Photo: Shutterstock // Africa Studio
When it comes to baking, we all have our favorites. I always stock the same brand of chocolate chips in my pantry, always shop for pure vanilla extract and normally I always reach for salted butter. But our recent butter taste testgot me thinking—is salted butter always best?
Salted vs. Unsalted Butter
The difference between the two kinds of butter is obviously salt. Unsalted butter is all cream, while the salted variety has some salt added, though the amount varies from brand to brand. Because salt is a preservative, salted butter has a longer shelf life—typically around five months while unsalted usually is good for about three. This also means that when you visit your supermarket, chances are that the unsalted variety is a bit fresher.
When Unsalted Butter Matters
To find out when the difference between these two matters, I turned to our culinary director Sara Farmer. According to Sarah, this varying level of salt makes a huge difference in your baking. “You don’t know how much salt is in salted butter—you just don’t have the control.” Since we all know that baking is a science, that extra bit of salt can affect your recipe the same way an improperly measured cup of flour can (pssst… learn how to measure the right way here!). So for baking, unsalted butter should be your go-to (unless otherwise specified). For cooking, there’s a bit more leeway, but if you really want to control the exact amount of butter going into your dishes, it’s best to use unsalted.
In general, Sarah explains that “if you care a good deal about the freshness of the ingredients you’re using, used unsalted.” So that’s good advice to keep in mind!
When Salted Works
However, just because unsalted butter is preferable in most instances, doesn’t mean that you need to stop buying the salted variety altogether. Salt helps bring out flavor in foods after all, so in some instances, it’s a welcome addition. If you plan on spreading your butter on a fresh baguette or a muffin fresh out of the oven, you’ll want that little hint of saltiness to accentuate all those flavors.
If you’re not interested in keeping both types on hand, food stylist Lauren Knoelke has a great tip: “If I want salted butter on toast or bread, I can easily use one of my fancier flavored salts sprinkled on top.”
So I officially learned something that will change my baking routine! No more salted butter for me (well, at least not in my favorite bundt cake recipes).