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Types of Butter

Types of Butter

Last updated on 10/17/2023

Butter is an essential ingredient in commercial kitchens, adding richness and flavor to recipes. While it's usually made from cow's milk, sheep's and goat's milk are also used to make certain types of butter. To make butter, producers churn cream or milk until the fat globules separate from the liquid, which forms butterfat. This butterfat is then further processed to produce the final product consumers know as butter. The type of milk used, production process, and butterfat percentages can vary widely, creating many different types of butter. Knowing which type of butter best suits a recipe helps ensure a delicious end product, especially when operating a bakery.

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Different Types of Butter

Differentiating the color, taste, and use of each type of butter is important for finding the best variety for your recipe. We break down the essentials of each of the most popular types of butter for ease of reference

1. Unsalted Butter

Illustration of Unsalted Butter

Unsalted butter is a popular choice among chefs and bakers for its versatility. Unlike salted butter, which has salt added during the churning process, unsalted butter is made solely from cream. Unsalted butter tends to have a shorter shelf life compared to salted butter, so only purchase as much as you can realistically use to prevent food waste.

Pay attention to what butter your recipe calls for, and if you’re developing your own recipe, stick with unsalted butter. By starting with unsalted butter, you have the freedom to add salt to taste, allowing you to achieve the perfect balance of flavors in your recipes. This is especially important in baking, where precise measurements are crucial for achieving the desired texture and taste.

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

2. Salted Butter

Illustration of Salted Butter

While it can vary slightly depending on the brand, salted butter has about 1/4 teaspoon of salt added for every 4 oz. of butter. Salt enhances the natural flavors of ingredients. Whether you're cooking eggs or sauteing vegetables, salted butter can help elevate the taste of your dish to the next level.

In addition to enhancing flavors, salt acts as a natural preservative, helping to inhibit the growth of bacteria that can cause butter to spoil. This is especially beneficial in commercial kitchens where large quantities of butter are used and need to be stored for extended periods.

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

3. Sweet Cream Butter

Illustration of Sweet Cream Butter

Sweet cream butter is made from pasteurized fresh cream. Given its name, many assume sweet cream contains added sugar, but the sweetness is all natural from the fresh cream itself. This type of butter can be sold in two variations: salted or unsalted, so double-check what butter your recipe calls for before purchasing.

Sweet cream butter is such a staple in American grocery stores that is also known as American butter. However, it's important to check your labels because not all types of butter are made solely from fresh sweet cream. Some varieties, such as cultured butter, are made by fermenting cream with lactic acid bacteria. Fermented butter cannot be subbed for sweet cream without drastically altering your recipe.

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

4. Cultured Butter

Cultured Butter illustration

Cultured butter, also known as artisan butter, is a type of butter that has live bacterial cultures added to the cream after it's pasteurized and is then left to ferment before the churning process begins. This fermentation process is similar to the production of yogurt or sour cream.

The addition of live bacterial cultures to the cream gives cultured butter a tangy and acidic flavor. The longer the cream is allowed to ferment, the more pronounced the sourness becomes. Cultured butter is highly regarded for its unique taste which adds complexity to both sweet and savory recipes.

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

Illustration of Ghee

Ghee is a type of clarified butter that has been simmered to remove the milk solids and water content. This process results in a clear, golden liquid with a rich, nutty flavor. Ghee and other clarified butters are less prone to spoilage. You can store ghee without refrigeration for extended periods, saving fridge space, reducing waste, and saving money.

Unlike regular butter, which has a low smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit, ghee has a smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Its higher smoke point means it can withstand heat without breaking down or producing a burnt taste. This makes it a popular choice in commercial kitchens where high-heat cooking methods like sauteing, frying, and grilling are common.

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

6. Organic Butter

Illustration of Organic Butter

Organic butter is made from the milk of cows raised on organic pastures and fed organic diets. This means cows producing milk for organic butter aren't exposed to potentially harmful chemicals or genetically modified organisms. Many consumers prefer to avoid GMOs due to concerns about their potential health and environmental impacts.

To be labeled organic, butter must meet strict certification standards set by regulatory bodies such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic farming practices prioritize soil health, biodiversity, and water conservation. For both our bodies and the environment, organic butter production is generally more sustainable.

  • 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

7. Plant Butter

Illustration of Plant Based Butter

Plant butter is a type of butter made from a combination of plant oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, or olive oil, along with other ingredients like water, emulsifiers, and natural flavors. These oils are carefully selected to mimic the creamy texture and rich flavor of traditional dairy butter.

Plant butter is an excellent option for those who follow a vegan diet or have dairy allergies. It's available in various forms, including sticks, tubs, and spreads. It can be used in the same way as traditional butter, making it a versatile option for cooking, dairy-free baking, and spreading on toast or bread.

  • 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

8. Grass Fed Butter

Illustration of Grass Fed Butter

Grass fed butter is made from the milk of cows fed a diet of grass and other forage, never grains or supplemental feed. This exclusive diet gives grass fed butter a rich, creamy taste with a hint of earthiness. Beyond its wholesome taste, the milk from grass fed cows is richer in essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, E, and K, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

When purchasing grass fed butter, look for products certified by reputable organizations such as the American Grassfed Association (AGA) or the Certified Grassfed by AGW program. These certifications ensure that the butter comes from cows that have been raised according to specific standards, including access to pasture and a 100% grass fed diet.

  • 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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9. European Butter

Illustration of European Butter

European butter is known for its high fat content, bright yellow color, and rich flavor. European butter is churned to a milk fat content of 82%. In contrast, the minimum required fat content for butter in the United States is 80%. European butter has a creamier, more luxurious texture that is perfect for spreading on bread or creating flaky French pastries like croissants and brioche.

European butter is made from high-quality cream that comes from primarily grass-fed cows. The grass-fed diet gives European butter a distinct flavor that is often described as nutty, sweet, and slightly tangy. Additionally, the natural pigments in the grasses and flowers, such as carotene, are transferred to the butter, giving it a vibrant yellow hue.

  • 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

10. Margarine

Illustration of Spreadable Butter

Margarine, also known as spreadable butter, is a popular alternative to traditional butter. It is typically made from vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola, or sunflower oil. These oils undergo a process called hydrogenation, which transforms them into solids at room temperature.

The two main advantages of using margarine in commercial settings are its lower cost and longer shelf life than traditional butter. You can use a 1:1 ratio to substitute butter and margarine for most recipes. However, margarine works best for spreading on toast, pancakes, or another type of bread.

  • 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

11. Whipped Butter

Illustration of Whipped Butter

Whipped butter is softened butter that has nitrogen gas whipped into it, giving it an irresistibly fluffy and airy texture that spreads easily. Nitrogen gas is used instead of air because air would cause oxidation in the butter, making it go bad quickly. Whipped butter has a longer shelf life than traditional butter, helping commercial establishments reduce their food waste.

Whipped butter's light and fluffy consistency spreads easily on different types of bread, making it a perfect choice for breakfast and brunch menus. It blends effortlessly with other ingredients, making it an easy type of butter to incorporate into recipes. Thanks to its soft texture, whipped butter is easy to scoop and measure, saving valuable time and effort during food preparation.

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

12. Goat Butter

Illustration of Goat Butter

Made from the milk of goats, goat's butter has a mild, slightly tangy taste that sets it apart from traditional cow's milk butter. This flavor is often described as earthy, nutty, and even slightly sweet. Goat milk is known to be lactose intolerant-friendly, so cooking with goat's butter can help you accommodate more patrons.

When cooking with goat butter, it is important to consider its lower smoke point compared to other types of butter. This means that it may not be suitable for high-heat cooking methods such as frying. However, it can be used for sauteing and low-heat cooking, where its flavor can shine through.

  • 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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13. Smen Butter

Illustration of 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. This fermentation process brings about a strong, piquant, and cheesy flavor and aroma that is extremely desirable in cooking.

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.

  • 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

14. Amish Butter

Illustration of Amish Butter

Made by Amish family-owned and operated farms, Amish butter stands out for its rich flavor and creamy texture. It's produced by slow-hand churning fresh cow’s milk to creamy perfection. It is then scooped and hand-rolled into one or two-pound logs and sealed off in parchment paper. This craftsman approach yields a high butterfat content, ranging between 84% to 85%, and rivaling European butter.

The Amish community's commitment to quality extends beyond the production process. They prioritize using natural ingredients and avoiding the use of additives or preservatives. This commitment to simplicity and purity ensures that Amish butter is a wholesome and natural product, free from artificial flavors or chemicals.

  • 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

15. Compound Butter

Illustration of Compound Butter

Compound butter, also known as finishing butter, is butter that has been softened to a pliable state and then has herbs, spices, or sweeteners added to it. This mixture is then rolled into a log shape and chilled until firm. Chefs slice the log into individual portions for spreading or for use in their recipes. Herbed compound butter is popular for steak, and honey compound butter is popular for biscuits, but the options are as endless as the chef's imagination.

The best type of butter to use in a compound butter recipe is typically unsalted butter. Since chefs add flavoring agents, starting with a blank canvas is easiest. However, playing with different types of butter can enhance the compound butter recipe. Play into the tangy flavor of fermented butter by adding complementary spices such as ginger and turmeric. Mix nuts and dried fruits into the already woodsy goat's butter.

  • 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

16. Browned Butter

Illustration of Browned Butter

Browned butter, also known as beurre noisette in French, is characterized by its rich amber-brown color, which is achieved by heating and melting regular butter until the milk solids toast and turn brown. This process results in a caramelly, toasty, and nutty taste that elevates the flavor of any dish, making it a popular choice in both sweet and savory recipes. It can be used in sauces, pastries, and even as a finishing touch for vegetables, pasta, or seafood dishes.

When using browned butter in your recipes, it's important to note that its flavor is intense, so a little goes a long way. It's best to start with small amounts and adjust according to your taste preferences. Additionally, keep in mind that browned butter has a lower smoke point compared to regular butter, so it's important to monitor the heat and avoid overheating, which can result in burnt flavors.

  • 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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Best Butter for Baking

The best butter for baking is unsalted butter. Whether that unsalted butter comes in 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 pre-salted butter.

Butter melting in a cast iron skillet with herbs

Best Butter for Cooking

The best butter for cooking is clarified butter because its high smoke point can withstand almost every cooking method. However, there are many different types of butter and each offers unique flavors, salt levels, and smoke points. Chefs do well when they play with different varieties and seek the type of butter that best complements each dish.

Types of Butter with Images

Use our types of butter infographic to compare and contrast the different types of butter.

Types Of Butter Infographic

The type of butter you choose for your commercial kitchen will depend on the specific needs of your recipes and cooking methods. From traditional butter to clarified butter and even butter blends, each type has its unique characteristics and uses. Refer back to our article to determine the best butter for your recipe.

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