Baking 101: Why We Use Unsalted Butter

Let’s talk about butter! It’s my go-to. It’s my boo. It’s my sweetheart.

I’m not shy about sharing my affection for butter, but you may have noticed in the recipes here  that I’m very specific about how I like my butter.  Sometimes melted and browned.  Sometimes cold and cubed.  Sometimes beaten with sugar and egg.  Always though… most almost always.. UNSALTED! Yea, I get opinionated about my butter. We should talk about why.

strawberry raspberry crisp

Butter is my go-to fat in the kitchen.  Olive oil is nice.  Coconut oil is lovely.  Butter gets the job done!

Butter is typically made from cow’s milk and consists of mostly butterfats.  Low-fat buttes are suspicious, at best.  Butter is generally about 80% fat, with the remaining 20% consisting of water and milk solids.

You have a choice when you go to the grocery:  salted or unsalted butter.  If you’re thinking about slathering your butter on a warm baguette, you’ll want to reach for the salted butter.  If you’re baking a cobbler, you’ll most definitely want to reach for the unsalted butter.

Brown Butter Banana Bread with rum and toasted coconut

Here’s why:

Most importantly: unsalted butter ensures that you can control the amount of salt you add to your cakes, cookies and Fig and Almond Breakfast Cake.  Different companies add different amounts of salt to their butter.  How are we to know how salty our butter is, and how we should adjust the salt in the recipe?  It’s too much of a guessing game.  Removing the salt from the butter equation puts us in control of salting. Control is very important when it comes to flavor.

When a recipe calls for unsalted butter, that means that the salt levels in the recipe account for no other salt source.  If all you have salted butter, try cutting the instructed salt amount in half.

Also, salt is a preservative.  Salted butter has a longer shelf life than unsalted butter.  That means that unsalted butter is typically fresher.

Salt can mask flavors!  We may not be able to taste or smell if our butter is off because clever clever salt can mask funky taste and odors.  Tricky.

Does butter really go bad? Heck yes it does!  Unsalted butter lasts about 1 month in the refrigerator.  Salted butter lasts for just over 3 months in the refrigerator (that’s so long, right?).  If you think your butter might be off, give it a good sniff.  The nose always knows.  Also, slice your butter.  Is the inside the same color as the outside… or is the outside a darker casing around the butter?  Bad butter is two different colors.

What happens if I use salted butter in baked goods?

Well… the world will end, and that’s that.

Baking 101: How To Read A Recipe

110 thoughts on “Baking 101: Why We Use Unsalted Butter

  1. It’s like the baking gods read my mind & asked you to write this post. I was standing in the butter section for minutes yesterday pulling out my hair over the salted & unsalted butter & which would be best for my cake experiment. Something told me you would be shaking your head at the salted option so I went for the other. So glad I did & I’m so glad you posted this. Thank you.

    The Fashann Monster

  2. Love this! Most people look at me blankly when I tell them about salted vs. unsalted. I always bake with unsalted and I think it makes a big difference in the quality of my baked goods. I didn’t know about the freshness angle, though – you’ve taught me something today!

  3. And I thought I loved butter. Clearly, you are on another level lol love it :) I never knew salted butter lasts so long, I’m a big fan of unsalted butter so I don’t really use anything else.

  4. I totally got caught out by this! I picked up butter that didn’t say salted/unsalted so assumed it was unsalted…until I tasted my biscuit dough and it was like drinking seawater.

  5. Gosh I love this series :) I actually found some salted butter that mentioned the amount of salt in it (1.7%), which came in handy when I was just a tad short on my unsalted butter while in the midst of baking! But I agree that unsalted butter is definitely better for baking! Curious to see what you’ll write about next…

  6. Butter really is the best! There’s NO substitute for it when making a pie crust. That’s when you bust out the fancy French/Irish butter.

    In a world of vegan substitutes (and believe me I thoroughly appreciate vegan food) it’s refreshing to hear one of my favorite Cooks give a shout out to butter!! :)

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