It's time for another pantry basics post! In past pantry basics posts we've covered Olive Oil
and Coconut Oil
, so I thought it was only fitting to also cover butter to round out the picture.
|Image from wikifitness.com |
Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh milk or cream to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. The colour will vary depending on the animal's diet, but in today's world it is often altered artificially during the manufacturing process. Look out for ingredients such as annatto or carotene as these are typical indicators of artificial colouring.
There is an age-old argument about whether butter or margarine is better for your health. We're not going to address that in this post - there are some great articles out there debating the health benefits or issues of both options. Just do a google search "Butter vs. Margarine" and check out some of the articles that come up. What I do know is that a) My hubby and I both agree that the taste of butter is significantly better and b) Butter tends to contain less processed ingredients and is more in line with our eating goals of eating less processed foods. Therefore in our house we always choose butter!
Types of Butter
Cultured butter is traditionally made from fermented cream. It is considered to be superior in taste and to have a fuller flavour. Using today's manufacturing methods, cultured butter is now made with fresh cream and during the manufacturing process, bacterial cultures and lactic acid are introduced to the mixture. This provides the same cultured taste in a far more efficient production process. Cultured butter is also known as European-Style butter as it is preferred in Europe.
Sweet Cream Butter
Sweet cream butter is made from pasteurized fresh cream. Sweet cream butter is the butter preferred in the United States and Canada and it tends to have a less full/ buttery flavour compared to that of cultured butter. It typically keeps in the fridge for several months at a time.
Raw Cream Butter
Raw cream butter is the same as sweet cream butter but it is made with unpasteurized milk. Since it is very difficult to find unpasteurized milk unless you get it straight from the farm, this raw cream butter is typically only homemade. The shelf life is very short - it only keeps for approximately 10 days.
It is becoming increasingly popular for butter manufacturers to produce butter that is spreadable right from the fridge - no softening period required. This has been done in order to compete with margarine and it is typically done in one of three ways:
1) Chemical manipulation of the makeup of the butter fat molecules
2) Manipulation of the animal's feed
3) Incorporating vegetable oils into the butter product
As a result of the above methods, this product tends to be highly processed (somewhat like margarine) and defeat the purpose of selecting butter over margarine in the first place.
Clarified Butter (commonly referred to as Ghee)
Clarified butter is commonly used in Indian cooking. It is nearly pure butterfat as it has been clarified to remove most of the water and milk solids from the product. The clarification process takes place by heating the butter to melting point and then cooling it back down. Once it cools, it settles into three layers that separate by density - whey proteins on the top, butter fat in the middle and then the water and casein proteins settle at the bottom. The advantage to clarifying butter is that it can then be heated to higher temperatures without burning as all of the milk solids which typically burn if butter is overheated, have been removed from the butter during the clarification process.
Butter & Baking
|Image from DrAxe.com|
Most baking cookbooks will have a section on butter and baking. The most common topic for discussion is whether to use salted or unsalted butter. With salted butter, salt is added to the butter in the form of granules or brine during the manufacturing process. Salt preserves the butter and therefore gives it a longer shelf life than unsalted butter. But this also tends to indicate that unsalted butter is fresher than its salted counterpart.
Unsalted butter is most often recommended for baking as it is much easier to control the saltiness of recipes by adding all of the salt yourself. Since each brand of butter adds different quantities of salt depending on their individual manufacturing process, the saltiness of any brand of butter or even production batch of butter can vary widely which can therefore impact the amount of salt you would want to add to your baking. For example adding a standard 1/2 tsp of salt to a batch of cookie dough could result in very salty cookies if the butter is quite salty or in flavourless cookies if the butter is not very salty. Therefore, starting with unsalted butter gives the baker more control over the consistency of the end product.
Tips on Butter use and Storage
- If butter has melted and then solidified, don't use it in your baking! Melting butter changes the properties of it and therefore when mixed with flour, it won't incorporate in the same way it would if it had never melted!
- You can freeze butter for up to 4 months after purchasing it! Place it in a freezer bag to retain the flavour.
- To soften butter quickly, cut the butter into 1 inch cubes, place in a single layer on a plate on the counter. Butter should soften within 15 minutes. For baking, don't ever soften butter in the microwave!
- To preserve butter keep it tightly wrapped! Exposure to air and light increases the speed of butter going rancid. It also helps to avoid the butter absorbing other odours that may be present in your fridge. Wrapped butter will keep for several months in the fridge.
|Image from BBC.co.uk|
Finally, lets end with some fun facts about butter!
- According to Wikipedia, differing varieties of butter are found around the world. "Smen is a spiced Moroccan clarified butter, buried in the ground and aged for months or years. Yak butter is a specialty in Tibet; tsampa barley flour mixed with yak butter, is a staple food. Butter tea is consumed in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India. It consists of tea served with intensely flavoured - or rancid - yak butter and salt. In African and Asian developing nations, butter is traditionally made from sour milk rather than cream."
- Butter actually contains very little lactose as it is mostly just milk fat. This is why butter often doesn't bother people with mild lactose intolerance.
Also, if you want to try your hand at making homemade butter
here's a great tutorial
. You don't need any special equipment - you can use your stand mixer! Why not give it a try! You'll be amazed how delicious freshly made butter is.
Thanks for stopping by! If there's any other ingredients you're curious about and would like to see featured in the Pantry Basics series, please let me know!