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The recipe I want to use to make lemon curd specifically calls for unsalted butter, while many other recipes I've looked at either also specify this, or simply say 'butter', making me unsure whether they mean salted or unsalted butter.

Where I live butter is very expensive, and it can also be difficult to buy it in any reasonably large quantities. So this makes me wonder whether it's okay to use salted butter which I readily have available instead of spending the time and money to buy the suitable amount of unsalted butter.

So would using salted butter to make lemon curd somehow cause it to fail? Or would it succeed, but change the taste and/or texture?

EDIT

Today, I finally got around to making some lemon curd. As an experiment, I decided to make a small batch with the salted butter I had to hand to see how it would turn out, and to be perfectly honest it tastes great. It doesn't taste particularly salty and the texture is just as I wanted. I plan to give some to my in-laws and ask for their opinions on whether it tastes salty at all, but since they have a more salt heavy diet than me (I've been trying to cut down on salt when possible for the last half a year or so), I don't think they'll be put off at all. Or at least I hope so!

In any case, I don't think I'll be worrying too much about whether I'm using salted or unsalted butter in my curd from now on. Though I will note to buy the same brand of butter as often as possible, since I might just be using a comparatively lightly salted butter.

  • I am not sure of this, but I wonder what would happen if you heat the butter and add water to it to allow the salt to dissolve in the water and let it cool. Separate the butter from the liquids. This should reduce the salt, I imagine. But, you have clarified butter instead. – user29568 Dec 16 '19 at 11:14
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    If you have access to cream, you could make your own butter – Max Dec 16 '19 at 12:28
  • check this too cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/93163/… – Luciano Dec 20 '19 at 14:38
  • Salted versus unsalted butter: youtu.be/kP1BHrvYopI – Chloe Dec 28 '19 at 18:38
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Often, at least in the US, recipes will specifically call for unsalted butter, then call for salt to be added to the recipe — which causes many to scratch their heads.

There are three main uses that come to my mind for salt. One is to impart a salty taste. The usage in butter is primarily a secondary one, and that is as a preservative. The third is as a flavor enhancer (which can also apply to butter, but to my knowledge is not the primary reason there). Many recipes that call for a small amount of salt are using it strictly as a flavor enhancer. The intent is to highlight other flavors without actually tasting the salt.

So why call out unsalted, then add salt? Two reasons that I know of. The amount of salt in salted butter varies. If you read the label carefully and do the math, you might get a rough idea, but in general by just picking up the butter you do not know how much salt is in there. Some may have enough to taste, others you may not notice. By using unsalted, you are in control of how much salt is added and can even adjust to taste as individuals who practice a lower-salt diet tend to taste it at lower amounts. Higher-salt diets tend to become numbed to the taste so do not notice it at lower amounts. This contributed to the older tendency to call for a "pinch" and a pinch varied from person to person according to their own sense of taste.

The second reason is more subtle. Salt in butter is a preservative. Since it has salt, it tends to hold up longer in storage. Since it holds up longer, there is at least a perception that salted butter may be older. So calling for unsalted by some cooks and authors can be like saying "use fresh butter, not old." It is an old tendency, and many may not even realize that is an origin, even if subtly implied.

Now, not knowing your curd recipe, it may not call for added salt. I come from a high-salt background, so it is unlikely I would taste the difference, while others might. In the case of your particular recipe, there may be a tendency for at least some people to actually taste the salt, especially given that the amount of salt in the butter may vary by maker.

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    +1 for explaining that the perception of saltiness varies between individuals and cool history. I use salted butter and add salt even if a recipe doesn't call for it, and cut back on the sugar. Most people think my frostings are divine, but there's one guy who swears he can smell the salt and flinches back. Others think my various fruit goops are magical on their own, while others literally gag at the concentration/acidity unless they take it with a big bite of cheesecake. Taste is absurdly subjective, and no one should break their piggy bank over a pinch of salt. – kitukwfyer Dec 16 '19 at 23:57
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    This is false: Salt i[n] butter is a preservative. Since it has salt, it tends to hold up longer in storage. Microbes cannot grow in a fat/oil - there is no oxygen for them. Lard, peanut butter, olive oil etc. can be stored many months without problem. Fats can go rancid (oxidized on surface) however. I keep my unsalted butter in the fridge many, many months without problem. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/8084/… – Chloe Dec 17 '19 at 3:37
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    Another important use of salt in many recipes is to limit the action of yeast in leavened baked goods. In some sense, it has the opposite effect of sugar. It also adds crust color and changes the gluten profile. – Z4-tier Dec 17 '19 at 14:11
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    @Chloe your anecdotal ability to keep butter to your satisfaction supersedes volumes of industry and cooking literature information on why salt is added to butter? Interesting. Google, Bing or any other search engine "Why is salt added to butter" and you will be hard pressed to find one that does not say it is as a preservative. – dlb Dec 17 '19 at 14:12
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    @Chloe Yes, you can keep unsalted butter for a long time in a machine specially designed to preserve foodstuffs. The point is that salted butter will keep OK in a cool pantry whereas unsalted will go rancid. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 18 '19 at 14:17
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Using salted butter would result in a perceivably salty curd - probably not what you want when expecting a sweet lemon curd. The general rule of thumb is to use unsalted butter for sweet dishes and cakes, especially when the butter makes up a significant percentage of the whole dish.

The reason why some recipes simply state “butter” is that not all locales consider salted butter as the default. For example: In Germany (where I live), “butter” means unsalted, and salted butter is a specialty item, which may even come at a higher price. In the US it’s the other way around.

From what I observed, the UK (homeland of the lemon curd) is something in between - sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly calling for unsalted butter for baking and deserts.

  • Yes, here in the UK salted is only marginally more common than unsalted. Salted is often cheaper in practice, because the budget range doesn't include unsalted. – Chris H Dec 16 '19 at 11:31
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    @ChrisH When I was a child (born in 1958) unsalted butter was a speciality item (just as in much of the US now). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 18 '19 at 14:19
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I disagree with Stephie's answer above. I find using salted butter does not give a perceptively salty taste but instead helps to bring out the lemon flavour. A pinch of salt or salted butter is recommended in The Kitchen Magpie and Guardian perfect lemon curd.

Of course, as Luciano says, if you use unsalted butter you have more control, but I don't think it is necessary to buy it specifically for lemon curd.

In response to a comment: this is based on using salted butter with 1.7g of salt per 100g of butter.

  • The Guardian recipe doesn't mention salted butter, in fact it says to add a pinch of salt. – user29568 Dec 16 '19 at 12:39
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    It seems there’s no consensus even amongst UK chefs and bakers. I found Gordon Ramsey recipe calling for lightly(!) salted butter, a Jamie Oliver one stating unsalted and two Mary Berry ones, one with unsalted, one with just “butter”. So I guess it depends on a) the saltiness of the butter, which may differ between brands and locales, and b) the percentage of butter in the curd. Plus probably c) personal preference. There’s no harm in adding a pinch of salt to sweet recipes, in fact, it’s quite common. Whether this warrants using salted butter right from the start is another question. – Stephie Dec 16 '19 at 12:43
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    @Stephie A pinch of salt is nothing compared to the amount of salt in salted butter, generally speaking of course since it depends on the brand. – user29568 Dec 16 '19 at 12:49
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    The only salted butter I encountered was so salty that I can't believe it wouldn't cause a perceivable saltiness. Can you share how much salted was the salted butter you were using? Range of saltiness seems to be from 1% to 3% in the off-the shelf salted butter in my country. – Mołot Dec 16 '19 at 14:45
  • @Stephie you can sometimes get semi-salted butter in the UK, so perhaps that's the "lightly salted" – Chris H Dec 16 '19 at 16:25
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  • For cooking in general it's usually better to use unsalted butter. You can always add more salt if needed (and in the correct amount) but it's not easy to control the salt properly if you have to add more butter. So your lemon curd could be ok but it might taste slightly funny, depending on the amount of salt in your butter.
  • Butter can be frozen for months, so if you don't want to use unsalted butter all the time you can just defrost the amount you need before using.
  • For most recipes always assume it uses unsalted butter, unless specified otherwise. Specifically sweet recipes, where salt is not always required.
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It depends on how much butter the recipe calls for relative to other ingredients--and what those other ingredients are.

Amount of butter: How much butter matters? Usually if the taste or texture of the final product is buttery then there's enough butter in it that the salted-ness of the butter matters. On the other hand, if the final product does not obviously contain butter, then the total amount of salt from the butter will be less important. For lemon curd, there's usually no butter flavor or texture in the result.

Other strong flavors: If you have other strong flavors, they can mask the salt. (In this case, the lemon and sugar are both going to be really strong.)

Amount of added salt or salty ingredients: If the recipe already calls for added salt, you can reduce that to compensate for salted butter. Or if there are other salty ingredients, then a little more salt from the butter will be less noticeable.

Conclusion: For lemon curd, you're probably fine with salted butter, just reduce any salt that's added in the recipe.

Bonus suggestion: If it's just butter that's expensive in your area, there are recipes for vegan lemon curd (no butter, no eggs) or dairy free lemon curd (vegetable oil or coconut oil (tastes like lemon-coconut)) that you could try instead of a traditional recipe.

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Salt can have a physical effect on certain ingredients. Some fruits and vegetables start to lose their water through osmosis when they get in contact with salt. Depending on the recipe, additional moisture in the pan might or might not be desired during certain phases. This can be a reason for specific instructions regarding when to add how much salt to the dish.

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