How Salted Butter Worked Its Way Back into America’s Home Kitchens
And why we’re not all that mad about it.
Don’t look now, but salted better is making a comeback.
After more than a century spent in the shadow of its sweeter, unsalted cousin, The Washington Post is reporting that salted butter is making its triumphant return to American kitchens.
Many cooks, both home and professional, will find this news hard to swallow. After all, few would ever dream of cooking with salted butter due to the widely-held belief that using unsalted butter and adding the salt separately allows for more flavor control. Salted butter is for spreading on bread and pancakes, and that’s it. Or is it?
“For centuries, really, butter was three to four times saltier than our salted butter because it was used as a preservative,” Elaine Khosrova, author of Butter: A Rich History told the Post. Salt would extend the fat’s shelf life and, in turn, the butter could be applied as a coating to cooked food to make leftovers last longer, she explained.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century, when butter making became a commercial business, that the salt content was cut drastically, and the modern grocery store version of butter was born.
France, however, did things a bit differently. Here, unpreserved—and therefore drastically less salty—butter continued to reign supreme. And following World War II, when the United States started emulating Julia Child and French cooking as a whole, the idea that unsalted butter was superior began to take root. By the 1990s nearly every recipe called for unsalted butter, a fact that remains today.
Therefore it would seem safe to assume that most recipe-following Americans buy unsalted butter, right? Wrong. The statistics reportedly tell a very different story. According to The Dairy Farmers of America, 77% of the butter sold in America since 2012 has been salted, and only 23% unsalted.
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In restaurants, however, the majority of butter is unsalted, because chefs say it allows for more precision. But when it comes to good old-fashioned home cooking, experts are now saying that an American-type stick of salted butter from the grocery store is just fine to use. In fact it’s recommended in certain recipes for shortbread and blondies, which is great news, because it’s what most of us have in on hand anyway! Not to mention the depth of flavor it adds.
So, before you start substituting salted butter into your recipes willy-nilly, here’s a good rule of thumb: If you use salted butter, taste the dish as you cook it t know how much (if any) additional salt is needed. For batters or doughs with eggs that you don’t want to taste raw, Joy the Baker recommends halving the amount of salt called for in the recipe if you’re using salted butter.