy cream are not admissible from countries affected by foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Cheese containing meat is not admissible depending on the country of origin."

                                                                      Because my reaction was exactly the same as yours.

                                                                      And I knew you'd want to know. ;

                                                                      )

                                                                      (ETA: This is ONLY for what's in your luggage by the way -- shipments via mail or commercial carrier fall under different rules)

                                                              2. r
                                                                rjbh20 RE: Pressingham Jun 27, 2012 02:08 PM

                                                                Plenty of POV's here, but exactly how much salt is included in your average pound of American butter? I've never measured (hence the questions to the experts here) but I'm skeptical its enough to make a difference in most dishes (except butter-intensive things like puff pastry).

                                                                Note: this isn't about freshness, taste, point of manufacture, or cow diet --- just the quantity of salt in a pound of US butter.

                                                                8 Replies
                                                                1. re: rjbh20
                                                                  k
                                                                  kmcarr RE: rjbh20 Jun 27, 2012 02:37 PM

                                                                  According to the Land-O-Lakes nutrition information 1 Tbps of their salted butter contains 90mg of Sodium and the unsalted is 0mg so it appears that the added salt is the sole source of sodium. Since Sodium (Na) makes up about 39% of the mass of salt (NaCl) 90mg of Na means that each Tbsp of butter has 229mg of salt.

                                                                  Converting this mass of salt to a volume measurement is tricky since the size and shape of the crystals will influence this. A couple of references I found equated ~5,700mg of salt to 1 tsp. This would mean that 1 Tbsp of L-O-L salted butter has the equivalent of 0.04tsp of table salt. A "dash" of salt is usually considered 1/8th tsp which would mean 0.32 dashes of salt per Tbs of butter.

                                                                  It just so happens that the recommended daily intake of Sodium (depending on who you listen to) of 2,300mg is roughly 1 tsp of table salt. It would take 24 Tbsp of butter, just over 3/4 lbs, to get to 1 tsp of added salt.

                                                                  1. re: kmcarr
                                                                    r
                                                                    rjbh20 RE: kmcarr Jun 28, 2012 06:12 AM

                                                                    Nice work -- so a little more than 1 tsp of salt/lb, which means that, as I suspected, unless its a butter-intensive dish, the amount of salt in salted butter is immaterial for most cooking purposes, particularly in savory dishes.

                                                                    1. re: rjbh20
                                                                      sunshine842 RE: rjbh20 Jun 29, 2012 10:23 AM

                                                                      for LOL that's true -- but the amount of butter added varies by manufacturer.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842
                                                                        paulj RE: sunshine842 Jun 29, 2012 11:07 AM

                                                                        Do you taste that difference, say when spread on bread? I've never noticed a difference, at least not the sort that would make me say 'oh, this butter tastes salty'. Are there any brands that are known for being saltier? The Challenge numbers that I found are similar to LoL.

                                                                        1. re: paulj
                                                                          s
                                                                          sandylc RE: paulj Jun 29, 2012 11:18 AM

                                                                          Hubby and I use unsalted exclusively and then add salt where/when we want it. We accidentally bought salted butter recently and had it on toast, and it must have been a saltier one, because we both sort of coughed and grabbed for water after the first bite! Surely there must be a variance among brands, because this one was really salty, and we like salt!

                                                                          1. re: paulj
                                                                            sunshine842 RE: paulj Jun 29, 2012 01:00 PM

                                                                            I can absolutely taste a difference -- but then, I use little to no salt when cooking, so I'm pretty sensitive to how salty something is.

                                                                      2. re: kmcarr
                                                                        paulj RE: kmcarr Jun 29, 2012 07:31 AM

                                                                        "with Challenge Butter is to figure there is about ¼ teaspoon of salt per 1 stick (¼ lb) of butter."
                                                                        http://www.challengedairy.com/tips-an...

                                                                      3. re: rjbh20
                                                                        sunshine842 RE: rjbh20 Jun 27, 2012 10:45 PM

                                                                        the problem is that it varies by brand...so you never quite know how much salt you're actually adding.

                                                                        I keep both salted and unsalted on hand. I cook and bake with unsalted, and the salted is for toasted baguettes and vegetables -- it's for immediate table consumption.

                                                                      4. k
                                                                        kengk RE: Pressingham Jun 27, 2012 03:59 PM

                                                                        All we ever buy is Land O' Lakes salted butter. Having grown up eating margarine spread in a tub; it tastes pretty damn good to me. I'm going to have to find some of this fancy Euro butter and give it a try.

                                                                        Bread and butter is about the best food on earth to me.

                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                        1. re: kengk
                                                                          Soop RE: kengk Jun 28, 2012 02:52 AM

                                                                          Sometimes I wish I could 'like' CH posts. (a'la Facebook). I can't stand margarine.

                                                                          1. re: kengk
                                                                            s
                                                                            Savorytart RE: kengk Aug 7, 2012 07:45 PM

                                                                            As I posted in another forum this evening about unsalted butter, I don't want this to appear as though it is spam, but I was so dismayed when at the supermarket tonight when I saw that all of the Kate's Homemade Butter - salted was gone, and all of the "unsalted," remained. People are missing out on what may be the best better in the world, and it is made in Maine.

                                                                            When dining out, there is often Land O' Lakes on the table. I can't tolerate the taste now that I know what true, unadulterated, sweet cream butter tastes like. You don't need to "go Euro" to get fantastic butter. Aren't you glad? I am. I'll never go back.

                                                                            1. re: Savorytart
                                                                              paulj RE: Savorytart Aug 7, 2012 08:35 PM

                                                                              Currently I am enjoying Paysan Breton
                                                                              Le Beurre Moule Demi-Sel
                                                                              au sel de mer

                                                                              i.e. Sea salt Breton butter

                                                                              1. re: paulj
                                                                                s
                                                                                sandylc RE: paulj Aug 7, 2012 08:58 PM

                                                                                cool. Just peeled open and eaten, or have you found something worthy to spread it on?

                                                                                1. re: sandylc
                                                                                  sunshine842 RE: sandylc Aug 8, 2012 12:49 AM

                                                                                  last night's baguette, split and lightly toasted, is my favorite butter-bearer.

                                                                                  Paul, I got my hands on a packet of beurre de baratte, LAIT CRU, demi-sel, a few weeks ago -- unfortunately it was during a very hectic couple of weeks, and I can't remember where I found it!

                                                                                  Now I'm on a crusade...

                                                                          2. tim irvine RE: Pressingham Jun 27, 2012 06:47 PM

                                                                            Unsalted butter with a well developed cheese overtone, spread on real French bread, the kind made from a starter, not a packet of yeast, OMG. Same butter on haricots verte, cooked to perfection, stil bright green but definitely not raw, wow. There are things I love with salt, even with Smart Balance, but there are some things where the richness and depth of truly good unsalted butter is a thing for which there is no acceptable substitute, at least in my mouth.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: tim irvine
                                                                              c
                                                                              Chowrin RE: tim irvine Jun 27, 2012 07:37 PM

                                                                              is that the 2 hour sourdough, or the daylong sourdough? (or costco special?)

                                                                              1. re: Chowrin
                                                                                tim irvine RE: Chowrin Jun 28, 2012 04:43 PM

                                                                                I started my own starter years ago, a paste of chlorine free water and some organic AP. it has caught wild Yeast from the air and gotten stronger. I feed it weekly with water, flour (one times a little WW or rye) and turbinado sugar. My basic loaf is a cup of starter, a cup of bottled water, a little over two cups of flour, and a scant tsp. of kosher salt. It takes the better part of an afternoon to rise. I shape it free form and cook in an oven with a pizza stone as hot as I can get it. That said I will eat any sourdough happily. Our local Randalls has a decent loaf. Btw, my home made tastes more like the bread you get in France than San Francisco. My recipe is also great shaped into English muffins and cooked on a griddle.

                                                                                1. re: tim irvine
                                                                                  b
                                                                                  borntolovefood RE: tim irvine Aug 8, 2012 04:53 AM

                                                                                  Found your post interesting - purely flavor-driven. This response is not to argue about the merits or lack of for salted or unsalted butter, but to takl about my learning and to keep this thread in my folder for re-reading later.

                                                                                  One of the best memories I had was licking a one-pound block of butter as I studied for exams in my college dorm room when I lived in Taiwan. The butter came from the U.S. because we were receiving fiancial and material aids from the U.S. at that time (late '60s). In my memory, the butter was both affordable and very yummy.

                                                                                  It's ironic that after living in the U.S. for 40 years I now buy European butter for the taste. Has my taste changed or is it the American butter that has transformed (can't find a one-pound cylindrical block of butter anywhere)?

                                                                                  I no longer lick the butter anymore. But if I spead butter on bread to eat, having salt in it, with the salt added by the manufacturer or myself, definitely enhances the eating pleasure. To me, butter and hot pepper are tow things that require a little bit of salt to bring out their best.

                                                                            2. tiffeecanoe RE: Pressingham Jun 27, 2012 08:28 PM

                                                                              I ONLY buy salted butter... with that said - I don't bake much, maybe three times a year and I'll use the salted butter I have on hand and my banana bread is always damn tasty! I'll still even add a touch of salt. I KNOW it's the "wrong" way to do things and if I baked regularly I might reconsider only ever having salted butter on hand.

                                                                              I typically buy salted Grass Point Farms salted sweet cream butter - which is a WI product and delicious or Plugra.

                                                                              1. Soop RE: Pressingham Jun 28, 2012 02:38 AM

                                                                                I think exactly the same.

                                                                                The only thing is, in the UK, since butter has gone up in price so much recently, I tend to buy my favorite, premium butter for using on toast and small amounts of cooking, and then buy a cheaper block for baking, although sometimes I still buy salted.

                                                                                1. g
                                                                                  GutGrease RE: Pressingham Jun 28, 2012 07:06 AM

                                                                                  I cook and bake constantly and rarely use unsalted butter. I like the flavor of salted butter when it's on toast or when making eggs. There isn't much else to divert your attention from the butter's flavor. When baking, there are so many other things such as vanilla, almond extracts, and spices, bananas, chocolates, that make the difference in those treats. I'd probably drop to the floor in disbelief if someone took a bite of one of my cakes, pies, cookies and detected that I used salted butter. It has NEVER happened. In fact, 80% of the time if someone has a critique or comment it is that the baked good should have MORE salt.

                                                                                  There are lots of purists on this board, whatever that means. That's nice. The reality is that Americans LOVE salt and they generally can't switch from a McDonald's french fry to a baked good and think that the low salt content tastes good. It just rarely happens.

                                                                                  BTW - I use Land-o-Lakes butter or the generic Roundy's (regional brand), depending on which is on sale while I'm shopping.

                                                                                  1. j
                                                                                    John Francis RE: Pressingham Aug 8, 2012 02:06 PM

                                                                                    In the Collins' "New Orleans Cookbook" it says, "All recipes calling for butter in the book require lightly salted stick butter; sweet butter is made differently and should not be substituted." On the other hand, Paul Prudhomme's "Louisiana Kitchen" says to use unsalted butter in his recipes because the amount of salt in the butter varies. You pays your money...

                                                                                    Unsalted butter is standard nowadays in most cookbooks, so when a recipe specifically calls for salted butter there has to be a reason. The Collins suggest what that reason might be. But if you prefer to use unsalted butter and season to taste, you might not be able to tell the difference. And if you keep only one kind of butter in the fridge, as most people do, unsalted is the way to go.

                                                                                    1. s
                                                                                      Seanod95 RE: Pressingham Apr 9, 2014 06:27 PM

                                                                                      They say this because you will be adding salt. So you know the amount of salt going into the mixture.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: Seanod95
                                                                                        p
                                                                                        Puffin3 RE: Seanod95 Apr 11, 2014 07:22 AM

                                                                                        There are lots of occasions where using sodium in a recipe alters the chemistry in the amalgam.
                                                                                        I buy unsalted butter and then make 'ghee'. That's all I cook with.
                                                                                        A T of 'brown butter' made from ghee poured over a piece of fresh fish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of Kosher salt is heaven compared to the flavour from a T of your basic salted butter. The 'salted butter would be 'earth'. Margarine would of course be 'Hell'.

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