Pastry Chef Teaching

Salted vs. Unsalted Butter

Salted vs. Unsalted Butter:
What’s The Difference?

When a recipe calls for butter, we often just grab a little of whatever we’ve got in the fridge or whatever’s on offer at the supermarket and expect it to work. But have you ever stopped to consider the difference between salted and unsalted butter?

Want To Skip Ahead?

Clearly, you have since you’re here, but most of us spend years cooking and baking before we give any serious thought to the type of butter we’re using.

There is a difference and it can affect the result of any recipe, so let’s take a closer look at the differences.

What’s the Difference?

The key difference is that salted has added salt in it and unsalted doesn’t. Generally, you won’t know exactly how much salt is added to your salted butter as it varies from brand to brand.

So you may need to try a few before you find one that has the right saltiness for your preference.

Salted butter generally lasts a little longer than unsalted butter, though neither is exactly short-lived. Unsalted butter lasts for about 3-4 months in the fridge, while salted butter lasts around 5-6 months.

If you only use butter in a handful of recipes and aren’t much of a baker, the long shelf life of salted butter may make it a more appealing choice for you.

Whenever possible, try to use the type of butter specified in the recipe, and if you’re unsure, opt for unsalted butter. It’s easy to add more salt in but you can’t take it out.

When should you use salted butter?

You can use salted butter in almost any recipe, especially when it comes to cooking. Salt helps to bring out the flavours in your food and if you’re cooking in butter and use salted butter, you can skip any added pinches of salt.

Salted butter works well for any savoury application, including as a spread for your toast.

You can use salted butter for:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • On roasted meat
  • To melt on corn on the cob and steak
  • To sautee vegetables
  • Added to sauces

When should you use unsalted butter?

You can use unsalted butter at any time and add a pinch of salt as needed, but unsalted butter is most commonly called for in baking recipes.

Baking is a precise art where you’re relying on chemical reactions to get your desired result, so it’s important to follow your baking recipes closely.

If your baking recipe says “butter” instead of specifying, opt for unsalted. The last thing you want is to find out that your delicious chocolate cake is too salty to be enjoyable.

Unsalted butter is best for:

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Muffins
  • Pies and Tarts
  • Cream fillings

Can I use salted butter instead of unsalted butter?

It depends. If you’re cooking, you can easily substitute unsalted for salted and vice versa. If you’re baking, you’ll be taking a small risk.

Generally, if you’re cooking a more complicated recipe or something for a special occasion, it’s safer to down tools and grab some unsalted butter from the closest shop.

If what you’re baking isn’t that important or you just don’t have time to go to a shop, give it a shot.

Chances are you won’t be able to tell the difference – just make sure you don’t add any additional salt (unless it’s a particularly salty recipe, then try ¼ or ½ of the amount) and try to test a little of the end result before anyone else does, just in case!

It’s also worth noting that using salted butter when yeast is involved can be a mistake. The salt in the butter can kill some of the yeast, which stops the dough from rising properly.

It’s best to opt for unsalted butter and only add salt as directed in the recipe.

How salty is salted butter?

The saltiness will vary from brand to brand, but in general, UK butters are about 1.5% salt. That means in 100g of butter, there will be about 1.5g of salt.

If you want to use salted butter in place of unsalted butter and added salt, use the teaspoon guide below:

  • 1 tsp = 5g
  • ½ tsp = 2.5g
  • ¼ tsp = 1.25g

So, if your recipe calls for 150g of butter and ½ a teaspoon of salt, you can see that adding 150g of salted butter will add almost half a teaspoon of salt, so you could add a pinch of salt to make up the difference, or leave it as is in case the brand you’re using is saltier than this.

Can I substitute butter for shortening?

If you’re following an American recipe, you may find an ingredient called “shortening”. While you can find an equivalent here in the UK, it’s much easier to substitute it with butter.

You can substitute them 1:1. Shortening is a form of vegetable oil, so opt for unsalted butter to keep a neutral flavour and add salt as directed in the recipe.

Can I use butter instead of oil?

Yes, just as with shortening (which is actually a solid form of vegetable oil), you can substitute butter with oil, and vice versa, even in baking recipes. You can substitute them 1:1.

If you’re cooking, simply add about a tablespoon of butter to your pan or pot and allow it to melt before adding your vegetables or meat.

If you want to replace oil in a baking recipe (such as in a cake), melt your butter first in a pan or in the microwave and add it to the mixture as guided for the oil.

Is salted or unsalted butter healthier?

In this case, butter is butter; when you add butter to a recipe, you’re focused on flavour. If you want to keep control of your sodium intake then you’ll be better off opting for unsalted butter, but generally one is not healthier than the other.

Using salted or unsalted butter in a recipe will rarely be disastrous, and you’ll know if you’re baking a recipe that’s difficult to get right.

With the knowledge you’ve gained from the points above, you’ll be able to confidently work with both salted and unsalted butter in all your recipes!