Butter is a cook's best friend. Err... scratch that. It's everybody's best friend! Whether or not you're a whiz in the kitchen, you can always find a reason to use more butter. 😋
But if you're standing in the dairy aisle of the supermarket wondering which types of butter to choose, you're probably deciding between two common varieties: salted versus unsalted butter! While many baking recipes will specify which butter should go in your favorite cake recipes or cookies, others will simply have "butter" on the ingredient list—and you'll be left making the decision for yourself! Does using one over the other in baked goods even matter? How will it change the way your favorite brownie recipe tastes? And is there a preferred butter for cooking and baking?
We're taking the butter debate into our own hands and churning out the answers to all of your questions. So read on for everything you need to know about salted vs. unsalted butter.
What's the difference between salted and unsalted butter?
The difference between salted and unsalted butter is simple: one has salt and the other does not! While both types of butter are made by churning the cream of milk, only salted butter has a small amount of salt added to it. According to Organic Valley, most salted butter has about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt per stick, but the amount of salt can vary by brand. This is the reason why many recipes call for unsalted butter. You can then control for the amount of salt you add to your recipe.
Salted butter also tends to have a longer shelf life compared unsalted butter. That's because salt is a preservative which means your supermarket can keep salted butter on the shelves for longer than they can unsalted butter.
Is it better to bake with salted or unsalted butter?
Now for the question of which is butter... I mean better! The answer is a personal one. While many recipes call for unsalted butter, you may have noticed that Ree Drummond is a fan of using salted butter from time to time. In fact, she uses salted butter in bacon-wrapped filets with cowboy butter, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and her famously dubbed Best Ever Chocolate Sheet Cake.
So why use salted butter in these recipes? It all comes down to flavor! Salted butter will almost always add a little something extra when it comes to taste. It's also great for those who like the combination of sweet and salty, like in the case of cowboy cookies. Another reason to use salted butter? Convenience! According to The Pioneer Woman's digital food director, Erin Merhar, "Most baking recipes require a small amount of salt to balance and enhance the flavors of the other ingredients (ie. sugar, cocoa, etc.) Using salted butter cuts out the need for the additional ingredient!"
Of course, if a recipe specifically calls out which type of butter to use, it's probably because it's been tested that way, so it's best to follow their suggestions.
What happens if I use salted butter instead of unsalted?
If a recipe calls for unsalted butter and you only stocked up on salted, don't worry! Both varieties can be used as butter substitutes for each other. "It's good to familiarize yourself with how salty a particular butter is," Merhar suggests. "And only use salted butter in recipes that call for a moderate about of butter (1 to 2 sticks)." When in doubt, cut back on the amount of salt you add to your recipe on top of the salted butter. You can always taste and adjust later!