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I usually use one kind of unsalted butter from the grocery store but my wife bought another brand for no known reason. I heated a tablespoon in a pan today and noticed it spattered far more than my usual brand which, to me, indicates more water content in the butter. Agreed? (EDIT: Yes it's true.)

Which leads to my question, what does that say about the quality of the butter if anything?

Both companies are well known brands with good reputations.

  • related: cooking.stackexchange.com/q/75282/1672 (doesn't seriously discuss comparison between brands though, I don't think) – Cascabel Apr 10 '17 at 21:37
  • @Jefromi I searched for "spatter" so I guess that's why I didn't see that. – Rob Apr 10 '17 at 21:39
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Well, it seems you answered your own question, though you then expand this question of fat content to "quality."

"Quality" of butter is subjective. It depends a lot on application. Higher fat does not necessarily mean better flavor or better performance (particularly as an ingredients in things like baking). See, for example, this article, which discusses the ranking of butter in a number of applications. Fat content varied from 80% to about 86%, but that wasn't highly correlated with superior results. The tasters' opinions there came down in favor of the lower-fat butter for applications like pound cake (where they claimed more steam from the higher-moisture content added to lift) and buerre blanc (where they claimed the excess fat unbalanced the flavors of the sauce).

But I think this is probably more evidence that American recipes are likely calibrated to assume butters on the lower edge of spectrum, around the legal minimum of 80% butterfat content.

Anyhow, my personal experience is that processing matters a lot more than butterfat content. In particular, I generally taste a strong difference between cultured vs. "sweet cream" butters. And salt content can make a huge difference. But another thing that came up is storage/wrapping, as fat tends to absorb odors and other flavors, as mentioned in the above article and in a Cook's Illustrated review article that also ranked butters in various applications. I find it interesting that this article is available on the Vermont Creamery website, which makes a big point of how it has the "highest butterfat content you can obtain when making butter" of 86%; even they are posting an article whose title is basically that butterfat may not matter as much as other factors.

(By the way, I'd personally disagree with the CI characterization of cultured butters in general as having "artificial, margarine-like" flavors. But everyone has their own preferences, and I think American palates have shifted to expect "sweet cream" butter.)

  • 1
    I, for one, love the taste of cultured butter and find regular butter bland. But I've never used cultured butter in baking. Have you and if so, are some recipes better or worse using it? – Jude Apr 11 '17 at 4:08
  • @Jude - given the price of good cultured butter, I mostly have used it as a spread. I have occasionally tried it out in baking, and the only place I noticed a difference was in croissants. But I don't know whether it was the "cultured" aspect of the butter, the higher butterfat content, or some other aspect that actually made them stand out. I once made a pound cake with expensive cultured butter, and frankly didn't notice much of a difference. I'd read the linked articles above, since they clearly did a lot more experimentation here than I have with baking. – Athanasius Apr 11 '17 at 13:10
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More splattering means higher water content. Higher water content means reduced fat which means reduced flavor.

NY Times article:

Chefs like the butter for its low water content and rich flavor. Instead of being 80 percent fat, the minimum required by the Government since 1923, Plugra is 82 percent fat.

Related Washington Post article

My spattering butter was Oberweiss. My regular butter for frying is Land O'Lakes.

  • You should be able to judge this from the nutrition facts, although if it's a small difference 80 vs 82% it might be smaller than the rounding for the serving size. I'd also be pretty surprised if that scale of difference were that noticeable in spattering: for, say, 4 tablespoons of butter that's the difference between 11g and 12g of water. – Cascabel Apr 10 '17 at 21:54
  • In Germany we can buy a thing called Butterschmalz, which has been treated to remove all but the fat.They usually claim around 99% butter fat, and it's great for cooking with. – RedSonja Apr 11 '17 at 8:00
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    @RedSonja in English clarified butter -- not far from a direct translation of geläuterte Butter (alternative name according to wikipedia) if my German doesn't let me down. – Chris H Apr 11 '17 at 8:25

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