Know what’s what: Butter

As someone who used to literally eat packets of butter at restaurants, the fact that butter’s gotten a bad rap is quite personal.

While many non-butter “tastes-just-like-butter!” butter imposter stack the shelves of grocery stores, I’m still optimistic that the margarine fad will continue to fade into oblivion as more of us dive into the enchanting world of butter.

Because real butter is actually delicious and there’s nothing like it. It’s as simple a truth as the simplicity of butter-making itself. Once you go full-on good butter, there’s no going back.

So in this post, I’ll hit on a few real-butter tid-bits, leaving margarine out of the picture for now. The gist: Margarine is a synthetic (manufactured) substitute for butter. It’s made from vegetable oils and processed: heated, hydrogenated, bleached, emulsified, and exposed to chemicals and additives. No judgment here – That’s just what margarine is.

What is butter?

When milk comes out of the cow, it’s still raw milk – that is, it’s not pasteurized (sterilized with heat). The cream in milk rises to the top (leaving “skim milk” at the bottom), like oil and vinegar separate in a jar.

Butter is cream, churned.

Different churning styles range from shaking cream in a jar for 15 minutes to mixing cream in a food processor, and straining. But the concept is the same: Butter is cream, churned, and salt is added or not.


Sweet cream butter is made from fresh cream. The cream can be pasteurized or raw, but not cultured (that’s next). The “sweet” part is a bit deceiving, as sweet cream butter is not exactly sweet. It can be salted or unsalted.


Cultured butter is made from slightly fermented cream, rather than fresh cream. Often a culture is added, unless the butter is made with raw (unpasteurized) cream. Cultured butter will have a slightly sour taste to it – a rich tang that accompanies many fermented foods.


Every region develops its own culinary styles, so even French butter and Irish butter will taste differently. “European-style” butter refers to a general style of butter-making that is traditional throughout Europe. In this style, cultured cream is churned for a longer period of time, achieving a higher butterfat content (at least 82%). European-style butters have a rich flavor because of the higher butterfat content. According to Kitchn writer Hali Bey Ramdene, “More butterfat also means a softer texture, faster melt, and often, a saturated yellow hue.”

And there you have it – Not all butters are created equally. (You already know this if you’ve ever tried using the wrong butter in your Bullet coffee.) Let these small distinctions be merely your invitation into the enchanting world of butter. A rich and luxurious spectrum of flavor awaits you.


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