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Feb 25, 2010 06:13 PM

Salted vs unsalted butter?

With more time post retirement, I have been trying to expand my cooking skills, with the reluctant collaboration of my "stick to the basics" spouse. Many recipes I've recently tried are very specific about using salted or unsalted butter, particularlly when sauteing vegs. I have not figured out the rationale for using one or the other. Can anyone clue me in? Thanks

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  1. Jenni,

    I am not 100% sure what you are asking. Obviously, the salted butter has salt and the unsalted butter does not. Most recipes call for unsalted one, because it is difficult to know the amount of salt is added to the butter. All the recipes I have always ask for unsalted butter (aka sweet butter) and then ask for salt.

    For example, Land O' Lake Salted Butter has 30mg of sodium per tablespoon.

    Happy Farms Salted Butter has 90mg per tablespoon

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      In addition, unsalted butter can be fresher than unsalted, since salt prolongs the shelf life of butter. This has often been discussed on CH before - search the topical boards for previous comments.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        I do know that salted butter has salt & unsalted does not. I guess my poorly articulated question had more to do with why recipes would specify one or the other. I quess the bottom line is preferred taste. Thank you.

        1. re: jenni49

          Some people want absolute control over the amount of salt in their finished baked goods. If they use an unsalted butter they know that there's no variable beyond the amount listed as an ingredient.

          Plus, some people feel that unsalted butter is fresher since salt was a traditional way of improving the keeping time of butter. I can't say I'm inclined to worry much about that with modern refrigeration and the turnover rate of items in a contemporary grocery store. But that reasoning remains.

          For me, whose father *prized* cultured butter from local dairies in Maine where the color and flavor approached cheese, the flavor of unsalted butter is flat and unappealing. I use salted butter freely where unsalted is called for without adjusting the salt listed as an ingredient. So my advice would be use unsalted butter if it improves your confidence or fits your palate and use salted if that's what you have on hand. I doubt you'd taste very much difference.

          1. re: rainey

            Compared to cultured butter, of course. It has a tang. But you must not have tried, as of your writing, Kate's Homemade Unsalted Butter - made in Maine. It is hard to refrain from eating the unsalted butter as a dessert, which, of course, many people have done.

            Unsalted butter is also known as "sweet cream" butter. Cultured butter has either bacterial culture added to it, or is allowed to clabber naturally, which produces the tangy flavor. They are entirely different styles of butter.

            The cultured butter would have a stronger taste in a recipe. But as to amounts of salt included in a recipe, I haven't found it to make a difference.

            By the way, Kate's Homemade Butter - unsalted - has taken first prize in the World Dairy Expo Championship.

            1. re: Savorytart

              Sweet cream butter may be salted or unsalted. Unsalted butter may be sweet cream or cultured. In the US, most butter is sweet cream butter, whether it is salted or not.

      2. There is not much of a rationale. It happens to be currently popular. Maybe because 'salt' is such a bad word. Forty years ago, unsalted butter was relegated to back of the frozen case and comes in half pound packages. I think one can use it interchangeably. I find the taste comes through better in many baked good by using salted butter. Just have to adjust the salt in recipes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PBSF

          I think 40 years ago butter itself was probably relegated to the back of the frozen case :) My grandparents were all about "oleo" and shortening. I don' t think this is a point to get stuck on-- unsalted or salted won't make too much of a difference in most applications IMO. Though I am interested in the idea that unsalted might be fresher. Had never heard that. It's hard for me to imagine it would matter much in sauteing especially since I've never sauteed something that I didn't also salt.

        2. I keep unsalted around just because if I'm baking I there are occasionally times when I'd rather use unsalted. 90% of the time, I'd use salted for general stuff, given the choice.

          1. Besides the previous reason of salt control, I also find unsalted butter has a cleaner flavor. However, unless baking, or using a large amount of butter, it doesn't matter too much.

            1. Although I agree that, with most recipes, it probably doesn't matter that much whether you use salted or unsalted butter, I prefer to use unsalted butter because salt is something I can always add, if I want to, but can never remove. Because I taste what I cook as the dish develops, I like to have full control over every aspect of its flavor profile.

              3 Replies
              1. re: todao

                I hear a lot of this "I need full control" idea. I have never wanted less salt than the minimal amount found in butter-- even in a dessert. I use salted butter in place of unsalted butter all the time. I add the salt called for in the recipe anyway, and have never had anything come out tasting over-salted, in spite of the apparently differing quantities of salt in different brands. And if you're tasting as you go anyway, it just means you'll add less later on. I've never had a need for unsalted butter.

                1. re: jvanderh

                  I almost never use salted butter because of the control thing: I just like knowing how much salt goes into what I eat. That's my preference and I really do think it is nothing more than preference. The only right way is what works for you and your family or me and mine. Before I chose to use only unsalted butter I cooked with salted all the time. As I learned and read more I decided to switch. But I never really noticed my food tasting overly salty. Of course I do think if one is trying to lower blood pressure or some other medical reason, unsalted is the way to go.

                  1. re: jvanderh

                    I almost never use unsalted butter unless trying a new recipe that specifically calls for it. Plus for me, it just doesn't taste like anything, and I love buttered bread, rolls, mashed potatoes, etc. It's not the same with unsalted butter and a sprinkle of salt.