If you cook, you’ve probably encountered two main types of butters while browsing the dairy aisles: Salted and unsalted. Deciding between them is usually about the recipe you’re Barefoot Contess-ing, but knowing the general salt content of butter is always a good idea, whether your doc has you watching for it or not.
So, how much salt is in salted butter, anyway? According to the USDA, salted butter contains about 643 milligrams (mg) of salt per 100-gram (g) serving. But it’s also up to each company to determine how much they want to use in their versions of butter.
Let’s talk shop about salt in salted versus unsalted butter.
How much salt is in salted butter, really?
We surveyed the sodium content per tablespoon in a few brands, and the amount varies (note that salt itself has a sodium content of only around 40 percent by weight):
• Kerry Gold: 100 mg
• Land O’Lakes: 90 mg
• Challenge: 90 mg
• Safeway O Organics: 90 mg
• Straus Lightly Salted: 45 mg
• Horizon: 90 mg
• Lucerne: 90 mg
If sodium in your diet is a concern, buy unsalted butter. If it’s not, then the choice is mostly a matter of taste and the food you’re cooking.
Generally, and especially when baking, unsalted butter allows you to add precisely the amount of salt you want. Salted butter gives you a less precise amount of salt and therefore, less control. If your recipe calls for unsalted and you only have salted on hand, you’ll just have to adjust any other added salt to compensate.
Salted butter, on the other hand, can be extra delicious when spread on toast, which is why you’ll often find salted spreadable butter. This isn’t necessarily intended to be used in recipes, so taste is the number one goal.
Most recipes call for unsalted (or sweet) butter. Also, the shelf life differs between salted and unsalted butter, which is mostly because the salt acts as a preservative.
The United States Dairy Council says that salted butter can be left out on the counter, as long as the temperature doesn’t get over 70°F (21°C). But beyond that, it should be stored in the refrigerator or even in the freezer, where it will stay fresh for months. Unsalted butter needs to be refrigerated and lasts for less time in the freezer.
When it comes to recipes, the amount of salt in the salted butter will greatly affect the flavor of the meal. So, choose your butter wisely. When in doubt, going small is the first rule of seasoning dishes, and that applies to cooking with salted butter as well.
Salt vs. sodium
First, let’s clarify the difference between salt and sodium. Sodium naturally occurs in many food types and is a necessary mineral. Salt is the stuff you sprinkle on food for flavor that’s actually made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.
Typically, health organizations recommend getting less than 2,300 mg per day for adults without associated health conditions. It’s always good to keep salt intake in check to make sure you’re not going overboard with total sodium.
Salted butter is typically safe for most folks who aren’t living with any conditions affected by sodium, such as high blood pressure. Check with your doctor to see if you should be watching your salt intake.
As mentioned before, you should also try to use unsalted butter in recipes where it calls for it. You don’t want to end up with overly salty cookies, for instance. Salt can also sometimes mask the sweet, creamy flavor of butter, which some recipes want to highlight.
When you want to be extra precise with the salt content, opt for unsalted butter and use your preferred salt to flavor the recipe.
If you are cooking for a large group of people, consider going easy on the salt, just in case it’s not to everyone’s taste, and because some may have health conditions like high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart disease, when limited salt is often recommended.
To salt or not to salt: That’s the buttery question. For us, it’s all about the intended use. If you want something tasty to spread on toast, to flavor up some plain oatmeal, to add to a pasta sauce, or to flavor some steak, salted butter could be your BFF.
But if you’re preparing a specific recipe, especially baked goods, you’ll probably want a few sticks of the unsalted variety on hand in your freezer. Yep, you can totally freeze butter for later.