Does the type of butter you use in your baking matter? Do you know the difference between salted and unsalted butter? Find out more about butter, the differences and similarities between them and when you should use each.
"Can I swap unsalted butter for salted butter?" or vice versa, really has to be one of the most asked questions I've been asked in all my years of baking and sharing my recipes here.
While you can usually interchange salted and unsalted butter, for some recipes there is a genuine reason for recommending one or another - it really can make or break how your bakes turn out.
When it comes to baking, butter is our superhero ingredient. It makes our buttercreams smooth and creamy, cakes light and fluffy, and pastry rich and buttery. Where would our bakes be without butter?
But take a look in the chiller section of any supermarket and you'll be forgiven if you feel a little overwhelmed by the vast section of butter on offer. From butter to margarine, block to spreadable, salted to unsalted - how many of us just grab the cheapest, the one on offer, or the one we always use and not give it a second thought?
I'll put my hand up and admit that I have done so and I know I'm not alone.
So here's my guide to help you decide which butter to buy next time you're baking...
Table of Contents
Salted vs. unsalted butter
First up, we're going to park the butter vs. margarine debate for another post; today we're focusing on salted vs. unsalted butter.
Unsalted butter is quite simply that - butter with no added salted. Whereas salted butter has added salt; the quantity of which can vary between brands. You might find some brands with a slightly salted option too.
You'll also notice other differences between the two butters, including:
- Flavour - As there is no added salt in unsalted butter, what you taste when eating it is the natural flavour of butter. You might notice that it is sweeter tasting than salted butter. But you might find that salted butter has a more creamy taste as the salt enhances this and brings out flavour.
- Shelf life - Salt is a natural preservative, so it makes sense that salted butter will have a longer shelf-life. Salted butter will typically keep in the fridge for up to 6 months whereas unsalted butter about 3 months. Shelf-life is especially important if you don't keep your butter in the fridge.
HANDY HINT: To find out how much salt is in your butter, check out the nutritional information and the sodium quantity.
When to use unsalted butter
The beauty of unsalted butter is that you have complete control over the amount of salt in your recipe, especially if you're making a recipe that calls for a specific amount of salt.
For example, if you're making bread the recipe will typically ask for an amount of salt to be added; too much salt and you can inhibit the yeast reaction. So if you're making an enriched dough that calls for butter you'd want to use unsalted so not to add any additional salt.
In baked desserts, such as cakes, brownies and cookies etc, typically you would use an unsalted butter. The recipe will usually say if you need to add any salt. But as a base, using unsalted butter means that your treats will taste so much better. No one wants to take a bite of chocolate cake and taste salt.
When to use salted butter
Now I know I've just said that unsalted butter will make your baked treats taste better, but I'm also going to tell you so does salted butter. Because it's true.
The reason I prefer unsalted butter is that I can control the amount of salt I add, as salt is a magic ingredient! I always recommend adding salt into a recipe if using unsalted butter.
And that's because salt helps bring out the flavour in your bakes, cakes and desserts. It really does help that flavour come alive and makes your buttercream taste so much more creamier.
I know many bakers that will advise you not to use salted butters for cakes, bakes or buttercream or cakes as they'll be too salty; but really its down to the amount of salt you use.
Yes, using salted butter and adding in salt, if a recipe asks you too, will make a very salty dessert. But all you need to do is reduce the amount of salt you are adding - or remove it completely, which is what I highly recommend if want to use salted butter.
HANDY HINT: If a recipe asks for an amount of butter and salt, and you want to use salted butter; swap the unsalted butter for the same amount of salted butter and leave out the salt.
Can I use salted butter instead of unsalted?
Yes, yes you can. Although it's wise to check the recipe and ingredients information first, just in case the recipe writer has recommended using a particular butter for a reason.
HANDY HINT: Check out the Ingredients & Substitutions section in all recipes to check if you can swap the butters around. If there is a specific reason for using one butter over another, I'll always let you know.
If a recipe asks you to use unsalted butter and an addition of salt, as most of my recipes do, then you can swap for salted butter and cut out the additional salt.
It's really that simple. And yes, the butters are interchangeable.
And if the recipe asks you to use salted butter, you can swap for unsalted butter and add ½ teaspoon or 3.5 grams, of salt for each 250g of butter.
Just keep an eye or a taste bud, on those salt levels; you don't want salty bakes!
HANDY HINT: When adding salt to a recipe I always recommend using a fine sea salt rather than a table salt which can have a metallic taste.
Which butter is best?
So the last question is one that really depends on your own personal preference - if you're a salted butter fan, like me, then go ahead and use it.
And to be honest, neither butter is better than the other; both can be used for making the most delicious cakes, bakes and treats!