Salted Butter vs. Unsalted Butter – Which Should You Use?
Have you ever looked over your recipe only to find that it calls for using unsalted butter? After checking your sticks of butter, you realize that you always buy salted butter, you are not sure why, and you have no idea what is the difference?
Can we use salted butter when a recipe calls for unsalted?
Well, the answer lies in the question – do you have any idea how much salt is in that stick of butter in your fridge?
Most of us unwrap a stick of butter, toss it on a butter dish, and never think about the salt content. Butter is butter.
The basic comparison of salted vs. unsalted butter is obvious at first glance. The former contains salt and the latter does not.
The actual differences between butters however is not that simple after you see how it can affect the end result of your recipe. For instance, choosing either or when you’re supposed to opt for the other can ruin a particular recipe if you don’t use what’s called for upfront.
The use of salted vs. unsalted butter depends largely on what you’re cooking, your health and the other ingredients in your recipe.
Those that watch their sodium intake are far better off using unsalted butter for everything. If you tend to use a lot of butter in general, check the sodium level in your favorite brand of butter.
Let’s Look at Salted vs. Unsalted Butter
Let’s take a look into the technicalities. Salted butter contains salt but the quantity of salt varies from one brand to another. Unsalted butter doe not contain salt, but the exact flavor or taste will not be determined solely by salt.
The composition of the butter will come into play. It is these variables that most chefs recommend using salted or unsalted butter, and even mention brands to ensure predictable results.
Here are a few examples of popular brands:
A stick of Organic Valley butter has six hundred milligrams of sodium. A stick of Trader Joe’s has seven hundred and twenty milligrams of sodium. Land O’Lakes and Horizon butters have seven hundred and sixty milligrams and nine hundred and twenty milligrams of sodium respectively.
Clearly, Organic Valley has the least salt, followed by Trader Joe’s, Land O’Lakes and Horizon. As you switch from one of these salted butters to another, you are effectively changing the salt content in the recipe you have and also altering the taste, flavor and nutrition.
Taste, flavor and nutrition are obviously more important differences, but freshness and shelf life also matter. The shelf life of salted butter is longer than that of unsalted butter. In other words, salted butter remains fresh longer. This is also obvious. Salt acts as a natural preservative. You may know that salt prevents the growth of various types of fungi. This doesn’t mean unsalted butter will not be as fresh or will go bad after one day on the shelf. All packaged butters found in stores have preservatives so they will be good till the stipulated date of expiry. When you compare salted and unsalted butter manufactured in the same way on the same day, using the same preservatives and packaged in the same way, salted butter will last a little longer than unsalted. Salted butter contains more water than unsalted butter. This extra water content comes into play when you are making dough as the gluten reacts differently based on the moisture available.
Use of Salted vs. Unsalted Butter in Cooking vs. Baking
Buttering Bread – When you are serving butter on a dish as is, you are better off with salted butter. Unsalted butter may be a little lackluster to taste. However, keep in mind that this is not advisable for those who need to watch their sodium intake. Anyone on a stringent diet should avoid salted butter. Unsalted butter is the default choice in these two circumstances.
The most significant difference comes to light when you compare cooking and baking. You can use either when you are cooking. The lack of salt in unsalted butter can be compensated by adding salt. In any case, most recipes require you to add salt to taste. While using salted butter, reduce the amount of salt you use afterward. Balancing the salt content is not a tough job for those with some cooking experience. The problem becomes a little more difficult when you consider baking.
Unsalted Butter is Recommended for Most Baking – Most baking recipes are stringent. Make even the tiniest changes and your baked goods will not be worthwhile. Unsalted butter is recommended for most baking recipes. This allows absolute control to how much salt you would be adding to the ingredients. As mentioned already, different salted butter brands have different sodium contents. You don’t want a brand to control the amount of salt you use in your baking. Also, the moisture content in salted butter can interfere with the gluten in the dough so you are better off with unsalted butter.
There is little to no difference in regards to nutrition or calories. Those who have a sodium deficiency should opt for salted butter. If you plan to use butter as the primary ingredient in dips and sauces, then you probably should use salted butter. Baking is better and easier with unsalted butter. If you are cooking fish or chicken, and if you are grilling or making a sandwich, then you may want to use salted butter. It is tastier and managing the salt content is easier.
Which one to keep in the refrigerator? That’s simple. If you do a lot of cooing and baking, keep both. If you don’t use a lot of butter, and mostly add a little to your morning toast, saute vegetables or meats, use salted butter. If in doubt, buy both. There is nothing wrong with salting your unsalted butter if need be!