My room mate's mom recently told us that butter manufacturers will use a lower quality cream in their salted butter because the salt will help preserve the butter. This sounds too intuitive to be true.

Is it common practice to use a lower quality cream in salted butter, and if so is it because the lower quality cream does not preserve as well without the salt or is there not even such a thing as 'lower quality' cream?

  • I've heard that too, although it would surprise me if it were true in quality brands.
    – Jolenealaska
    May 18, 2014 at 16:34
  • 2
    Do you mean lower quality cream than what's used in unsalted butter, or lower quality cream than what's sold as cream? Either way I doubt it, as there aren't too many things that would make cream 'lower quality' aside from spoiling or having some sort of contaminant, either of which would probably be illegal to use.
    – RICK
    May 18, 2014 at 18:29
  • @player3, by lower quality cream she probably meant the cream that is churned into butter. I am leaning toward agreeing with you that there is not much variation between creams to the point where we could categorize qualities beyond the obvious like unintentional contamination.
    – Matthew
    May 18, 2014 at 21:08
  • There is lower quality cream, because there's lower quality milk. In the US, "grade B" milk is milk that hasn't been stored to the same degree of refrigeration & mechanically stirred. It's typically used for cheese making, though. Many places won't deal with it for large scale processing, as it requires maintaining a seperate fleet of tanker trucks.
    – Joe
    May 19, 2014 at 16:01
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    Thanks for the comment, @Joe. I read up on a Congressional Research Service report to understand your comment. According to the report grade B milk is cooled in milk cans with flowing water instead of mechanical refrigeration and can only be used in cheese and butter. Limits on bacteria, temperature variance and somatic cell counts are higher for grade B since processing grade B to something else is as good as pasteurizing grade A into drinkable milk which means whether the source is A or B the cream quality is the same.
    – Matthew
    May 19, 2014 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


There is no such thing as "lower quality cream" although there are variations in taste.

All milk has a slightly different water to fat ratio. In general, animal milk is 80% water, 5% protein and 5% fat.

Cream is the fatty part of milk skimmed off. Cream will typically be 35% fat (though in different cultures it varies from 20% to 75%). Cream also has some protein, and the rest being water

Farmers are paid for the milk solids (protein and fat), not by the volume of milk produced. Therefore quality milk is often referred to by how high the solids level is, not how flavoursome it is. Hygiene and storage conditions are usually government mandated, and follow international guidelines, especially if the manufacturer ever wants to export the product

Butter is cream churned to remove most of the water and protein. Butter in most countries must have 80% or more fat content to be called butter. The water and protein by-product is called whey, and is processed into other products

The 1% to 2% salt added is a preservative and a commonly desired flavouring, regardless of the "quality" of the cream.

You can buy unsalted butter, just keep it in the freezer for long term storage. Freezing butter has no noticeable effect on it.


While the grade of cream in butter is pretty constant, its quality and quantity vary among brands. Butter is graded on flavor, color, texture, and saltiness. In the US, supermarkets carry grades A and AA, and rarely B. The main difference between A and AA is that the AA will have a cooked flavor (what I would call milk caramel, as in condensed milk) and almost no feed flavors, whereas with grade A the feed flavor will be there and it will have no cooked flavor. Salt is just one of the many characteristics used in rating the butter, but it should neither be sharp nor gritty. Too much salt will mask the pleasant flavors in butter.

Different brands have different amounts of fat. While US regulation requires at least 80% fat, long ago the SFGate tested several common butter brands to find how their fat and water content differed. They noted that the more expensive brands have a higher milkfat content and less water. Many manufacturers add water to the churn to bring the butter's fat content closer to 80% instead of the 86% or so that is common in homemade butter. In a sense those manufacturers use watery cream.

The really tasty butter you find in better restaurants (and a few supermarkets) is more likely artisanal and cultured butter made with creams that have a slight grass flavor.

  • Thanks, @papin! I learned a lot from your post. My question was if salt is used as a preservative to make up for a possibly lower quality cream which @TFD answered yesterday, but I really appreciate you adding a lot more context!
    – Matthew
    May 19, 2014 at 21:30

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