What’s the difference between salted and unsalted butter?
When buying a pound of butter at the grocery store dairy case, you are faced with a choice: salted or unsalted.
In the simplest terms, salted butter contains added salt, which acts as both a flavour-enhancer and a preservative. Unsalted butter does not have salt added to it.
Does it matter which one you pick? There’s no easy answer, and every cook has a favourite.
If you’re using a recipe from ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen, know that our home economists test our recipes using salted butter. It has long been the default butter at home – if a Canadian recipe simply calls for butter, you can assume it means salted unless it states otherwise – and we formulate our recipes to take into account the salty flavour of salted butter. Compared to the unsalted product, salted butter doesn’t spoil as quickly and is typically less expensive. For most purposes, salted is perfectly fine.
That said, the chef instructors at the Calgary Learning Centre typically work with unsalted butter. For them, it’s all about having complete control of the seasoning process. The amount of salt in salted butter varies from brand to brand, making it hard to accurately estimate the salt content in a recipe that uses salted butter. With unsalted butter, there’s a baseline of neutrality that a chef can precisely season with a specific amount of salt. If you need that level of control over your salt levels, then unsalted is your best butter bet.
Substitutions are tricky due to the salt variance between brands. If you’re going to use unsalted butter in a recipe that calls for salted, you’re going to have to add some extra salt to the recipe to make up for the lack of salt in the butter. Let your taste buds be your guide, and always err on the side of adding less salt at once.
If you choose to use salted butter in a recipe that was tested with unsalted, you’re going to have to dial back any additional salt in the recipe. If there’s no additional salt in the recipe and the recipe also calls for unsalted butter, stick to unsalted or the recipe may not taste right.