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natural flavors in butter


mrbigjas
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so i'm at wegmans last week, buying a couple pounds of butter to clarify.

i've always figured, sure, i know all about nice cultured butters from france, and ireland, and denmark, and parma and whatnot. but this is just for clarified butter, just buy the cheap stuff.

so i've got it in the pan and i look at the wrapper as i throw it away:

INGREDIENTS: sweet cream, natural flavors.

uh, natural flavors? in butter? i mean, why? butter is just cream -- why add to it?

or is there something else i'm missing here? have we gotten so used to microwave popcorn and whatnot, that they have to add butter flavor to actual butter?

finally, since i usually just buy plugra at trader joes: is this pretty much commonplace, and i just haven't noticed it?

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Odd. Perhaps they're adding natural butter flavor (like the stuff in microwave popcorn) in order to make their butter, um.... more buttery.

I think the legal definition of "natural flavor" is loose enough that manufacturers can basically use this as a catch-all for anything they don't want to list by name. Worries me. I'll have to pay more attention next time I'm butter shopping, as I generally just look for salted or unsalted. Guess it's not as simple as I thought.

__Jason

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Interesting! I checked two different supermarket brands in my 'fridge: the President's Choice butter list cream as the only ingredient while the Lactancia lists cream, lactic acid and adds "may contain colour". Both are unsalted.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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That's great info, Helen. I vote for salt, or natural chemical compounds that mimic the flavor of salt. Since you said you purchased the 'value' brand, the don't want to list Morton's table crap on label. However, I know you know your stuff so you wouldn't buy salted butter to clarify... so the answer is in Helen's link.

I'm impressed that you clarify butter.

Edited to add: I had the pleasure of meeting the Parma butter producer in Spain. An interesting farm fellow who knows how to party. I would also use those decriptors for how the butter tastes!

Edited by Lisa1349 (log)

Lisa K

Lavender Sky

"No one wants black olives, sliced 2 years ago, on a sandwich, you savages!" - Jim Norton, referring to the Subway chain.

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interesting info! thanks for the pointer about a culture possibly being listed as 'natural flavors', helenjp. maybe it's a false alarm after all. I've sent an email to wegmans' customer service to find out.

i was buying the unsalted kind of butter, so it wasn't salt. or shouldn't have been. besides, salt is always listed as an ingredient, not as natural flavors, so i don't think it would be that.

(i have made clarified butter out of salted butter before, and let me tell you the foam and leftover bits are like popcorn without the nuisance of actual popcorn. aaaaw yeah).

that parma butter is awesome. sometimes i want to eat slabs of it on bread like cheese, but for some reason i have a mental block against doing that. for some reason. i wonder what that could be.

edited to add: really it's not that big a deal to do -- i just buy a pound at a time, clarify it, and then store in a jar in the fridge. it takes me months to use up, so like stockmaking, it's one of those things i don't mind taking the time to do.

Edited by mrbigjas (log)
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edited to add: really it's not that big a deal to do -- i just buy a pound at a time, clarify it, and then store in a jar in the fridge.  it takes me months to use up, so like stockmaking, it's one of those things i don't mind taking the time to do.

Have you considered not refrigerating it? I've been led to believe that clarified butter is shelf-stable as long as you get all the milk solids out of it.

And speaking of milk solids, what do you do with them? It seems such a waste to discard them.

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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hm, i hadn't really thought of it. i'm not entirely sure i filter it quite well enough.

on the other hand, isn't butter is pretty stable at room temp for a while? my family always left it out so it would be spreadable. of course there were six people in the house, so it went pretty fast.

i did have that one experience where i left butter out and came back and it smelled like blue cheese. that was kinda weird.

edited: milk solids i generally toss. or spread on a tortilla. or a piece of bread.

Edited by mrbigjas (log)
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Helen's suggestion seems like a possibility, but if it were a starter added to purposely culture the butter wouldn't the manufacturer go to the trouble of advertising this? Although the linked website doesn't seem to indicate this explicitly; perhaps it is some byproduct of another dairy process added in quantities to enhance the flavor.

Clarified butter will keep for a few months at room temperature, but as DCP's link indicated only if it is thoroughly clarified. If you are going to be keeping it for a while I would suggest keeping it in an airtight opaque container in the fridge. Some high end ghees are aged for months to years at cool temperatures though.

What leads you to believe that cheap better is best for clarifying? It depends on what you're using it for, and if you are happy with what you've got, then great. But, better butter makes better clarified better (or ghee). The best ghees I am told, are made from extraordinary butter that is the product of a laborious and somewhat complicated process.

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gabriel -- you have a point there. i never really thought about it much, to tell you the truth. i just always bought store brand butter for clarifying, figuring that since i'm already cooking it and straining it and all, whatever more complicated, volatile flavor components would probably be lost in the process. maybe that's not the case. that's something to think about.

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Higher end butter generally have higher butterfat content, so there would be less to strain. I can't speak as to how the flavor of expensive butter translates in the clarifying process. In restaurants, when you buy tubs of clarified butter, it's made with inexpensive butter so it has a very neutral flavor when cooked - it's more about getting sensational browning at a great temperature.

Lisa K

Lavender Sky

"No one wants black olives, sliced 2 years ago, on a sandwich, you savages!" - Jim Norton, referring to the Subway chain.

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that's what i thought, i guess, lisa. i mean, that was i guess my rationale that i never thought too much about. like you know how you don't sautee with really good extra virgin olive oil, because what's the point -- a lot of what makes it good is lost when you heat it.

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I looked over Mcgee a bit, but didn't find too much on the specific flavor compounds of butter. The olive oil analogy doesn't make a lot of sense to me though, as the two are processed and used differently. The vast majority of butter is pasteurised, and when using butter, one usually heats it in some form. This isn't the case for high quality olive oils which are cold pressed and used "raw".

I don't think you need super high-end butter for clarifying unless you are planning to use it for something where its delicate and subtle qualities will be an asset. But I don't think one should settle for just any old butter either. In my experience, the clarifying process actually enhances the aroma and flavor of the butter.

Thinking on it, I'd bet the "natural flavors" are just lactic acid and flavour compounds (probably gained as by products from other dairy processes). These are often added to butters that aren't fermented at any stage with bacterial cultures. If the natural flavors were related to the fermentation that produces cultured better, I'm guessing they would advertise this.

I'm a bit puzzled at why one would want a neutrally flavored clarified butter. Its higher percentage of saturated fats might make it fry better. The fact that it has already been heated might also do this. Most fats fry better after they have been used a bit, thought I can't remember why. (Incidentally I've been trying to remember where I read it ever since, any ideas anyone?) But it seems like one gains little advantage over using a high smoke point oil with a good proportion of saturated fat. If i'm going to bother clarifying butter so I can fry specifically with it, it's going to be for the flavor.

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i bet you're right about the flavors, but i haven't heard back from wegman's yet. how could that be? don't they see that this is a matter of national importance?

re: neutral flavor, i don't know -- as i said, i never thought about it all that much before. i never was going for a neutral flavor, but a basic butter flavor you can fry with. i just read cookbooks and follow them.

about older fats frying better, russ parsons explains that one in 'how to read a french fry.'

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Looks like a good subject for a test.

I bet there is at least some relevence to the olive oil analogy. Even if butter is pasteurized, this happens at far lower temperature than sautéing.

I agree with the idea that you're not looking for neutral flavor with clarified butter. There are plenty of cheaper, neutral flavored oils that can take high heat, for the times you don't want to taste butter.

But even so, I have trouble imagining the difference between artisan butter and supermarket butter showing up in a sauté. If you use the clarified butter for other purposes (hollandaise sauce, etc.) I can believe it would make a real difference. If the difference is worth it to you or not is a different story. You'll definitely be clarifying out a lot of the wonderful flavors of that expensive butter. Much of a butter's subtlety is in the milk solids.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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i don't use clarified butter in a hollandaise.  jacques pepin told me not to. 

of course he also told me that reduced stock was a demiglace, and it turned out that was wrong, technically speaking.

Ha! Yeah, I find that Mr. Pepin dumbs down a lot of information before publishing it. There are reasons to use clarified butter in Hollandaise sometimes. See this thread: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=87733

Just don't try to use it in a beurre blanc.

Notes from the underbelly

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well, gabriel lewis wins the prize:

Dear James, thank you for taking the time to email us regarding the Wegmans brand butter, the natural flavoring system which we use is considered to be "European Style" in nature.  It is a combination of lactic acid, starter distillate and diacetyl.  We also use a starter culture to enhance the flavoring system.  This starter culture is similar to the starter system used in the manufacture of cheese and other cultured dairy products.  This combination of ingredients functions to give our unsalted butter a distinct flavor, as well as enhance its keeping quality. We hope that you will continue to purchase Wegmans butter.

or at least partially. diacetyl is a component of the butter flavor they put in popcorn and the like, and also the source of 'popcorn workers lung.' OMG maybe i shouldn't be cooking with it!

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