Salted or Unsalted Butter
It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and you want to bake some cookies for your co-workers tomorrow. You put on your apron, turn on some good music and begin a never-ending search in your fridge. Where is it? You need unsalted butter! The recipe calls for unsalted, but all you see is, gasp, salted butter. Oh no! What are you going to do? You really want to bake something amazing that tastes great, but how do you do that with the wrong butter! Salted or unsalted butter? UGH!
Has this ever happened to you? It’s happened to me many times! So what do we do? Salted or unsalted butter, what’s the difference?
The first thing is we need to understand is the difference between salted and unsalted butter. Can you guess what that difference is? Yep, you guessed it, salt. Salted butter contains salt which acts as a preservative and will extend the shelf life whereas, unsalted butter contains no salt and has a shorter shelf life. Most salted butter is good for about 5 months and most unsalted butter is good for about 3 months which means, unsalted butter is usually fresher. Check the dates on your butter because I have seen some butter with a shorter shelf life, for example, salted butter has a shelf life of 3 months and unsalted butter has a shelf life of 1 month. So be sure to check the dates on your package.
The big question is how much salt is in salted butter? The answer is, we don’t know. All butter is produced differently so there is no way to tell exactly how much salt each stick contains. Is this a big deal? It could be. If your butter contains 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt, and your recipe calls for unsalted butter with the addition of 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, you have just doubled the amount of salt in your recipe which will affect the flavor.
So what do you do if you are in need of unsalted butter, but all you have in the fridge is salted butter? You can omit the salt altogether or you can cut the amount the recipe calls for in half. Either way is better than doubling the salt and messing up the flavor of your baked goods.
Salted or Unsalted Butter -Things You Should Know:
- Butter should not be exposed to light heat or air as it will go rancid. Keep it covered as you bring it to room temperature.
- Butter should be the same color. If the inside of the butter is lighter than the outside, it has gone bad.
- Butter absorbs flavors from things around it so smell it to see if it has a buttery smell or if it smells sour or unusual.
- Some people say they won’t touch butter after it has been out of the fridge for an hour, but as bakers, we need it to let it sit on the counter for about an hour so it will come to room temperature. Butter will cream with the sugar better if the butter is room temp. Others will leave butter on the counter for up to one week. I guess you have to use your own discretion as to how long you should leave your butter out.
- A fellow baker pointed out that when she uses salted butter in her cookie recipes, the cookies tend to spread a lot more when they bake.
I suggest you turn your kitchen into a taste testing area for you and your family. Bake a batch of sugar cookies using the same recipe with one exception, the butter, and salt.
- Batch A-Bake one batch with unsalted butter and the amount of salt the recipe calls for.
- Then, Batch B-Bake a second batch with salted butter and the amount of salt the recipe calls for.
- Batch C-Bake the third batch with salted butter and no extra salt the recipe calls for.
Look at the cookies.
- Is there a visible difference in the batches?
- Have your family do a taste test but don’t tell them what you did to each recipe. Just tell them to give their honest opinion on which one they like.
Who knows, they may like the one with the extra salt the best. They may like the unsalted one the best. Who knows, they might prefer the one with salted butter with no additional salt added. The point is we all have different preferences so you need to decide what you like.
Can you freeze butter?
- Yes, you can freeze butter. Place the original package in an airtight freezer bag and store it for about 4 months. As I researched how long frozen butter will stay fresh, I discovered if you set the freezer temp to 20°-30°F you can freeze it for up to one year. I am not 100% sure about this because I go through butter so fast there is no way it will last that long in this house. Just be sure to check the smell and color before you use it.
Do you still have questions? You can always look up the manufacturer that makes the butter you use. Like I use Land O Lakes so I looked up their phone number so I can call and ask questions about salted or unsalted butter, the self-life of butter, and how to freeze butter. They are nice and very helpful!
So the next time you are digging through your fridge trying to find the unsalted butter so you can make your coworkers happy, you will know all you need to know about salted or unsalted butter.
Here are a few more things that you might find interesting:
How to Soften Butter Quickly
Why Do Sugar Cookies Spread When Baked
Sugar Cookie Recipe
Beginners Guide to Cookie Decorating
Basic Decorating Supplies
Wow! Thanks for all of the time you spent putting this post together to educate us on what an extra teaspoon of salt can do!
By the way, I freeze my butter as I buy it “in bulk” when it goes on sale for under (or close to) $2.30 lb. When my husband opens the freezer and sees all of those rectangular blue boxes, he knows there was a sale on butter!
That is really smart Janis. Do you hit the huge butter sale before Thanksgiving? I love when I see that sale sign. It is better than buying shoes on sale! LOL
Thank you for this post! I was wondering the same thing recently….
Have you ever tried store brands of butter or generic? I was always a better snob only buying the expensive name brand before I started cookie making, but when I started buying several pounds of it each week I thought I would at least try the cheaper butter. I have not noticed a difference. The ingredient is the same in both, “cream.”. Just wondering if anyone else has compared generic to store brand. If it produces the same result the savings would be huge if you bought several pounds a week.
I love your blog so much!!! Thank you for all you do!
Thank you for sharing! You really can save a small fortune on generic vs name brand. I looked yesterday and the store brand was $1.00 a box cheaper. That is a huge difference!
I don’t know why but the only time I use generic butter is when the grocery store is out of the name brand. I feel like my results are the same with both.
Anyone else use name brand and generic butter? If so, what kind of results do you have with your cookies and baked goods?
If you look at the nutritional label, you should be able to calculate how much salt is in a particular volume of a certain brand of butter. I did this recently, when butter was on sale, but only salted butter was left.
For my brand of butter, 2 tsp has 65 mg sodium, therefore, 1 tsp has 32.5 mg of sodium. One cup of butter is 50 tsp, therefore 50 x 32.5 mg = 1625 mg sodium /cup butter. My brand of table salt has 570 mg of sodium per 1/4 tsp, therefore 1 tsp of salt has 2280 mg of sodium.
Finally, 1625 mg sodium per cup of butter ÷ 2280 mg sodium per tsp salt = 0.71, or approximately 3/4 tsp table salt per cup of butter.
I adjusted my sugar cookie recipe to account for this and my cookies turned out the same…
You lost me at 32.5 mg of sodium! LOL
That is a great way to find out how much salt is in the butter! Seriously, you are so SMART!!
Hi Lisa, thank you for these wonderful facts. I was wondering if I should wrap or unwrap my butter as I wait for it to come to room temperature, now I am glad I keep it wrapped. I only use the (in my opinion) best butter, either Plugara or Kerry Gold (Irish Brand) – yes they are pricey. I use 1 stick of of salted and 1 stick of unsalted. My sister uses the cheapest brand possible and everybody loves her cookies! Go figure!
I am glad you keep your butter wrapped! We can’t have naked butter laying around on the counter! LOL
I uses Land O Lakes butter and I like it a lot. I have never heard of Kerry Gold before. I will have to try to find it and try it in my cookies. 😉
There’s also a difference in moisture content between salted and unsalted butter, and from one brand of butter to the next. Salted butter has a higher moisture content than unsalted. At a guess, that’s likely to be the problem the baker above ran into with her spreading cookies.
I’m lazy, so I have a brand of butter I like and I stick with it. I have worked out all of the complications and I don’t have to start over. The only exception I make is that I love grass fed unsalted butter slathered on homemade bread, but its price is too dear for an all-around baking butter. My favorite all-around butter is Trader Joe’s organic unsalted, and it sells so fast there’s no worry about shelf date.
Thanks for sharing the information about the moisture content. Isn’t is amazing how tiny little things like moisture or salt in butter will affect the outcome of our cookies? Baking is a science and I wish I would have paid more attention in school! LOL
I We finally have a Trader Joe’s in our area. I will have to try their butter. Thanks for the tip!
You’re going to love TJ’s, Lisa! The things they do well are better than anyone else does them, and you really can’t beat their prices.
Their free-range organic eggs are also very good for baking. It’s my current favorite egg.
I am going to Knoxville tomorrow and TJ’s is on my list of stores to visit. I am going to look at some butter and eggs! LOL Thanks for the tip!
This was a very good article. I save myself headaches by making my own butter. It doesn’t take long and I can control how much (if any) salt hoes into it.
You just brought back great memories for me. I used to churn butter with my grandma! You may have inspired me (and maybe others) to try it.
Thanks for sharing!
This is great! Thank you. I love your website.
Thanks Alisa! I am happy you are here! 🙂
Thanks for all your great information.Happy Baking?