Updated: Jul 3
Butter is used in nearly every baking recipe and many cooking recipes. But there is the elephant in the room, when should I use unsalted butter, and when should I use salt? I'll get some kickback from other chefs, and perhaps many will read this and say I will go by what the recipes say. Go ahead, but in my experience, I would HIGHLY recommend and urge you never to use salted butter.
When researching this topic further, I became dismayed by the number of people saying to use salted butter for certain dishes. And it makes sense, right? I'm making a chicken, and I must salt the chicken for flavor. Why not use salted butter? In this sense, it sounds like it's made to be... But I'll tell you, it's not as perfect as it sounds.
Butter brands are smart, add salted butter to the market, and seem like a suitable cooking product. It is "convenient for you," but it's also better for the butter companies. Why? Keep reading to find out!
At the beginning of time, when humans experimented with preserving food, we used salt as an early preservative. Butter is no different; salt is a preservative and, as such, can sit on the shelf longer and can even go bad without you noticing. This is the number one reason I refuse to buy salted butter beyond having control of flavor in your recipes.
A notable butter company clearly states that their salted and unsalted butter is the same grade A.A. butter. Yes, I'm sure it's true when they make the butter. It'll arrive at the store with equal quality, but the salted butter has a longer shelf life and can sit there longer. So when you finally pick it up, it will be older and perhaps even gone bad without noticing. Butter is expensive; why buy old butter when using unsalted butter simply involves adding a pinch of salt to your recipes?
What standards? I can't speak for every country in the world, but there is no regulation for the amount of salt in a brand. It's as simple as that. You don't know how much salt you add when baking or cooking. Less control means varied results from brand to brand. Sure, you could use the same brand repeatedly, and perhaps it works for your recipe, but the brand could change the sodium levels without you knowing simply because there are no standards across brands in the U.S.
Moisture tends not to be as big of a concern in cooking, but it is in baking. Salted butter tends to have a higher moisture content, anywhere from 10-18%. Just as in salt content, there is no regulation on moisture. When the butter increases its moisture, it makes gluten harder to develop. Gluten is essential in baking. If you've baked and found your recipe a bit wet or soggy, your butter might be to blame. Try using unsalted butter to fix a soggy bottom or an otherwise wet cake, cookie, etc.
From old butter on a grocery store shelf, to a complete lack of regulation on the quantity of salt and moisture content. Salted butter is the cause of many failed recipes and should not be used. Though it may sound convenient, it is only more convenient to the brand with its longer shelf life. Always use unsalted butter for better-tasting recipes and increase control in cooking and baking.