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Why unsalted butter?


Janedujour
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Since salted and unsalted butter cost the same where I shop I usually keep both on hand. It has only happened to me once but I had a pound of butter that was so oversalted it was almost inedible. I do notice that some butter is saltier than other butter so I prefer to use the unsalted when a recipe calls for it.

As for salt I have now memorized the weight of a teaspoon of table salt in grams and convert all salt from volume to weight.

Do recipes ever specifically call for salted butter?

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"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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... I use only one brand of butter and I know how much salt is in a stick.

 

...

That's good for you, but not for everyone else. And recipe developers cannot assume that everyone has access to the particular brand of butter they might use. So I think unsalted butter makes more sense for them. I'm speaking mostly from a baking perspective, but I think it makes sense in cooking as well. You can season food at just about any stage. 

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The explanation Smithy mentions is the one I've generally seen, i.e., that it originally had to do with rancidity.  I think that concern has become obsolete, as I haven't run into rancid butter in decades.  OTOH, there's something to be said for simplicity and consistency.  Unsalted is customary in recipes and, in fact, that's how I've written all of mine.

 

BTW, it's easy to duplicate/confirm Porthos' calculation.  (This has come up for me mainly in the context of friends asking how to substitute salted butter in a recipe.)  A tsp of salt, 6 g, has 2300 milligrams sodium.  Butter in my neck of the woods typically has 95 milligram sodium per tbsp (14 g), at a guess because it looks good in the nutrition analysis.  That works out to 1/8 tsp salt for 3 tbsp butter.  Just a hair under, actually (0.1239), but close enough for cooking purposes.

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What happened to tasting and adding seasoning according to what it needs? It seems we want cookbook authors to hand hold us on everything. Add unsalted and then salt to taste or add salted and then add less to taste. The main problem would be using salted in a dish that has many added salt components (bacon, soy sauce, fish sauce, etc). In these cases, I'd stick to unsalted and then add if it needs it.

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Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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According to a history book about cookies, the reason for  unsalted  butter is that  back in the day,  that was  the fresh butter and the salted butter was the stored butter and could be really salty and sometimes rancid.

 

How ever today  most butter are not as salty or rancid  any more   so you can use salted butter and remove the added salt to the recipe.

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I'm just not sure how the amount of salt in one particular brand of butter that happens to be low enough to ignore in relation to the total salt in one particular recipe is a solid foundation for calling all the reasons people use unsalted over salted butter a myth.

 

I've always baked with unsalted butter but since moving to Toronto, I've found that my local supermarket charges a heck of a lot more for unsalted butter.  So I've been buying salted.  I was shocked at how salty a batch of cookies was with the salted butter.

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I agree with Porthos.  The amount in salted butter is not significant enough to make a difference in taste and I also agree with pbear that the argument that salt masks inferior butter is a false premise in butter made commercially in the U.S. today.  I can see avoiding salted butter if you have health problems that demand  limiting salt intake but for everyday people with everyday recipes, it does not make any significant difference.  I'd be so impressed if ever met someone who could blind taste test and tell whether salted or unsalted butter was used in a recipe. 

Edited by Norm Matthews (log)
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I can't be bothered to buy two types of butter, and I generally buy salted, probably because it is cheaper.  If I'm cooking savory foods then I slat to taste repeatedly throughout the cooking, and if I'm baking I reduce the amount of salt I am using by a bit.  I've got enough experience with the products I use regularly to have a good feel for what the result will be.

Also, maybe my palate isn't that great, but a cookie recipe, for example, would have to be really excessively salty for me to really notice the difference.  

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I grew up on salted butter - but going to Germany unsalted was the norm.

 

butter-on-bread/muffins/egg fry/etc - I can taste salted vs non-salted in a flash - and curiously Americans that visited and/or business people I traveled with would often comment - especially at breakfast - 'gosh this butter is so fresh' - salted is more common in USA; some have never had/tasted unsalted "stand alone" i.e. on breads.

 

methinks it is simply a matter of preference.

 

before the "European" cultured butters became popular, buying them was a bit of a risk - the inventory did not turn over all that fast and more than once I've gotten really off tasting stuff - top brands ala Kerry Gold - to boot.

 

I only buy unsalted now - I always have salt on hand in the pantry (g) so I simply add salt as needed.  it's really tricky to remove the salt....

and I agree in most cooked/baked dishes whether the butter is salted or unsalted makes little or no taste difference.

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I've always baked with unsalted butter but since moving to Toronto, I've found that my local supermarket charges a heck of a lot more for unsalted butter.  So I've been buying salted.  I was shocked at how salty a batch of cookies was with the salted butter.

Why would unsalted butter be more expensive? Over here I've never seen a price difference between them. (I live in Manhattan.)

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Most of us who have cut back on salt in the past few years would agree that salt sensitivity is affected by overall consumption. The more you reduce salt in your diet the more restaurant food and processed foods seem too salty. If someone made a pie crust with salted butter I think I would be able to tell. And if I had to cook with a substantial quantity of salted butter I would taste frequently and adjust for the salt.

Didn't it used to be more common to purchase salted butter? I grew up with it; I don't think my mother ever considered the difference. If a recipe called for unsalted butter you would have to go out and search for it. Now I use unsalted butter routinely, but every once in a while salted butter seems so right: for instance on rye toast or on a toasted bagel with sweet cream cheese on top of it. My husband hates salted butter, but for me I guess it's nostalgic, which seems weird now that I think about it. Salted butter rarely makes an appearance in my house, and when it does it is usually the result of an accident or someone else buying it, so it seems like a special treat!

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Do recipes ever specifically call for salted butter?

In my experience, recipes usually call for butter. Not salted, not unsalted...just butter. I take that to mean, "use whatever butter you have on hand".

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In my experience, recipes usually call for butter. Not salted, not unsalted...just butter. I take that to mean, "use whatever butter you have on hand".

Unsalted butter as an ingredient mostly appears in baking recipes. I don't recall seeing it in other recipes. As you note the ingredient is simply butter.

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In my experience, recipes usually call for butter. Not salted, not unsalted...just butter. I take that to mean, "use whatever butter you have on hand".

 

Unsalted butter as an ingredient mostly appears in baking recipes. I don't recall seeing it in other recipes. As you note the ingredient is simply butter.

Thank you- This IMO, is the essential point. BTW, I grew up on unsalted butter. But then, I am the grandson of immigrants.

 

I grew up on salted butter - but going to Germany unsalted was the norm.

 

butter-on-bread/muffins/egg fry/etc - I can taste salted vs non-salted in a flash - and curiously Americans that visited and/or business people I traveled with would often comment - especially at breakfast - 'gosh this butter is so fresh' - salted is more common in USA; some have never had/tasted unsalted "stand alone" i.e. on breads.

 

methinks it is simply a matter of preference.

 

before the "European" cultured butters became popular, buying them was a bit of a risk - the inventory did not turn over all that fast and more than once I've gotten really off tasting stuff - top brands ala Kerry Gold - to boot.

 

I only buy unsalted now - I always have salt on hand in the pantry (g) so I simply add salt as needed.  it's really tricky to remove the salt....

and I agree in most cooked/baked dishes whether the butter is salted or unsalted makes little or no taste difference.

 

IMHO- Most Americans know only salted butter. I find larger selections of unsalted butter in smaller ethnic markets. Though, it would not surprise me to find them in high-end markets of any sort.

Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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This from Land O Lakes gives a pretty balanced view of the differences between using the two kinds of butter either alone or in recipes.

 

http://www.landolakes.com/Blog/salted-or-unsalted-which-butter-should-i-use-when

 

This is an excerpt:

 

 Both salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably in any recipe. You really can’t go wrong with either one, but if the recipe calls specifically for unsalted butter, it’s probably because the recipe has been tested with it and it’s the preferred butter for that particular recipe. 

Edited by Norm Matthews (log)
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As Anna N mentioned above, some salted butters are saltier than others.  Maybe it is an extreme example, but when I was working in Bhutan, we had limited access to locally made unsalted butter, but packaged Amul butter was easily available.  Amul butter has enough salt in it to keep it shelf stable in India.  It was some salty stuff and I had to warn my staff against using it in things like cake frosting.  Their website says 836mg sodium per 100 g butter.  Darigold salted butter says it has 100mg sodium per 14g serving, so that would be 714mg/100g butter.  Land O' Lakes salted butter has 90mg per 14g serving, so even lower sodium at 642mg/100g. 

 

At home as well as at work, I buy unsalted butter - I've been in pastry so long that it is a reflex.  I do add some salt to most sweet things I make, but I still appreciate having that control.  So I don't think it is a myth that there is a difference, but if you have butter that you like and do not find too salty for sweet applications, by all means use it.  But if you switch brands (or move to Bhutan), you may notice a difference!

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The amount in salted butter is not significant enough to make a difference in taste

In some cases, that's true... but I can easily taste the difference in things like cookies, puff pastry, croissant dough, pie dough, cake batter, buttercream, etc. Maybe it comes down to the particular butter available in an area but where I live, there is most definitely a noticeable difference. Porthos example of 3 tbsp. butter in a recipe also calling for 1 1/2 tsp. salt and salted chicken broth is a bit extreme for using it as a basis to declare the reasons to use unsalted butter a myth. In recipes where butter is a primary component and the amount of added salt is less prominent, the difference is obvious.

 

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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...also calling for 1 1/2 tsp. salt . . .

 

and as an extra added attraction, the density of salt depends on the fine-ness of grind and varies by 100% from typical "table" salt to "kosher" - add in stuff like popcorn style, pretzel style, sea style and the variation increases.  otoh, one  gram of salt is one gram of salt no matter how fine/coarse it is ground.....

 

somebody decides "Oh, I'll just use up this old popcorn salt" will be dumping in more than double to triple the amount of salt the recipe writer had in mind.

Edited by AlaMoi (log)
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Porthos example of 3 tbsp. butter in a recipe also calling for 1 1/2 tsp. salt and salted chicken broth is a bit extreme for using it as a basis to declare the reasons to use unsalted butter a myth.

 

From my original post: I call foolishness in asking someone to stock unsalted butter in cases like the one above, which is very typical.  (Bold added for emphasis).

 

I also, in a post down from my original post, clarified the point that I don't really bake. My point was in reference to cooking as opposed to baking. I thought that the recipe I referred indicated cooking, not baking. I can't ever recall baking something that called for chicken stock.

Porthos Potwatcher
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I use unsalted in baking, because recipes are written for it and different salted butters have differing amounts of salt. It's particularly important point in recipes like buttercream, where there's a lot of butter used, and you might not want so much salt. I generally eat salted butter on toast and such, so I buy both kinds, and wind up doing savory cooking with the salted type. -My exception would be in making Italian double-butter sauce (aka the original Alfredo) the cheese adds a lot of salt, and I prefer sweet butter as a little bit of contrast.

 

I don't find it a hassle to stock both at home, because I freeze my butter and only pull out a sticks of salted one at a time as I use one up. The unsalted stays frozen until I need it. In general, I wait for sales and stock up. -I generally have 5-10 pounds in the freezer at any given time. This comes in handy for baking on the spur of the moment.

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I heard salted butter makes cookies dry. I dont know if i bellieve that mularkey. Most recipes call for unsalted butter and salt. Seems counter productive if you ask me. And as mentioned, who wants to be bothered with adding salt to buttered toast?

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