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Why unsalted butter?


Janedujour
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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.

Fair enough, let's try this one more time then. The quote above... that is the statement I'm contesting. Nothing in your post makes any specification as to type of recipe. "Everyday recipes" is not a specification. Some people don't bake at all, some people bake every day. My argument is that in some types of recipes, I, and I'm sure I'm not alone, can easily tell the difference. That is the only argument I was making.

I'm sure in a recipe such as Porthos example with the significant amount of added salt as well as pre-salted broth, I couldn't notice the additional salt added by 3 tbsp. of salted butter. But I'm also confident that's not the type of situation the "myth of unsalted butter" was created for. It may have found it's way into that territory due to people not thinking things through when they create a recipe. "Well most of my baking recipes call for unsalted butter so it must be better. I'll specify that in this recipe." If we want to use that as the basis for the discussion and argument, I concede the point. But I'm pretty sure it's not a great stretch of common sense to realize that's not the type of situation where "the myth" was founded. In a situation where butter is a significant component of the recipe without a significant amount of additional salt from other sources, the difference is easy to notice and much more likely to be the situation "the myth" was created for. 

Just for the record, this has nothing to do with not being willing to have my mind changed. I'm always willing to learn, there's just nothing for me to learn in this case. I know from my own experience that in many situations it doesn't require anything special or magical to notice the difference. If it's otherwise for you, that's fine. I'm not trying to convince anybody they should use a specific type of butter for anything. I was just arguing against Porthos opening statement that the reasons for using it are a myth and your seeming disbelief that people can tell a difference.

 

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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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I have read that unsalted butter has less water than salted.

 

That's a long standing old wives' tale....

 

d0uOdVs.png

 

Source: Dairying in All Its Branches by M. A. O'Callaghan and W. Graham, 1906

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~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

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Interesting, Martin.

 

For context, butter which has 95 mg sodium per tbsp, 679 mg per 100 g, is about 1.77% salt by weight.  That works out to just under a quarter gram per tbsp, 1/8 tsp for 3 tbsp, or (or course) 1.77 g per 100 g.  Whereas butter with 3% salt would have 161 mg sodium per tbsp, 1150 mg per 100 g.  The key conversion factor, btw, is that one needs to multiply or divide by 0.3833 to switch between sodium and salt.

 

Meanwhile, I agree with Tri2Cook (and others) that there are many recipes, in baking especially, where using salted butter without adjustment will change the outcome noticeably.  But, with adjustment, the substitution generally works fine, buttercream being a prominent exception.

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You cherry picked and edited what I said.

 

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

For baked goods, if there's no other salt in the recipe, I bet I could. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between a baked good with no salt vs one with 1/8th tsp of salt, which is why good pastry recipes advise you to add a pinch of salt.

PS: I am a guy.

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For baked goods, if there's no other salt in the recipe, I bet I could. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between a baked good with no salt vs one with 1/8th tsp of salt, which is why good pastry recipes advise you to add a pinch of salt.

 

Well I can certainly tell when I forget to add salt in bread I baked even if there is no butter in it at all.  That wasn't my point.  My point was that there is such a small amount of salt in butter that is isn't generally possible to tell a difference between the two butters. I should have added that I meant in recipes that use salt.

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

 

I  have no idea.  But it usually is.  Perhaps because the cheaper brands only offer the salted version, so if you want unsalted you have to go upscale.  I was very surprised because I hadn't used salted butter for years and was used, as you are, to having many options at the supermarket. 

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I was reading up on biscuits when I saw this comment by Chris Young about why ChefSteps' biscuit recipe calls for both salt and salted butter.

 

"Salted butter has a different flavor profile due to the fact that salt promotes the oxidation of the butterfat, which leads to the development of different flavors than you get in unsalted butter. "

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I was reading up on biscuits when I saw this comment by Chris Young about why ChefSteps' biscuit recipe calls for both salt and salted butter.

 

"Salted butter has a different flavor profile due to the fact that salt promotes the oxidation of the butterfat, which leads to the development of different flavors than you get in unsalted butter. "

 

I'm hypersenstitive to rancidity and have never noticed any such effect on salted butter.  Have you?

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When I've bought salted butter by mistake, I've calculated the salt content based on the sodium listed in the nutrition info. For recipes that use a lot of butter, this adds up to a lot of salt. In some cases more salt than you'd intentionally put in the recipe. In any case, it would be bad news to neglect these calculations and add the usual amount of salt on top of what's already in the butter.

 

Since the only thing I ever use salted butter for is buttering bread, and I do this only rarely, I don't buy the stuff. It's not worth the extra work and the lost flexibility.

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Notes from the underbelly

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Salt is very important in cooking and when it is added to give a desired result. For example,brining or adding salt up front to ensure distribution through the food. It doesn't really matter where the salt comes from.

 

Unsalted butter + salt = same as salted butter but with more control. Why use anything but unsalted butter and add salt to taste while cooking? One conventional wisdom that is never disputed is that it is easier to add salt to taste than to take it out (actually the latter is close to impossible, you have to add more unsalted ingredients to balance the dish).

 

My own butter is made with 1% salt as I like this concentration for buttering bread, etc -- I also use Maldon sea salt as the bigger grains give an illusion of more salt than I actually use. 

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I tend to agree with the original post - cooking or baking.  The only niggling doubt I have is with something like puff pastry that's so delicate.  Salt, in different situations, can have so many effects other than seasoning (brining, preserving, curing, etc.).  But I think you only face a risk when you are already on the knife's edge.

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