Sunday, 3 May 2009 | Tags: ,

From pastries, pies and cookies to vegetables, seafood and bread, butter is a key ingredient that brings out the flavour of many foods. Since labels are not always clear, it's hard to know what to look for in these pre-packaged products. Here's what we learned about butter.

The Basics

There are a few types of butter you’ll see on the shelf:

  • Regular butter, or “sweet cream” butter, is the most common type found in North American grocery stores. It must be made from pasteurized milk and/or cream and must be at least 80% milk fat by weight, and should have a fresh, clean, slightly sweet flavour.

  • Premium or “European style” butter (also called cultured or fermented), uses unpasteurized cream that is naturally fermented before made into butter. It claims to contain slightly more milk fat than regular butter, yet about the same amount of fat and calories, and usually costs about twice as much as other butters. It is more full-flavoured in taste, which is preferred throughout Europe. In North America, European-style butter is still made with pasteurized milk or cream, but a bacterial culture is introduced help mimic the slightly tangy, nutty flavour of the true European butter.

  • Extra creamy butter contains 82-86% butterfat (regular contains 80-81%), which creates richer flavour and produces moister cakes and flakier pastries. Common in Europe and the US, extra creamy butter may be hard to find in Canada.

  • Whipped butter is just regular butter with air or inert gas whipped in. Since whipped butter is not as dense, it has fewer calories and less fat. Some whipped butters crumble when cold and Consumer Reports tests reported that some whipped butters had slightly oxidized flavour and paint-like aroma.

  • Light butter has less than half the fat of regular butter, but contains water and other ingredients instead. Consumer Reports found flavour and texture problems in their tests.

  • Many butters contain added salt and/or colouring, both of which are optional.

    • Salt content in butter can range from 0-3%.

    • Salted butter is typically used as a table spread and in cooking.

    • Unsalted is also used in cooking, but especially baking.

    • Specialty shops may carry “demi-sel”, which is lightly-salted.

  • To ensure your butter tastes best:

    • Freshness and handling affect the taste so be sure to shop at store with high product turnover.

    • Check date on butter if there is one.

    • Make sure it’s refrigerated properly both at the store and at home, at or below 4C/39F.

    • Butter easily absorbs other flavours. Keep it well-wrapped and stored away from strong- smelling foods.

    • If you’re not using it right away, store it in airtight bag in freezer and defrost when needed.

    • Some products advertise that they are fortified with calcium and vitamins – this is most often only in small quantities and really only contributes to increased cost since the benefits are minimal.

Other Considerations

  • When it comes to butter, there are some health considerations to be aware of:

    • Butter has 100 calories and 11 grams of fat per tablespoon.

    • Most of the fat (about 65%) is natural, unprocessed saturated fat, with some traces of natural trans fat. While studies suggest processed saturated fat and trans fat can increase your level of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), other studies indicate that natural saturated fat and natural trans fat may not.

    • Butter also contains many fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, including: vitamins A, D, E, K, copper, zinc, chromium, selenium, iodine, and lecithin.

    • Butter from pasture-grazed cows contains omega-3 fatty acids.

    • Regular margarine has just as many calories and grams of fat as butter but because it is made with vegetable oil instead of milk fat, it does have less saturated fat (about 20%). However, most margarines contain processed trans fats.

  • Butter tips for baking:

    • For pie and pastry doughs, the butter should be cold from the fridge.

    • For cakes and cookies, it should be slightly below room temperature (cool but spreadable).

    • To warm up butter for a cookie or cake recipe, cut it into small pieces. Do not heat or microwave it because it’ll lose its leavening abilities and will make pies or pastries heavy and greasy.

  • Storage: the best way to store butter is to keep it in the refrigerator to prevent the fat from turning rancid.

    • Store it wrapped in dark packaging in the coldest part of the fridge, away from heat, light, and strong-smelling food.

    • Unsalted butter keeps in the fridge up to two weeks.

    • Salted butter lasts up to one month in the fridge because the salt acts as a preservative.

    • Both salted and unsalted butter can stored tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to six months.

    • Butter that is frozen (wrapped in a plastic freezer bag or heavy foil) can last up to a year in a deep freezer (under -23C/-9F), or about 4 months in a regular freezer.
  • Butter vs. margarine:

    • Both butter and margarine are made up of fat and are equal or very similar in calories.

    • The big difference is that butter is an animal product that contains cholesterol, while margarine is plant-based and therefore cholesterol-free.

    • There is also some concern about butter containing traces of hormones and antibiotics fed to animals. (If you are concerned about this, buy organic butter.)

    • Butter is a good source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

    • Despite margarine as a low-cholesterol alternative, experts and tasters alike believe that margarine is not all it’s cracked up to be since it contains many processed ingredients (including trans-fats) that some experts say are worse for you than the natural cholesterol found in butter.

Be Aware

  • Don’t store butter in the butter compartment of the fridge door. It’s actually the warmest place in the fridge!

  • Butter that has an unpleasant smell or sour taste is likely rancid. Don’t eat it! You can also tell it’s rancid because it will hve a darker outer surface.


We put some homemade butter up against some typical store-bought butter, as well as an imported butter from France. We tested:

  • Homemade (by Anna & Kristina): $3.63/lb
  • Store brand: $5.59/lb
  • Imported French butter: $25.33/lb

Taste Test

  • The imported butter was chosen by 28% of our testers. Most preferred one of our other products, but those who liked this one found it very creamy and flavourful.

  • The store brand garnered 32% of the votes and was described as both pleasantly familiar and generic.

  • The homemade butter was the most popular with 40% of the votes, described as the having a light and fresh flavour.


If you have the time to make it, homemade butter (from organic cream if possible) definitely pleases the palate! 

top of page | | back to posts |
  • Subscribe to the A&K Newsletter

  • Dee

    Just want to say that I’ve been a fan of you two for years! I have loved your refreshingly real TV personalities in all their various incarnations. I’m absolutely loving Grocery Bag, and am amazed at how I will literally be thinking about some type of kitchen utensil or cook book, and you guys will review it. And I LOVE that you are both Vancouver girls, just like me. Keep up the good work!!!

    • annaandkristina

      Hi Dee, what a lovely note. Thanks so much for watching!