Salted Butter vs Unsalted Butter in Baking

Salted vs Unsalted Butter in Baking on

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

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

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!


  1. 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.”

    1. 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.

      1. thank you for the explanation what if your recipe doesn’t call for salt at all and only calls for unsalted butter but it calls for baking powder. Or baking soda what I still decrease the baking soda or baking powder like I’m doing like I would do the salt? Thank you for your quick respond and thank you for helping me try to figure out my recipes. Sincerely Carol shupp

  2. 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. 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. 🙂

  4. 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;) 

  5. 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!

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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! 🙂

  9. 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! 🙂

  10. 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

    1. 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.

  11. 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)

    1. 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?

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

  13. Oh my heck, thank you so much for providing this information! I’ve just been using whatever I had on hand but didn’t know it could make a real difference! On a separate note, I just bought your Cookie Addiction book so will be using that gor the holidays this year (and following the butter specified in the recipe)! Cookies are an easy (easier?) way to make everyone happy. 🙂 Thank you!!!

  14. Too funny.
    Baking is a science.
    In N.A. baking is measured. That is why some if your recipes will come out no matter what. Ours is not precise.
    In other countries all ingredients are weighed. So having extra of something could mean a flat Far Breton or a proper souffle .
    Unsalted butter was also is the highest standard.
    It passes all the tests for quality. When it fails, they add salt. So this way, they can still sell it.
    Also the amount of salt in our butters is far less than our ancestors used. They could slather salted butter on leftovers and because of salt content it would help preserve it.
    Today, most would be interchangeable simply because of the manner in which we cook.
    Most home bakers are making things with lots of flavour and you wouldn’t notice much extra saltm

  15. I come from a long line of great bakers. Salted butter is never used with the exception of one special cookie recipe. And I always get compliments on my baking. Pure, unsalted butter gives consistent results every time. I also read somewhere that salted butter can affect the chemistry of your recipe, and who needs that?

  16. So many misconceptions! Let me try to clear up a few. It won’t help, but I’ll try. First, the idea that salted butter is less fresh than unsalted is a throwback to history. In days gone by, salt would sometimes be added to older butter to conceal the slightly rancid taste that might otherwise be noticeable. At least in the United States, this has not been true for a long time. Salted butter and unsalted butter come out of the same churn at the same time and the sole difference between them is the addition of salt to one batch and not to the other. Second, the idea that salted butter has a higher water content then unsalted butter is false. In the United States, butter must contain at least 80% butterfat. The vast majority of butter manufactured in this country meets that standard. Premium butters with higher than 80% fat content are proud to advertise that fact. However, it is true that brands of salted butter differ significantly in their salt content. Manufacturers of salted butter are required to state on the label that the product contains salt but they are not required to state how much. Therefore, if you use salted butter in a recipe that calls for unsalted butter, you are adding an unknown amount of salt. When I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America, we were taught by the patissiers that one grain of salt too much or too little could utterly destroy the finished product. Pastry chefs seem genuinely to believe this. There are a few–a very few–recipes in which even small differences in the quality of salt are noticeable on the palate. For the most part, if the recipe calls for unsalted butter and you have only salted butter in the refrigerator, use the salted butter, omit about a quarter teaspoon of the salt that is called for in the recipe and you’ll be just fine. I promise, you really will.

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally