Chatelaine Kitchen

Pantry 101: Salted butter vs. unsalted butter

Which you should use when baking, how to substitute a stick of salted butter for unsalted butter, and how to make your own homemade butter.
By Irene Ngo and Kristen Eppich
Pantry 101 salted butter vs. unsalted butter Illustration, Erica Rodrigues.

Just ask the French or Ina Garten: Butter is the secret ingredient that makes dishes delicious.

Butter is often used across the board in recipes. It can act as a liquid or leavening agent in baking, and it often serves double duty as a fat and a seasoning in savoury recipes. But between a stick of unsalted or salted butter, which do you prefer, and can you substitute one for the other? We de-mystify these golden bars of deliciousness.


Unsalted butter

Have you ever wondered why so many baking recipes call for unsalted butter? From a test kitchen perspective, it’s simple. Unsalted butter is often used in recipes where you don’t have the luxury of tasting your food as you go. It’s not easy to determine if you have the right amount of salt in a raw cake batter. Therefore, practice makes perfect, and a calculated amount of salt in the recipe is defined. Usually, recipes will call for either "unsalted butter" or "sweet butter."

Salted butter

The addition of salt in the butter-making process turns unsalted butter into salted. In addition to taste, salt also acts as a preservative to prolong the shelf life of the butter — salted butter is good up to five months when refrigerated, while unsalted butter is good up to three months. But exactly how much salt is in salted butter? After comparing four major butter brands, we determined that on average there are 80 mg of sodium per 10 g serving. So for every gram of butter, there is 8 mg of sodium. Knowing that very few of us measure things in milligrams, we applied some super tricky math and calculated some approximations.

* 454 g (1 block or 2 cups) butter contains just over 1 1/2 tsp salt * 227 g (1/2 block or 1 cup) butter contains 3/4 tsp salt * 114 g (1 stick or 1/2 cup) of butter contains a little more than 1/3 tsp salt

If you need to use salted butter when a recipe calls for unsalted butter, be sure to reduce any additional salt by the amounts listed above. If the recipe does not call for any additional salt, be prepared for a saltier finished product.


Storing tip: Butter is a gold mine when you can find it on sale. Freeze up to six months, and thaw in the fridge overnight, or at room temperature before use.

Did you know: Butter is made by churning cream until the liquid separates from the fat — the creamy goodness that is butter. The liquid is sold as buttermilk in your grocery's refrigerated section!

Make your own: If you ever feel like making your own butter, then get ‘churning’ in your own kitchen. All you need to start off is 35% cream and a blender!


And for those feeling extra-adventurous:

Originally published October 16th, 2015. 



Subscribe to our newsletters for our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.