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Types of Butter

Types of Butter

Last updated on 12/30/2020

Butter needs no introduction. It's probably in your fridge in some form right now. But do you have the 84% butterfat butter that will part dough into layers to make a flakey croissant? Or the herbed and spiced butter that adds an immense boost of different flavors to cooked meat or fish? How about the fermented butter that you can spread on your artisan bread to make your hard work taste that much better? There are so many different types of butter that play their own role in making a specific recipe the best it can be. Keeping a couple varieties of butter in your fridge ensures that your recipes are at their prime so you can run a successful bakery or restaurant.

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The 16 Different Types of Butter

With so many different types of butter, differentiating the color, taste, and use of each is important for finding the best butter type for your recipe.

Illustration of Unsalted Butter

Unsalted Butter

Unsalted butter is a mildly sweet butter that’s best for baking. Because it is not salted, you’re left with the pure taste and flavors of the churned cream, so you can maintain control of the flavors in your baking recipe. Baking is an exact science, so the fat, water content, and salt levels in a butter can affect the overall outcome of a recipe. Make sure you pay attention to what butter your recipe calls for, and if you’re developing your own recipe, it’s best to stick with unsalted butter.

  • Unsalted Butter Color: Pale yellow
  • Unsalted Butter Taste: Mellow sweet cream flavor
  • Unsalted Butter Uses: Baking cookies, cakes, pancakes, bread pudding, and enriched breads

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Illustration of Salted Butter

Salted Butter

Salted butter has about 1/4 teaspoon of salt added for every 4 oz. of butter. Even though it seems like a small amount, it really does make a difference in taste. The extra salt helps the flavors in your recipe pop while also maintaining the freshness of your butter for longer.

  • Salted Butter Color: Pale yellow
  • Salted Butter Taste: Slightly piquant notes amongst mild cream flavor
  • Salted Butter Uses: Sauteing vegetables, making pasta sauce or caramel sauce, scrambling eggs, and spreading on toast

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Illustration of Sweet Cream Butter

Sweet Cream Butter

Sweet cream butter is made from just that: sweet cream, otherwise known as pasteurized fresh cream. Some types of butter are made with cultured or sour cream and have a vastly different flavor than the milder sweet cream butter. Sweet cream butter can be sold in salted or unsalted, so double-check the label and what butter your recipe calls for before purchasing.

  • Sweet Cream Butter Color: Ivory
  • Sweet Cream Butter Taste: Mildly sweet if unsalted, slightly sharper if salted
  • Sweet Cream Butter Uses:
  • Unsalted: Making muffins, crepes, brownies, frostings, and cornbread
  • Salted: Smearing on biscuits or corn on the cob

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Illustration of Cultured Butter

Cultured Butter

Cultured butter, otherwise known as artisan butter, is a type of butter that is handcrafted. After the pasteurization process, live bacterial cultures are added to the cream and left to ferment before the churning process begins. Cultured butter is produced in a very similar way to yogurt or sour cream, resulting in the same kind of tangy and acidic flavor that’s both creamy and filled with a lactic acid flavor.

  • Cultured Butter Color: Cream
  • Cultured Butter Taste: Tangy, acidic, and fuller lactic flavor
  • Cultured Butter Uses: Making galettes, coffeecakes, soups, risottos, or smeared on a slice of bread

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Illustration of Ghee

Clarified Butter / Ghee

Clarifying butter is the process of skimming the milk solids off of melted butter while the extra water evaporates during the melting process. Once the skimming and evaporating are complete, you’re left with pure butterfat that has a higher smoke point and a richer, fuller flavor.

  • Ghee Color: Saffron yellow
  • Ghee Taste: Grassy, roasted, and nutty notes
  • Ghee Uses: Sauteing fish or vegetables, making a hollandaise, or dipping cooked seafood

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Illustration of Organic Butter

Organic Butter

Organic butter’s milk comes from cows who were only given feed that was grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. The cows themselves were also raised naturally, and are free of any injected growth hormones that unnaturally manipulate the size and growth rate of the cows.

  • Organic Butter Color: Pale yellow
  • Organic Butter Taste: Tangy, smooth, and slightly sweet
  • Organic Butter Uses: Accommodating organic diets while providing the same use as unsalted butter

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Illustration of Plant Based Butter

Plant-Based Butter

Completely free of any animal byproduct, plant-based butter is made from different types of plant-derived oils to fit a vegan or dairy-free diet. Each brand has its own blend of oils, and are typically made with olive, almond, coconut, palm, or avocado oil.

  • Plant-Based Butter Color: Cream
  • Plant-Based Butter Taste: Real butter-like flavor with a slightly oily aftertaste
  • Plant-Based Butter Uses: Accommodating vegan or dairy-free diets while providing the same use as unsalted butter

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Illustration of Grass Fed Butter

Grass-Fed Butter

Grass-fed butter is derived from the milk of cows that are fed a grass-only diet by roaming pastures they openly graze on. This butter is also known as one of the healthiest butters because of its all-natural conditions, with claims that grass-fed butter has omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats, and fat-soluble vitamins.

  • Grass-Fed Butter Color: Sunny yellow
  • Grass-Fed Butter Taste: Bright, rich, creamy, and cultured
  • Grass-Fed Butter Uses: Roasting vegetables or fish, making pasta sauce, biscuits, pie crusts, and shortbread cookies

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Illustration of European Butter

European-Style Butter

European butter is made with a higher percentage of butterfat and therefore has a lower moisture content. This ratio makes European butter perfect for making pastries where the fat is one of the stars of the show, like croissants, pie doughs, biscuits, or puff pastries

  • European-Style Butter Color: Golden yellow
  • European-Style Butter Taste: Rich, tangy, slightly sour but overall creamy flavor
  • European-Style Butter Uses: Baking croissants, brioche, puff pastry, biscuits, profiteroles, pie dough, and eclairs

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Illustration of Spreadable Butter

Spreadable Butter / Margarine

Spreadable butter, otherwise known as margarine, is a mixture of real butter and vegetable oil. The combination of the two fats makes it extremely smooth, and therefore its only use is for spreading.

  • Spreadable Butter Color: Yellow
  • Spreadable Butter Taste: Creamy with an oily aftertaste
  • Spreadable Butter Uses: Spreading on toast, pancakes, waffles, vegetables, or dolloping on mashed potatoes

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Illustration of Whipped Butter

Whipped Butter

Whipped butter is softened butter that has nitrogen gas whipped into it to give it the irresistibly fluffy and airy texture that spreads delicately on toasted bread. Nitrogen gas is used instead of air because the addition of air would cause oxidation in the butter, making it go bad quickly.

  • Whipped Butter Color: Pearl
  • Whipped Butter Taste: Mild, light, slightly oily
  • Whipped Butter Uses: Spreading on bread, waffles, and pancakes

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Illustration of Goat Butter

Goat Butter

Goat butter is just like normal butter but is made from goat milk instead of cow milk. Goat milk is known to be lactose intolerant-friendly and has a deeper flavor that takes cooking to new heights and builds flavor in recipes.

  • Goat Butter Color: Cream
  • Goat Butter Taste: Mildly tangy and pungent with an overall bright and smooth flavor
  • Goat Butter Uses: Smearing on artisan bread, dressing vegetables, and baking butter-based cookies

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Illustration of Smen Butter

Smen Butter

Smen is a fermented Moroccan butter that has been made and used in Middle Eastern and a few North African cuisines for centuries. Before the days of refrigeration, butter needed a way to stay preserved, so a heavy amount of salt was added to melted and skimmed butter, kneaded together, and stored in an air-tight container. Traditionally, smen is buried in the ground to maintain proper temperature stability. This fermentation process brings about a strong, piquant, and cheesy flavor and aroma that is extremely desirable in cooking.

  • Smen Butter Color: Soft yellow
  • Smen Butter Taste: Strong, piquant, and cheesy flavor
  • Smen Butter Uses: Spreading on crackers or toast, cooking tagine or couscous, or blending into coffee

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Illustration of Amish Butter

Amish Butter

Amish butter is made from fresh cow’s milk that has been slowly hand-churned to a milky perfection. It is then scooped and hand-rolled into one or two-pound logs and sealed off in parchment paper. Typically, Amish butter is made from Amish family-owned and operated farms, but be careful of big manufacturing companies that market their butter as Amish butter to make a larger profit.

  • Amish Butter Color: Deep yellow
  • Amish Butter Taste: Mild, milky, and slightly acidic
  • Amish Butter Uses: Baking whoopie pies, soft pretzels, shoofly pie, faschnauts, apple dumplings, and other traditional Amish recipes

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Illustration of Compound Butter

Compound Butter

Compound butter is regular butter that has been softened to a pliable state, and then has herbs, spices, and/or sweeteners added to it. You’re left with a creamy spread that’s packed with extra flavor, which can easily be added to sauces, meats, savory sides. You could even make a sweet compound butter and use it to top off warm desserts.

  • Compound Butter Color: Pale cream with specks of herbs or spices
  • Compound Butter Taste: Imparts the taste of the herbs, spices, and/or sweeteners mixed in
  • Compound Butter Uses: Finishing cooked fish, meat, and vegetables, or making a quick pan sauce

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Illustration of Browned Butter

Browned Butter

Browned butter is the process of heating melted butter even further to toast the milk solids. The result is an amber-brown color with a caramelly, toasty, and nutty taste that takes baked goods to the ultimate level, deepens flavor profiles in dishes, and is simply just the best when cooled, refrigerated, and spread onto toast

  • Browned Butter Color: Amber
  • Browned Butter Taste: Caramel and nutty notes
  • Browned Butter Uses: Making cookies, brownies, granola, pancakes, waffles, or savory sauces.

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How Butter Is Made

Butter is made by churning milk or cream until the fat separates from the buttermilk. The buttermilk is strained away from the butter and is then formed into the desired shape, packaged, and sold. Instead of discarding the buttermilk, it's saved and packaged to sell in grocery stores.

How to Soften Butter

There are five easy and effective ways to soften butter:

  1. Leave out on the counter: If you remember ahead of time that your recipe calls for softened butter, set the butter out on your counter for one to two hours in indirect sunlight.
  2. Cut into pieces: Take your butter block and either slice or dice the butter into pieces. The smaller the size of the pieces, the more quickly they will soften. Place in direct sunlight for 20-30 minutes until softened.
    • Cut with a cheese grater: For the smallest pieces possible, running your butter along the bigger holes of a box or cheese grater easily cuts up the butter and cuts down on softening time.
  3. Pound with a rolling pin: With one sheet of wax or parchment paper, place your butter block on top of the paper, and place another piece of wax or parchment paper on top. Grab a rolling pin and pound on the butter until the entire block is about 1/4” thick.
  4. Cover with a bowl: Find a glass bowl that’s big enough to cover your butter. Bring water to a boil and add boiling water to the glass bowl. Let the water sit in the bowl for 1-2 minutes. Dump the water out and turn the glass bowl over so it sits around the butter. Leave for two minutes or until the butter is softened.
  5. Soften in Microwave: Switch the microwave to the lowest wattage setting. Take the amount of butter that's needed out of the packaging and place it on a plate. In 5-10 second intervals, heat the butter in the microwave. Turn the butter to a new side after every heating interval. Be careful not to overheat as the butter will melt and be sure to check the consistency of the butter after every heating interval.

Best Butter for Baking

The best butter for baking is unsalted butter. Whether that unsalted butter comes in the form of sweet cream, European-style, organic, grass-fed, cultured, plant-based, Amish, or browned butter, any of these options that remain unsalted are great for baking. When butter is unsalted, it allows you to control the taste and salt levels rather than using a pre-salted butter.

Butter melting in a cast iron skillet with herbs

Best Butter for Cooking

The best butter for cooking is simple: anything that’s solid. The more complicated answer? Depends on what you’re cooking. There are a lot of different types of butter that hold different flavors, salt levels, and smoke points, and while these usually do not matter most of the time, they can sometimes affect the flavor or cooking application of your dish.

Does Butter Go Bad?

Unsalted butter should only be left out for up to six hours at room temperature. Salted butter at room temperature can last for a few days, as the added salt helps preserve the butter. In the refrigerator, unsalted butter can last for a little over a month, while salted butter can last for a couple of months, again, because of the salt’s preserving nature. Unsalted and salted butter can last in the freezer for about six months. Past these dates, the oil in the butter can turn rancid and can even grow mold.

Chocolate croissants next to butter, a wooden rolling pin, and a whisk

What’s the Difference between White and Yellow Butter?

The difference between yellow butter and white butter is the beta-carotene levels that are present. Cows that are grass-fed will typically have higher beta-carotene levels, and will therefore produce a more yellow butter. Cows that are fed hay and grains will have lower beta-carotene levels, and will therefore produce white butter.

With so many different types of butter, finding the best one to complement your recipe is as fun as putting in the last piece of the puzzle. Gather all of your ingredients and map out your cooking applications, then choose the style of butter you’ll need from there. In the end, the butter will meld the flavors into one perfect bite after another, leaving your taste buds curious with the desire to test out all of the different kinds of butter.

Types Of Butter Infographic

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