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The proportion of water in generic butter is getting ridiculous!

I know there have been some price spikes and "shortages" of butter over the last few years, but why do the manufacturers think they're going to get away with adding so much more water just to keep prices stable? Just charge a fair price across the board, I say,and give me real butter (guess there's not real standard? I'm just thinking of that little symbol that used to be on the packaging). Last year, my Christmas cookies were all wrong (after 35 years of making the same recipes) and then last night I made my long time recipe for Cream of Broccoli soup. When I went to make the roux, I could not get the first step, the water-boiling-away process, to end (sorry I can't think of the technical term, the first step of clarifying). I finally gave up and just dumped the flour in. And then it wouldn't seize, in a very noticable way. I swear the bar was half water at least!

I am always well stocked on loss leader priced pounds of butter, keep them in the freezer and never pay more than $2/$2.50; but I'm starting to think I'm throwing my money away on water rather than any kind of dairy product. Sigh. Gonna have to go high end for baking this season I guess, and treat it like gold. I had noticed this trend last year too, but thought it was just temporary till the price fell. I was wrong.

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  1. We buy our butter at Costco in 4 pound packs, and I have not noticed any change in the quality of the butter. Where are you buying "generic" butter?

    6 Replies
    1. re: roxlet

      Grocery store, Waldbaums house brand which I think is the problem. I shop by price mostly. Other times Land O'Lakes, but I really need to keep better notes! I want to nail this down before the holidays get here. But the company I worked for was selling something similar last Christmas season and I got lots of complaints from chefs, so I know somethings going on with the more competitive brands. You don't notice the difference on toast or whatever, but in delicate baking you can't miss it. Hope I don't sound paranoid ;-) It always happens when I least expect it.

      1. re: coll

        Cabot never fails me. Same for Stew Leonard's, but not sure you have Stew's in your neck of the woods.

      2. re: roxlet

        I like the Costco butter for all-purpose as well, although if I can find Land o' Lakes on sale for the same price or less, I stock up on that. I don't generally buy any other brands, and especially not store brands (which in my area are quite unreliable). Costco and Land o' Lakes both give me consistent results.

        1. re: roxlet

          So in NY Costco sells butter in four pound packs. Fortunately in Toronto it's still individual pound packages. But we have the 32 tins of Coke that I can barely lift and the box with four 1.89L (64Ounce) containers of orange juice. Butter will probably soon follow.

          1. re: mexivilla

            I count going to BJs as the same as a trip to the gym. Between just the giant jugs of Poland Spring and the kitty litter that I get every time, getting them in the cart, out to pay, back in and then in and out of the car at home, it's quite the workout.

            1. re: coll

              I've seen people biking out of Costco a time or two, with baskets filled/strapped down and backpacks. Impresses the heck out of me. We're talking TX suburbs here!

              Costco butter is functional but bland. Haven't really noticed the water issue but Land O Lakes flavor is certainly better.

        2. I was using giant brand and was less than happy the last few pounds so I am switching to Land O lakes which is what my mother uses to see if there is a difference.

          1. Kate's is good butter, too. I used it to make cat head biscuits a couple of weeks ago.
            http://www.kateshomemadebutter.com/Ka...

            1 Reply
            1. re: kattyeyes

              I use Kate's exclusively and I never have a problem.

            2. we use cabot and kerrygold for most things, but i do bake with trader joe's and have never had a problem with any of these. don't know where you live, but $2 pp is shockingly cheap to me. i pay $2.99-$3.50 for the cabot and trader joe's, and the kerrygold is that price for 1/2 pound packages.

              3 Replies
              1. re: hotoynoodle

                You get what you pay for, for sure.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  Gee, where do you find Cabot so cheap? It's my favorite grocery-store-quality butter, but it's near $5.00here in SGA

                  1. re: pmarie1

                    i'm in new england and buy lots when it goes on sale. i'm guessing your distance is upping the price. i didn't even realize it was available so far south.

                2. Thanks everyone, I was just venting. I swore last Christmas I would lay off the cheap stuff, but guess I forgot. Land o Lakes or Hotel Bar will be my new baseline...no Stews or Costco, but I seem to remember BJs four pack being fine too. Wish I could afford the imported stuff all the time!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: coll

                    Seriously, I cannot tell any difference between LOL and store brands. I think that LOL is riding on their reputation and is NOT of better quality.....I have even purchased LOL that was spoiled.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      I completely agree. No difference (except in price...the store brand sells regularly for around $2.25/lb...and as low as $1.89 when 'on sale' every 6 weeks or so).

                  2. I would be surprised if it were "Land of Lakes". Even America's Test Kitchen recommended it as one of their favorite store brands. They had some specialty butters they liked better.

                    That being said, I'm not terribly surprised about the additional water. The food companies have been getting very clever disguising their price increases. They use smaller packaging that still looks like it is the same size as always. it would be easy to add more water.

                    I guess you could clarify a bunch of your freezer butter.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      That's what I was trying to do last night, and the water kept bubbling for like 10 minutes, I finally gave up. There was more water than dairy it seemed.

                    2. Isn't there a legal limit (USDA probably) on the water content of butter in USA? If there is more (I think 20% is the US norm), it has to be labeled as a spread.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: paulj

                        various sources say max of 16% water, but another site said 20%.

                        european butter ranges from 82-85%.

                        this may help too: http://www.webexhibits.org/butter/gra...

                        my tj's butter is AA.

                      2. Perhaps the quality of the butter you've been buying isn't up to par, but I doubt that dairies are just upping the water content, because there is a legal standard in the US: butter must contain a minimum of 80% butterfat. Most domestic brands are 80%, and those that are more (like Plugra) are usually labeled something like "European style."

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          I think it's more that the house brands can change in a flash, when they get a better deal on the open market and just stick their label on it; so the lesson is to buy a brand that you trust, and one that has more of a history behind it. Live and learn!

                        2. Percentage of butterfat is regulated by law.The rest is made up with milk solids and water.

                          My experience has been all of the generic,not big names are packaging the lowest rate of fat allowed and have the worst milk solid to water ratio.

                          1. I used to buy very good quality butter at the farmers market as a splurge but it's not even a splurge anymore as the prices are the same or lower than the mid-range supermarket brands. The butters at the markets have no water (or very little) and man, do they make biscuits taste good!
                            JeremyEG
                            HomeCookLocavore.com

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: JeremyEG

                              If you can find it in Texas or surrounding states, try Falfurrius Butter. Great!

                              1. re: randyjl

                                Agreed. Or Challenge. I love me some Challenge salted.

                            2. I looked at the labels on several brands of butter at the grocery, generic Western Family, Tillmook, Dairygold. All are labeled as Grade AA, all are 100 cal per 14g serving. The nutritional label looks pretty standardized, but a company could open itself up to some serious legal trouble if their butter had more water, and hence fewer calories (and g of fat) that stated.

                              A reduced fat spreadable Kerrygold butter is 80g /14g. More water (or milk) makes it softer.

                              Standard butter lists 11g of fat. 11g/14g = .786; allowing for rounding the grams, that matches the 80% regulation.

                              The spread is 8g/14g = 57%. So instead of 20% water, it is more like 40%.

                              Which raises a question about the supposedly inferior butter - is it noticeably softer than good quality butter (at the same temperature)? How is it labeled?

                              17 Replies
                              1. re: paulj

                                It's graded AA and the ingredients are pasteurized cream and flavoring. It's unsalted so not sure what flavorings would be called for. All nutritionals the exactly the same as yours, but I never trust them 100%; I tend to think they are just copying some govt standard rather than working up the specs in their own lab. If indeed they even have a lab, and are not just some packaging middleman. I appreciate your calculations though, I only do math when forced to! But isn't it strange that Kerrygold and the house brand have the EXACT same specs? They are leaving it open to add the legal limit of water when they want to, and then some do and some don't. Just an educated guess, knowing the food industry! This way they can play with the ingredient amounts as prices rise and fall.

                                I have been buying only unsalted since last Christmas after I learned here that unsalted has less water content. I only have cheapskate butter on hand, yes it feels very soft considering it just came out of the fridge, but I have nothing good to compare it to. I probably will in the near future though! Edit: Now that I've had it out of the fridge for 15 minutes or so, it's getting so soft that I can hardly pull it out of the package.

                                Because I'm examining this so closely, I found a nice surprise...on the very bottom, in small print, it says "If for any reason you are not completely satisfied with this product, please retain the package and contact us. We will cheerfully refund double the amount you paid for it". Very interesting. Good way to avoid complaints to the authorities! I'll have to experiment further, I think. I'll keep you updated.

                                1. re: coll

                                  I'm still not sure about the added water thing. If they add water, doesn't it have to be listed as an ingredient?

                                  The "natural flavor" ingredient on many butters was bothering me, so once I dialed the number on the Land O' Lakes box (while I was standing in the grocery store!) The woman who answered the phone said that they take some of the butter from each batch and culture it a bit, then add it to the next batch.

                                  I am not sure I accept this explanation - anyone else have more questions about this?

                                  That said, I have noticed that TJ's relatively inexpensive butter does not have these "natural" flavors.

                                  I am uncomfortable with the term "natural flavors" ever since seeing the 60 Minutes excerpt on YouTube regarding where they come from.

                                  1. re: sandylc

                                    They don't add water.It's still there to some extent after separation of cream from milk.There still a bit visible,separate after churning.Churning methods,quality of cream and the standards set by the manufacturer is your water in cream.(milk solids and water=milk)

                                    how high does the ?dairy producer set the bar

                                    1. re: lcool

                                      "They don't add water."

                                      Thank you. I didn't think so.

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        Just looked it up, out of curiosity. I've heard different from many years in wholesale food.
                                        We're nto talking homemade here.

                                        http://www.berthold-us.com/industrial...

                                        1. re: coll

                                          Very interesting. It reminds me of a very icky thing about the processed food industry; when doing market research for packaged foods, they ask the participants whether the product matches the description provided - not whether it is tasty or not. It's all about manufacturing specs, not about food. Sort of like chain restaurants.

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            I was really immersed in the business until last year, it doesn't weird me out really, it just is what it is. Business basically, not the holy grail like it is to us. Why not add water up to the max? How many hundreds of thousands of units do you sell per period? By the time anyone figures it out, they are rich. We're supposed to be impressed with their initiative. But I digress, that's not why I started this discussion.

                                            1. re: coll

                                              Do you really think a dairy spends its time figuring out to produce the minimum quality butter, just to save a few pennies per stick?

                                              I suspect butter in churned in large batches, maybe even continuously. Since making butter involves more than just mixing precise quantities, they probably test the quality of each batch, and decide what to do with it based on the results. Some gets cut and wrapped for the consumer market. Some packaged for restaurants, whether in individual pats, or bulk quantities used in the kitchen. I bet a good amount gets shipped to other food industries, such as bakeries. Some may be blended with other fats and liquids to produce spreads.

                                              I wouldn't be surprised if the consumer sticks account for only a quarter of the total butter production, may be less.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                I have suspected for a long time that most butter brands come from the same giant butter vat. From LOL to store brands. Maybe not Plugra, etc., but LOL on down.

                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                  It's a little more complicated than that

                                                  http://tfc-charts.w2d.com/chart/BU/W

                                                  Commodities are very competitive.

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/wis...
                                                    Butter standards and grading.

                                                    I looked at the other 'basics' on this site, and didn't find anything that would suggest the kind of variations that the OP is talking about.

                                                2. re: paulj

                                                  Well yeah, actually I have more experience in wholesale butter sales than retail. And there is something shady going on there, I already had an inkling so I just wanted to mention it, not make a federal case. If you aren't having problems, then keep on doing what you're doing. A few pennies a stick, time a million drillon sticks, does add up though. Restaurants and bakeries are the same market BTW, and that also includes nursing homes and schools... some demand high end and will only take the best, and some buy on price alone. The cheaper buyers were the ones who pointed this out to me in the first place. Guess we'll let sleeping dogs lie. Myself, this was sort of a reminder to me to stop buying on price alone, which I should have learned long ago. Happy holidays!

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    Hi, coll. You were so focused on the end product, butter, that you forgot to consider the milk from which the butter is made. The quality of milk definitely affects the quality of butter. From the feed the cows are fed, to antibiotics to bgh, to breed of cow, all of these things impact milk's flavor and texture and thereby butter's flavor, color and texture.

                                                    I've been buying my butter from a nearby dairy that has jersey cows that are raised on pasture. The butter is naturally golden, is rock-hard out of the fridge, and even stays solid on a summer day. Common national brand butters and, especially, generic butters aren't even in the ballpark.

                                                    1. re: Vidute

                                                      Oh I would love to have Jersey cow milk and butter. I knew people when i lived upstate that had Jerseys but they kept all the milk for themselves, and sold the Holstein instead.

                                                      I adore good butter, and used to have a few imports on hand at all times. Before my finances went downhill, that is. I especially like the Italian that came from the Parmesan area. I'm going to have to bite the bullet and start thinking quality rather than price.....that is, after I get rid of the four lbs in the fridge that I got for $1.99! Or should I return them for double the price, ya think?

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        I'd return the butter and then take the "double-your-money-back" and splurge on that Italian butter. :)

                                                        For regular grocery store butter, I buy Keller's, Cabot, and Plugra. Also, Trader Joe's butter is pretty decent.

                                                      2. re: Vidute

                                                        Thanks for this post. Good good food comes from better ingredients. Where are you located? I'm in NY and would love to try a new butter!
                                                        JeremyEG
                                                        HomeCookLocavore.com

                                                        Sorry, responding to Vidute!

                                                        1. re: JeremyEG

                                                          I'm in Baltimore, the dairy is in PA, Trickling Springs Dairy. I didn't notice any locations that carry their product in NY, but.... you could always ask and see what happens.

                                                          http://www.tricklingspringscreamery.com/

                                  2. Have you considered making your own? It's super easy in a Kitchenaid, food processor or blender. Just load up on heavy cream when it's on sale or if you can find it in a quick-sale case & mix away. Word to the wise when using the KA - do NOT walk away at any point in the mixing, that's inevitably when the solids will break from the liquid and you'll have whey (buttermilk? whatever) all over the place in a heartbeat.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: shanagain

                                      What's the water proportion of home made butter? I suspect that has to do with the care you taking draining the butter. Even with a prolonged draining time, there may be liquid trapped with in the solid butterfat.

                                      Does anyone know why European butter tends to have a higher butterfat proportion - by a few %?

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        I'm sure that there is probably more water initially, but my gut tells me that like everything else homemade, a little trial and error & Bob's yer uncle, as they say.

                                        My grandparents owned and operated a dairy farm from the 40's-60's, and I can tell you that raw milk is (was?) sold by its butterfat content (my mom never had real butter, only Oleo, because of this) so I'm guessing there are variables here from the type of cow and its diet, to literally the amount of fat skimmed from the milk.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          because eu regulations require a higher fat percentage.

                                          i seriously would not bother making butter with the crap cream on supermarket shelves. it's ultra this and ultra that and is just ultra-awful on both flavor and texture. just buy good butter.

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            I agree. The value isn't there, for one thing. You get very little butter from a $4+ pint of cream. You can find cream without ultra pasturization, additives, and with higher fat content, but it is difficult and expensive.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              we buy grass-fed, organic milk and cream from a local dairy -- the cows live right across the street from the shop. the stuff is like apples and sauerkraut compared to mass market dairy. i never really cared for commercial cream. now i know why. this stuff is like nectar of the gods, lol.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                You are very lucky! Sounds delicious.

                                      2. Ok so I am late to this thread, but I was noticing that about Cabot butter when I would melt on stovetop it was spurting like I dripped water in the pan. Thought I was going crazy but I think the water content is higher than it used to be. I don't find that with European butters....

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: lab333

                                          I used to think of Cabot as upscale but it's real middle of the road now, even sold in bulk to restaurants. I did buy some Kerry this week since it's on sale for St Paddys and realized I was being penny wise and pound foolish. I'll just eat less if I have to!

                                          1. re: coll

                                            Coll, if you have a Costco membership, you can get 3 8oz bars of salted kerrygold for $6.79. And I get the unsalted from trader joe's at their regular price of $2.99.
                                            I always buy imported butter for table use. If I'm doing a ton of baking, I may buy the organic unsalted from Costco, but the higher butterfat in imported butter also improves cookies and other baked goods if it's for a special occasion or if you just want to splurge.
                                            Good butter, for me, is one of those things that is absolutely worth it. I'd rather go without than use a supermarket brand.

                                            1. re: ohmyyum

                                              I was using a lot of European butter for a while but have been trying to not eat AS much butter ( the one thing I could never ever give up, ever). Unfortunately tj and wfm are 45+ minutes away, no Costco for a ways..... But next time I make the trek will hit Tj's and stock up! Thanks again! I've been using the Kate 's for baking it seems to have a good fat content!

                                              1. re: lab333

                                                I saw a lady with 30 bricks of kerrygold in her cart at the checkout in TJs! The cashier said she comes in every month or so to stock up. I'm guessing she's doing a lot of baking or reselling it on the black market lol.

                                                Kate's is only available at WF near me, and is considerably more expensive than any of the other brands so I haven't tried it. Is it cultured? I tried a Vermont Butter & Cheese Co cultured butter and didn't care for it.

                                            2. re: coll

                                              I have stopped buying it unless in a pinch and it is available at local store. Been buying Kate's unsalted which is much better but I just read on package it has "natural flavoring" which always has me suspicious! I think I will keep an eye on kerrygold and others for sales and just freeze a few! Thank you, btw, for commenting/replying when I am so late to the game!
                                              Cheers!

                                              1. re: lab333

                                                No this is an ongoing issue as far as I'm concerned. I just got two 8z bars of Kerrygold for $5 and used some in my Irish soda bread, such a difference. I used to be a butter snob, figured they're all mostly the same for baking but I will be the first to admit when I am wrong.

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  Coll do you have a foolproof traditional recipe for soda bread that you'd be willing to share? I was told that my version with sultanas currants and caraway was a bastardized soda bread by a full blooded Irish friend.. Oops!

                                                  1. re: ohmyyum

                                                    The traditional recipes that I've seen just have flour (white or whole), salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. Similar to American biscuits, but without the shortening (or butter).

                                                    Butter, of course, would be served with it.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      Melissa Clark in the NY Times recently did a nice piece on Irish Soda Bread -- both the traditional and the American version, which she favors. Here's the link, which includes a video that starts playing when you open the link.

                                                      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/din...

                                                    2. re: ohmyyum

                                                      No; mine is an American version and I don't care what anyone says ;-) The traditional is more like plain whole wheat bread, from what I've heard, and doesn't sound that exciting. I figured adding some oats and half whole wheat flour might trick someone who wasn't actually from the old country into thinking it was authentic, but I know it's far from that. However I will always put raisins/craisins and caraway seeds in mine, and just let anyone try to stop me!

                                                      Was your friend here or were you in Ireland when your bread was judged? I would ask for a trip over so you can learn the true ways of Irish bread making, before conceding which was the best!

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        I like the seed and dried fruit version better, too. With just a touch of whole wheat. My recipe came from an old Gourmet.

                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                          I soak my raisins in Irish whiskey, that's what makes it authentic to me!

                                            3. I have been using Costco unsalted butter for years and within the last 6 months I noticed the price come down, but the water in the butter has obviously gone up. My baked goods are not browning as well and my Swiss buttercream is not whipping up as smoothly. I have also noticed considerable sputtering when melting butter over the stove and and even exploding butter in the microwave. I'd much rather go back to the higher price and have good butter again. Very disappointing- I'll be giving Costco a piece of my mind today!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: marzipanmom

                                                It took me a long time to break down, but I'm mostly using Kerry Gold and Trader Joe butter right now. They seem fine. But I've got my eye on them too! It's so easy to see when you melt some in a saute pan.

                                              2. To permanently solve the problem take the butter and 'clarify it'. You'll end up with what you get but at least the butter will have no water or milk solids in it. I just did some this morning. There's nothing better than cooking with clarified butter IMO. The milk solids scorch and the food ends up with a burnt/sour/bitter taste if they get too hot which they can easy do when the heat was too high.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                  The issue is that there is so much water that it is almost impossible to clarify. It just keeps bubbling and bubbling and the water never totally dissolves. It is very strange.

                                                2. This would answer why I have been forced to add more flour to recipes of late.

                                                  http://www.sfgate.com/recipes/article...

                                                  The USDA maximum water amount to be classified as butter is 80%.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                                    Just to avoid confusion, the 80% refers to the minimum percentage of butterfat the USDA requires. The remainder will be milk solids and water. Imported European and domestic "European-style" butters will be higher in butterfat, usually somewhere from 82% to 86%.

                                                    1. re: Kelli2006

                                                      I'm not sure about "of late". That article is 12.5 year old.

                                                      1. re: Kelli2006

                                                        That's a 2000 article, with butterfat ranging from a high of 85 to a low of 80 - all meeting the USDA standards. Since the standards haven't changed, I don't see how current butter, even the house brands stuff could be any lower than 80%.

                                                      2. Do they have to put the water they include in the ingredient list? My favorite butter here in Texas is Falfurrias.

                                                        How does one tell the amount of water in butter?

                                                        2 Replies
                                                          1. re: randyjl

                                                            The cream that butter is made from naturally contains water, they do not add water to it.

                                                          2. Plain butter should not have more than 20% water. If your current brand contains more water than that, I would suggest buying a different brand.
                                                            When buying Unsalted Butter be sure that each stick is individually wrapped in foil, if they are not wrapped in foil switch brands. Butter that has no salt spoils faster and needs an oxygen barrier for it's wrapper. Unsalted butter is not as fragile as salted butter, salted butter may be wrapped in paper.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Pauly45

                                                              Thanks for the advice; despite being a very thrifty shopper I have switched to mostly imported butter for now. It kills me to even buy LOL or Hotel, but I still will if the price is deeply discounted. I really don't trust the house brands anymore, after a couple of years of subpar Christmas cookies. I have many years of holiday baking to compare it to, so I know I'm not imagining it. (Nestles chocolate chips is another stock item for me that I'm rethinking, but that's for another thread. Like they're made out of wax now. Sad)