Butter: Salted vs. Unsalted

by Emily from Frugal Living NW on November 7, 2013

The difference between salted & unsalted butter


Butter: Salted vs. Unsalted

If you peeked inside my refrigerator on any given day, it would look like an episode of Hoarders: Butter Edition. Just little butter-lined paths through my fridge. It’s true. I have a ridiculous amount of butter on hand at all times. I start to get nervous if my stock drops below four pounds. Which is why I get especially excited for the grocery store sales in November and December. Bring on the sugar and spice and everything nice! Oh, butter. Butter is nice.

So, what is the difference between salted and unsalted butter? The short answer, of course, would be salt. I used to buy salted butter exclusively because it was simple. It worked for everything from spreading on bread to baking in cookies. I mentioned this to my foodie siblings the other day, and they all looked at me like I had three heads. “Unsalted butter is the only way to go.”

In an effort to keep the family peace, I have been making the switch to unsalted. And actually the more I read, the more I was convinced that unsalted is, in fact, the way to go. So, now I use salted butter as a spread and unsalted for everything else.

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Now for the longer answer.

Salt is a preservative, which means that salted butter has a longer shelf life than unsalted butter. This is a good thing, right? However, unsalted butter is generally considered to be a fresher product. Either way, butter keeps beautifully in the freezer, so stock up with confidence. $1.50-1.67/pound is my stock-up price.

When it comes to salted butter, I have read different opinions on the amount of salt per stick, anywhere from 1/3 to 3/4 teaspoon (differs slightly by brand). The main benefit of using unsalted butter is the ability to control the amount of salt in any recipe. If a recipe does not specify, assume unsalted butter to get the seasoning level correct.

Here’s a good rule: Use salted butter as you would a condiment like ketchup or mayo. Use unsalted butter for everything else.

Salted, unsalted. It will be a debate for the ages. As long as I have a good stock of both in my refrigerator, I am a happy camper.

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I have always loved this Norpro Stoneware Butter Keeper (Amazon). It holds up to one cube of butter in the top and water in the bottom. The water seals out the air to keep the butter soft and spreadable.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Zhenya April 8, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I only buy butter when it’s on sale. Then I’ll cut butter into half cup sizes and freeze it for recipes or camping.
I usually get both: unsalted for recipes. Salted for popcorn and breads.
Or I make my own, that way I can add however much salt I want, I get to freeze the bit of buttermilk, and it’s so soft and fluffy.

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denise November 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Oh..and baking is unsalted, salted for eating–unless I bake artisan style bread, then there is just something special about that non salted butter on fresh bread….oh my goodness !

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denise November 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm

My favorite butters are Darigold and then Tillamook…then some of the european styles are still in the ‘testing’ stage. Guess I’m picky, but I didn’t like Costco or Western Family brands at all. KerryGold is very good, but spendy. I should have prefaced that my preferred brands rarely go on sale….but thanks to you girls, I have recovered my coupon and am heading out to Freddies for some Tillamook butter right now :)

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emmer November 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I, too, am a fan of unsalted. there is enough salt in the salted variety to “mess up” some of my recipes–and many of us should be more salt-conscious than we are.
I also spring for the local organic brand. The nastiest of chemicals are held in fat and I avoid that problem by using organic (if I only bought one thing organic it would be fats/oils for that reason). l also want support local farmers, who provide me with local, fresher products. I live in Portland metro and buy the New Seasons house brand unsalted organic butter at $4.50 a lb–it comes from Eugene, just an hour away. I stock up when it is on sale and freeze it. We use about 50 lbs per year, so the savings add up.
I like the flavor of the euro-style slightly fermented stuff, but won’t buy from faraway when I have a local option.

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gloria November 7, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I was just at the Barnes Albertsons tonight, around dinnertime. They had Darigold unsalted for $1.50 pp (close dated). I didn’t buy it but maybe should have. Sort of holding out for a good deal on Challenge butter…there are coupons for 55 cents hanging at Safeway but not on sale there. Keep the coupons and wait for Freddies to have it on sale. I think you can net out at $1.45 pp. I quit buying margarine about 15 years ago.

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Rachelle Benson November 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I will keep paying my 3 something a lb for ORGANIC butter… unsalted. I cant remember buying butter salted… but there are so many growth hormones and ‘junk’ in non organic dairy… I know its 3 something a lb.. but as a wise man once said, ” Have you seen the price of cancer lately??”

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Howard November 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm

To fellow butter lovers: I can’t remember the last time I paid MORE than $1.79 for a pound of butter. Fred Meyer, Thriftway, Winco often have it for that price or less, usually with quantity limits. I don’t do Costco, but I understand their price is usually good, too. Once in a rare while, Safeway or Albertson’s will have butter at a decent price. Fall holiday season and Easter are the best times to stock up. We use a lot, and are NEVER out of butter.

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charolyn November 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I’m there with you Howard :-) I actually got some closer to $1 at Albertson’s a few months ago when the .50 store brand coupons were out and they had some marked down (not an advertised sale-just per store :-) It is in the freezer now.
I am pretty much a butter only buyer-no margarine for me (unless I can get it free :-)

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Pam November 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I have just stocked up on salted and unsalted Tillamook Butter a Fred Meyer’s 1.67 a pound with coupon which is good for 6 pounds! I will buy another six before the ad goes off. I just freeze it and will be set through out the holidays. It is priced at 2.00 a pound without coupons. I am in Southern Oregon. This is hormone free. @Denise I love Kerrygold butter it is the best and when I catch it on sale I do buy it and use as a spread..reminds me of homemade, it does.

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tessa November 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I wonder where you buy your butter. I haven’t seen it for under three dollars a pound in years and years. Only unsalted for me please. : )

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Jerin November 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Costco sells butter for under $2/lb, and that is their everyday normal price

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Kate from Frugal Living NW November 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Their price is $1.72/lb everyday. Right now you can get Tillamook for $1.67/lb at Fred Meyer — http://www.frugallivingnw.com/store-retail-deals/fred-meyer/fred-meyer-deals-for-november-3-6/

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Emily from Frugal Living NW November 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I stock up on butter during holiday sales/coupons at a variety of local grocery stores. Then I buy it from Costco the rest of the year.

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PJ November 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was using my Portland perks voucher for Beaverton bakery and found this very elderly gentleman in the front lobby handing out samples of cake. I have been a commercial cook for 30 plus years and I appreciate great baking skills. We got to talking about the benefits of butter between salted and unsalted. He was actually the owner and had baked since he was 15. He said that the salted butter has to have water added to it and the composition of it actually will make some products (like cookies) tough. I thought he was this great source of information (my husband just wanted some cake and leave so he could eat it). I keep both butters exactly like Emily does. I think salted butter with homemade warm bread is the best! By the way, the bakery cake was to die for – a little spendy though.

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Emily from Frugal Living NW November 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

That is interesting! I read one article talking about salted butter having a higher water content, but I couldn’t find any more information about it so I didn’t mention it. Thanks for sharing this (and my husband would have been right there with yours, while I was taking notes on butter…). :)

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charolyn November 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm

All very interesting info for me :-) I had no idea-only bought unsalted when they were out of salted & figured I could just add salt if needed :-)
I do however bake cookies occasionally & am QUITE interested to hear the comment regarding them, so will switch to unsalted for sure.
As usual, more great info to be had on frugalliving-thanks :-)

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denise November 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm

PJ..what was the name of the Bakery ? I don’t like in Beaverton, but I would go to a great place if I needed something special.

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Tionna November 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I keep both.
That being said, what’re thoughts on European style butters vs. American? I heard somewhere that European butters have more fat than the typical American brands.
I had a tickle one day and bought a Kerrygold, and couldn’t believe the flavor. It actually tasted like I remembered butter tasting when I was little. I stocked up on it when I found it on sale, and had coupons a few months ago. This was a huge transition from the Darigold/Tillamook that I was so familiar with, even growing up. Has anyone else noticed a difference, or familiar with other brands that have that richer, old-style flavor?

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k November 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm

things like Kerrygold I think are cultured (like how yogurt is) which gives it a little more flavor. My husband LOVES kerrygold to an extent where it’s dangerous to buy-he goes on a bread and butter binge!

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Emily from Frugal Living NW November 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm

From what I understand, with European-style butter, more water is squeezed out, resulting in a higher fat content and improved flavor/texture. I have heard good things about Kerrygold butter. I’m afraid to get hooked, though. I could do some serious damage with butter + bread…

I’ve heard Trader Joe’s has a good option for European butter. I’ll have to check it out.

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Heidi N. November 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I hate my butter keeper. The butter keeps falling out and floating in the water. Yuck!

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KC November 7, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I love my butter keeper.
But there are a couple tips:
1. Leave butter out for 15 mins or so to lightly soften
2. Then put in butter keeper
3. Use a spoon to squish the butter ALL the way down (getting all the air out). This will stop your butter from going “ker-plop” into the water
4. Change the water every few days (only put a couple inches of water – the butter shouldn’t touch it; just enough water to cover the area up to the butter keeper).

Hope this helps!

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denise November 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I do the same thing in my butter keeper ! I really love it !

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Denise November 7, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Different Denise here, keep your eye on Fred Meyer for low price butter, the Sunday ads usually have a coupon. Run don’t walk when you see it, because they will be out quickly.

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denise November 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Gosh, I don’t think I can remember the last time I EVER saw butter for under 2.25 a lb. These days, here is Oregon, they are going for 3.79 and up per brand choice. Wow. Where do you girls live ? Oh…and I enjoy both kinds of butter . :)

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lisa November 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I just got my Thriftway ad and they have butter for $1.88 this week. Western Family brand. I live in Beaverton BTW

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Howard November 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm

$1.50 in my Thriftway ad. Limit 2. I’m waiting till Tues to do my shopping there (Garden Home) because that’s senior day (10% credit to Lamb’s card).

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Karol November 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I buy my butter at Costco. It comes out to be $1.67 a pound , and I don’t have to wait for a sale!

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Emily from Frugal Living NW November 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm

What part of Oregon are you in, Denise? We are in the Portland-metro area… land of cheap butter?

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charolyn November 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Fred Meyer has it this week-Tillamook brand even -for 3/$5 :-) If they are out just get a rain check-which by the way can be a couponers advantage, because in the meantime a coupon may become available.

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Meridith November 7, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I don’t bother salted butter at all. Just springle salt on top if I’m using it as a spread. I think it’s tastier than salted butter and I don’t have to bother keeping 2.

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Emily from Frugal Living NW November 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Thanks for the tip! That makes sense! Maybe I’ll eventually make the switch to just unsalted. I like the simplicity of just buying one variety…

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Kirsten November 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I stocked up when New Seasons had had their sale but still buy when it is super cheap. Always unsalted :)

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