Goodness gracious, let’s talk about all things butter. Basically, this is a dairy product that is made from both the fat and the protein that come from milk. This milk can come from a variety of mammals including cows, goats, cheese, buffalo, and/or yaks. (Who knew?)
Cow’s milk is the most common variety so we will stick to that here. It is made when you churn milk or cream and separate the fat globules (what a name!) from the buttermilk. Most often, it consists of 80% fat, 15% water, and about 5% protein.
As it is churned, the protein acts as an emulsifier allowing the water and fat to create a solid at room temperature and a liquid at anything above or around 90F.
Did you know that it can range in color? If not, now you do. It can be anything from almost white to pale yellow. This is all dependent on what the cow has eaten. That diet can also affect the flavor of the product as well. Crazy, right?
For those of you thinking, “my butter always looks pale yellow,” that is because commercial kind is usually colored to keep things uniform. This is often done naturally with annatto or carotene.
You can purchase either salted or unsalted which is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, seasoned or unseasoned butter. Some folks like to buy unseasoned to adjust seasoning levels to their own taste.
Generally, any recipe for cakes, cookies, or other baked goods, that calls for “butter” is looking for the unsalted kind. You can use the salted kind in a pinch but might want to lessen the salt by a bit to compensate.
There are plenty of types within the main category:
- Sweet Cream Butter: This is probably the type you know the best. It is made with cream that is pasteurized. It is light and fresh, and the most commonly sold in the States.
- Cultured Butter: This variety allows bacteria (the non-harmful kind) to ferment the sugars naturally occurring in the cream before it’s churned. The resulting flavor is tangier and more complex than it’s sweet cream cousin.
- Raw Cream Butter: This is made with milk or cream that has not been pasteurized. Because of this, it lasts a very short time. It is light, fresh, and quite frankly delicious in terms of flavor. Availability for this is based on state laws.
Like anything with fat in it, it can go bad. The best way to avoid this is to keep it refrigerated and wrapped if not being used often. If kept like this, it can last up to four months.
If you like to leave it on your counter, you can. This will last a few days based on the room’s temperature and how much direct sunlight it is exposed to. I suggest a butter dish with a lid to prevent things from “mixing” with it should you go this route.
It can be put in the freezer to maintain freshness as well. Salted butter will last around a year in the freezer and unsalted butter for about 6 months.
If you find your butter has developed a noticeable odor or tastes “off,” it is time to pitch it and start anew.
Here are some great recipes using butter:
- Homemade Butter
- Ranch Chex Mix
- Butter Cheesecloth Turkey
- Canadian Butter Tarts
- Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Is it healthy to eat butter?
It is rich in nutrients and other compounds, but (and this is a big but) it is high in calories and saturated fats. With that in mind, it should be enjoyed in moderation.
What is butter used for?
Better question, what can it not be used for? For those of you that need a list, it can be used as a spread, melted and utilized as a condiment, or as an ingredient in baking, sauce making, pan-frying, bastes, dips, and more. It can be used to enhance flavors and add texture or complexity to dishes.
What is the difference between butter and margarine?
Butter is made from milk or cream (dairy) while margarine is an oil-based product. Most often it is made with vegetable oil and flavored to taste like the real thing.
Can I fry with butter?
Yes and no. Butter has a low smoking point. In layman’s terms that means, the solids in the butter will begin to brown and eventually burn if it isn’t mixed with something. If those do burn, it will make whatever you are cooking in it bitter.
The window to fry in butter alone is very small in terms of time. In most cases, you would need to fry in batches and replacing your butter between each batch.
If you want the flavor of “being fried in butter,” but want to avoid the bitter/burned flavor, mix it with a neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, etc.) in a ratio of 2-to-1 butter to oil. This will allow you to fry as needed without running the risk of ruining things.