Salted Butter vs Unsalted Butter in Baking

Salted vs Unsalted Butter in Baking on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Here’s a common question in the kitchen. What’s the deal with salted and unsalted butter in baking? Does it really make a difference? Or is the recipe just being annoyingly picky? Ugh, baking.

Yes and yes I’m sorry.

Butter is our best friend in the kitchen, especially when it comes to pie crusts and cookies and cakes and cupcakes and poundcake and oh yeah, every other thing we have ever baked! Butter’s so common in our recipes that we often take this simple ingredient for granted. But the truth is that butter is just as fussy as the next baking ingredient. If your butter is too warm, forget about creaming it and your “fluffy cake” will end up dense, lifeless, and flat. Too cold and you’ll wind up with harsh chunks of butter in your otherwise pristine cake batter. Not only with regards to temperature, butter is a massive question mark when it comes to salt content. And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss today.

Baking basics series, we’re back!

Salted vs Unsalted Butter in Baking on sallysbakingaddiction.com

It’s quite ironic that a recipe can call for both unsalted (sweet) butter and salt. Why not just use salted butter? 2 or 3 reasons, actually.

1. The amount of salt in salted butter varies between brands.

You know baking is all about science, but it’s all about control as well. When you use unsalted butter in a recipe, you can control the exact amount of salt in your baked good. When you use salted butter, you have no idea how much salt you’re using because it varies between each brand you see at the store. Chowhound tells us the exact amount of salt in popular brands and some are double the amount of others! And this doesn’t even include store-brand butter, so who the heck knows how much salt is hiding in those. The flavor in your baked good is completely compromised, especially if butter is the main flavor– think poundcake, sugar cookies, pie crust etc. It doesn’t matter as much in cooking since you can taste as you go, but it’s crucial to control the salt in baked recipes. Pair this with the added salt in your recipe and you’ll wind up with super salty poundcake.

2. Unsalted butter is fresher.

Salt is a preservative and therefore, salted butter has a longer shelf life than unsalted butter. We’re talking 3-4 months of shelf time. For fresher butter, reach for the unsalted variety. (Or heck! Make your own!) However, some brands add “natural flavor” to unsalted butter, which extends its shelf life (not quite as long as salt). This is usually lactic acid, which also helps regulate its pH.

3. Salted butter has a higher water content than unsalted butter.

I heard this one at one of my cooking demos, but cannot attest its truth. The reason this would be a negative is because excess water could impact the way gluten develops resulting in a tougher textured baked good. However, I never notice a texture difference in my baked goods– just a taste difference. But something to keep in mind. Have you heard about this before?

Salted vs Unsalted Butter in Baking on sallysbakingaddiction.com

How to Substitute Salted Butter and Unsalted Butter

It’s best to use the type of butter called for in a recipe. But here’s a general rule: reduce or add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup (1/4 lb; 115g; 1 stick) of butter.

Explained: If you come across a recipe that calls for salted butter and all you have is unsalted butter, use unsalted butter and increase the salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon for every 1/2 cup of butter. So if a recipe calls for 1 cup of salted butter and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, you will use 1 cup of unsalted butter and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. And if you come across a recipe that calls for unsalted butter and all you have is salted butter, simply decrease the salt in the recipe by the same ratio above– 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup of butter. If you’re making a recipe that calls for 1/2 cup of unsalted butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, you can use 1/2 cup of salted butter and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Get it?

Mom’s Butter Confession

My mother uses salted butter in all of her baking and cooking. Unapologetically! She loves salty sweet foods, so if you are currently doing the same OR love a bit of salty with your sweet– go for it.

Could baking BE any more confusing? (cue Chandler Bing)

Further reading:

Also: new post on my photography blog today!

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81 Comments

Comments

  1. Liz B. on June 23, 2016 at 10:58 am

    The dairy drawer in my fridge is filled with salted and unsalted butter. I always buy more because with baking, I go through butter (and flour and sugar) like water. I also push Boything to use salted butter when he needs butter (for grilled cheese or toast or something) because “NO I’M GOING TO NEED THE UNSALTED BUTTER SOON.” “WE HAVE TWELVE STICKS.” “DOESN’T MATTER YOU KNOW I’LL USE IT AND YOU’LL APPRECIATE IT.”

    • Sally on June 23, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      Haha I get it. I get it.

    • Jillxz on November 8, 2017 at 10:53 am

      I rarely use unsalted butter . Been making cakes for many years and have never had a salty cake yet.  Some people just prefer the unsalted but most use salted butter.

  2. Nicola on June 23, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I’m also with your mum.  I hate it when I accidentally buy unsalted butter.  Biscuits don’t taste right, and using it in buttercream is a disaster!

    Here in the UK they put the salt content on the butter packet, even for stores’ own brands.  Or at least Tesco do, which is where I buy my butter…

  3. Claire on June 24, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    My mom too with the salted butter! Or margarine

  4. LaTrice on June 27, 2016 at 12:42 am

    I have a confession to make. I use salted butter in all of my baking recipes. There’s something about salted butter that gives baked goods an awesome flavor, and would create a balance between sweet and savory. I tried using unsalted butter, but the flavor is off. Maybe I have different taste buds or something. 🙂

  5. Johanne on June 27, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Very informative 🙂 I love reading your blog and I have baked many of your recipes, they are so good!

    In Denmark it is very difficult to get unsalted butter – our butter is usually salted, and the unsalted salt is very expensive.

    When I bake I always use the Danish brand called Lurpak, it is great for baking! You should try it;) 

  6. Valerie Buscher on June 28, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I am with your mother! I always use salted butter! Actually, because salt is a preservative, I find that it tastes fresher than unsalted. So many times I have bought unsalted and I find it has a rancid aftertaste. Also, being a cake maker, a little extra salt helps cut the ‘sweetness’ so no harm done there. I am new to your blog but certainly do enjoy and appreciate your expertise!

    • Sally on June 28, 2016 at 10:01 am

      I love reading your reasoning! Reading everyone’s preference in these comments is all so interesting. Appreciate you sharing!

  7. Leslie on June 28, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    I knew there was a difference between salted and unsalted butters, but never knew that the amount of salt could vary so much. I suppose I should’ve known, because I’ve had some salted butters that tasted like unsalted. That was definitely a disappointment. Pinning this for future reference!

    • Sally on June 29, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      It’s crazy how much the amount varies.

  8. Kathryn Mader on June 30, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve tried a simple shortbread (wedding) type cookie with unsalted butter and again with salted butter. I way preferred the salted butter. I felt the unsalted butter left the cookie tasteless. So I’m a salty girl.

  9. Amy on July 11, 2016 at 11:45 am

    I always use unsalted butter for all of my recipes UNLESS it actually calls for salted butter. I’m usually well stocked with both types at home though. I SO appreciate someone who posts a recipe (like you) that states unsalted or salted butter! 🙂

  10. Michele on October 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Sally, I think it’s ironic, weird, wrong, or whatever that the unsalted and salted butter packaging is the opposite color of the wrapped butter. I’m sure you have noticed, but let me explain. The unsalted butter always has BLUE on the cardboard exterior box, yet when you open up the box the sticks are wrapped with wording in RED. The opposite of the salted. Exterior wording is in RED and the wrappers are BLUE. Tell me there is a reason for that??? In my world it would be perfect if the exterior box and interior wrappers matched. BLUE stood for unsalted and RED was the SALTED. Please explain the logic! 🙂

  11. Kim on December 24, 2016 at 3:49 am

    I’ve tried literally every kind of salted butter out there. Land O’Lakes, has ALWAYS come out as number one

  12. Natasha on January 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Very Nice Post ! I will say all new bakers should read this , its a simple trick , I myself used once salted butter ..and as per the recipe add the required salt ..whoa …it got very salty & was very dis heartened .
    So hence to be safer now I use only un salted butter ..,or dont add the “extra salt ” required in the recipe. 🙂 My two cents
    Natasha
    http://www.cakecentral.co.in

    • Arienfire on October 1, 2017 at 12:08 am

      I was a new baker a few years ago… I use salted butter and the posted amount of salt. It never comes out too salty. I still use salted butter for everything! Like others I used unsalted and just found it lacking.

  13. andrew on February 7, 2017 at 11:28 am

    so for a 1 stick and 1/2 for a recipe that calls for 1/2 tsp of salt would it be 1/4 of a tsp and 1/8 of a tsp?

  14. Aurelia Avalon on June 8, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    I’m using salted butter but i accidently added 1 tsp of salt…aww, I can’t fix it can I? Isn’t there something i could use to counteract the salt? (I mixed it with the flour separately, haven’t put it in the butter yet)

    • Arienfire on October 1, 2017 at 12:09 am

      I have never had a problem using the salt called for in a recipe and salted butter. What did you end up doing and how did it come out?

  15. Aurelia Avalon on June 8, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Should I reduce the salted butter then?

  16. Priyanka Sivaramakrishnan on December 3, 2017 at 10:34 am

    I think I’m with your mom on this. I always use salted butter for my baked goods. I think the main thing is to keep tasting and seasoning accordingly. Unsalted butter just seems meh.

    Love the food basics series!

  17. Carole on May 12, 2018 at 7:42 am

    Thank You! Got It! I searched all over the net for this question to be answered and poof you have explained it thoroughly!

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