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Varieties of Butter and Their Uses

Varieties of Butter and Their Uses

Photo of butter on parchment. Fresh herbs, garlic, and twine are in the background. The text "Butter Varieties and their Uses" is overlaid.

Butter is that magical substance made from cream (usually from a cow). We use it at all temperatures: melted it is a sauce, at room temperature it is a spread, and cold it goes into pastry. Technically, butter is a water-in-oil emulsion where the milk proteins serve as the emulsifiers between the water and fat molecules. There are many different varieties of butter, so let’s take a look at the differences in and uses of each.

Photo of 3 sticks of Unsalted (Sweet) Butter on a white background.

Unsalted Butter (Sweet Butter)

Unsalted butter, sometimes referred to as sweet butter, is just regular butter with no salt added. It’s best for baking so that you don’t exceed the amount of salt called for in the recipe.

Photo of 1 stick of salted butter on a white background.

Salted Butter

Salt adds flavor to butter, so salted butter is best for spreading and seasoning (for example, on vegetables). Salted butter will last longer than unsalted butter since the salt acts as a preservative. This is one of the most popular varieties of butter.

Photo of pancakes topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of syrup and whipped butter.

Whipped Butter

Whipped butter is regular butter with air whipped in. It is easier to spread than regular butter. It is not good for recipes since the volume is different. You can purchase it salted and unsalted, but we recommend salted since whipped butter is primarily for spreading.

Photo of a round of light-colored butter on a textured wooden board. A pile of flake salt sits nearby.

Cultured Butter

Making cultured butter is similar to making yogurt or sour cream, where after pasteurization, the cream has live cultures added so it can ferment. Cultured butter will have a tangy, acidic taste and a creamy texture. You can use cultured butter like regular butter, but it will affect the flavor of the final product.

Photo of a hand-shaped ball of very yellow butter sitting on a crumpled piece of blue and white checked parchment paper.

European-Style Butter

American (or for our purposes, “regular”) butter has about 80% milkfat, and European butter has about 85% milkfat (and therefore less moisture). Slow churning and culturing gives it a creamier texture. It’s also more expensive than regular butter. Use European butter when baking buttery desserts or in sauces when you want them to be extra rich.

Photo of a very white, rather dry chunk of butter.

Raw Butter

Raw butter is made from unpasteurized cream. Some people believe raw butter is superior since the heat of pasteurization can alter the nutrients in the butter. Consuming unpasteurized dairy products does come with the risk of consuming pathogens. Raw butter tends to be expensive. Do not cook with raw butter. The cooking temperature will destroy any preserved nutrients, so it’s a waste of money.

Photo shows a orange-colored compound butter sliced in a white bowl and a yellow and brown flecked butter sliced on a piece of parchment paper. There is also a roll of compound butter in parchment paper in the background. A wooden butter spreader, some red peppers, and some green herbs surround the flavored butters.

Compound Butter (Flavored Butter)

Flavored butter is just butter with flavorings such as chives, garlic, herbs, spices, etc. added. Use it to top steak, vegetables, breads, and other foods that pair well with extra seasoning. This is a variety of butter you can customize and make yourself at home.

Photo of blocks of a light-colored butter on a wooden plate on a wooden table with a wooden handled spreader and a brown napkin in the background.

Organic Butter

Organic butter is made from certified organic cream, meaning the cows are not exposed to pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. Cows that produce organic cream are also pasture fed, which can drastically change the flavor of the product. Some people believe the organic product is healthier.

Photo of a light colored butter on a white butter dish with a white butter knife on a white background. A white cup and saucer are visible on the side.

Light Butter

Also referred to as “reduced fat butter,” light butter can be used as a lighter spread than regular butter. Don’t bake with light butter since it has more air, a lower fat content, and a higher moisture content.

Photo of a light colored butter in a plastic tub with a seal partially peeled off. A silver spreader is in the tub. The tub sits on a wooden table.

Butter Blends

Butter blends aim to provide the flavor of butter with the (possible) health benefits of other fats (like vegetable oil), and the convenience of being spreadable straight out of the refrigerator. These should only be used for spreading, as the blend of different fats can drastically change the texture and flavor of baked goods.

Photo of a pile of margarine cubes with a green plant sprig garnishing the top.

Plant-Based Butter

This product is not truly butter at all, as it contains no animal products. Rather, it uses a blend of vegetable-based oils (like coconut, almond, palm, avocado, olive, etc.) to make a product that has a similar taste and texture to butter but is a variety compatible with vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free lifestyles. You can use it in baking, but usually with different results than butter.

Photo of a light colored butter in a wooden bowl on a wooden table, garnished with a sprig of herbs.

Goat Butter

Goat butter is like regular butter but made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk. The flavor is different, and many people who have trouble with lactose intolerance can digest goat’s milk (and goat butter) without trouble. You can use goat butter just like regular butter, but it will produce a different flavor profile.

Photo of a round log of light colored butter cut into slices and served in a white square dish on a white square saucer. A lid to the butter dish can be seen to the side. Homemade bread, a bowl of dried fruit, and a glass of orange juice can be seen in the background.

Amish Butter

Real Amish butter (as opposed to a manufacturer’s butter that is only marketed as Amish) is made from Amish family-owned cows, hand-churned with no mechanized equipment, rolled, stored in parchment, and sold in 1 or 2 lb logs. Use Amish butter like regular butter for rich, delicious results.

A white bowl of smen (unshaped butter with a caramel color) sits on a wooden table.

Smen Butter

Smen butter is a fermented butter originally from the Middle East. The makers of smen heavily salt it to preserve it without refrigeration. The fermentation process gives this butter a strong, cheesy flavor. It’s especially delicious in Moroccan, Middle Eastern, and North African dishes. Of all these varieties of butter, this one can be the hardest to find. We recommend ordering it online or looking at a Middle Eastern Market.

Photo of a clear jar of ghee (golden butter with a paste consistency) sits on a weathered wooden table with a wooden spoon balanced on top of the jar.

Ghee

To make ghee (clarified butter), heat, separate, and remove the milk solids. The clarification process also reduces the moisture. Ghee has a paste-like consistency and has a higher heat tolerance than regular butter. Use ghee for frying or sautéing.

Photo of butter browning in a nonstick pan.

Browned Butter

Gently heat butter to toast the milk solids. This will give you browned butter, which has a nutty, toasty flavor. It’s great for deepening the flavors of a variety of dishes.

We have a few butter bonus tips for you: To soften butter quickly for a recipe, grate it on a cheese grater or a butter blade. Another idea is to heat a glass bowl with boiling water, then place the butter under the bowl for a couple of minutes. Yet another idea is to smash your butter between pieces of waxed paper with a rolling pin. For butter you want to serve at room temperature, we recommend a butter bell, which keeps the butter spreadable and pest-free. You have lots of options when it comes to varieties of butter, so have fun trying them all and experimenting with what type you prefer for different applications!

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