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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

The Wide World of Butter

by Gina Saka

Many may remember the days when there was one type of butter on the grocery shelf. Those days are long gone as people these days stare blankly in the butter aisle trying to decode the dozens of labels and ingredients. This guide will break down the different types of butter plus the definition and reasoning behind each.

●       Organic. People opt for organic butter when they are looking for a healthier, cleaner option, free from pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones. Organic butter also comes from cows that get at least 30 percent of their feed from organic pastures during the grazing season.  

●       Grass-Fed. Grass-fed is an add-on to the organic label. One hundred percent grass-fed butter comes from cows that are fed a diet entirely of fresh grasses all year round. This does not necessarily mean they are outside roaming, but rather that all the food provided to them is nutrient-rich grasses. Grass-fed butter has much higher levels of omega-3’s and CLA fatty acids.  

●       Pasture Raised/Free Range. Pasture-Raised and Free Range labels look not only to the food that the cows are being fed, but their quality of life. When it comes to cow welfare, these butters are better because the cows have access to the outdoors and are able to spend the majority of their time grazing on fields like cows naturally do. These will be harder to find than grass-fed but there are brands, like Nellie’s, Vital Farms and Grazier’s, that have these options.

●       Unsalted. Salted versus unsalted butter is self-explanatory. Unsalted butter has cream and fat but no salt; whereas salted butter has the cream, the fat and the salt. Many recipes in both cooking and especially baking call for unsalted butter so that the salt content in the recipe can be better controlled.

●       European. Butter that comes from Europe is churned to have a higher fat content (82 percent), making it a rich, flavorsome option for spreading on bread. Usually, European butter is uncultured and unsalted, although Irish butter, like Kerrygold, typically contains salt.

●       European-Style. European-style is like European butter in terms of fat content and flavor, but it is made in the U.S. rather than imported from Europe. This is a top choice for those that want a deliciously indulgent butter to spread on their breads and bagels, but don’t like the environmental impact of getting butter from abroad.

●       American. American butter are the conventional butters you find at the grocery stores, like Land O’ Lakes. They contain approximately 80 percent butterfat, a higher water content and a milder flavor than European.

●       Cultured. Cultured butter comes from cultured cream. This means cultures, or live healthy bacterias, are added and fermented. Cultured butter has a creamier and more buttery flavor and is a bit more tangy kind of like yogurt.

●       Ghee. Ghee, or clarified butter, is made by cooking down regular butter to remove the milk solids and water. What’s left are the liquid butterfats, which are popularly used for Indian cooking. Ghee can withstand high heat levels up to 485 degrees Fahrenheit so it’s perfect for use in any kind of sautéing and oven roasting. 

●       Plant-Based. Plant-based or vegan butters are completely free of dairy and other animal products, and are made from varying plant-based ingredients like soy, cashew, coconut, olive oil, avocado oil and other variations. These are primarily consumed either by those that are lactose intolerant or are avoiding animal products for ethical or environmental reasons. It can be used as a substitute to butter in any recipe.

Sweet or savory, butter can make just about any meal more delicious. This list and descriptions can help clarify the different types of butters and help consumers identify which is best for their particular dietary choices or recipe requirements.


Gina Saka is a freelance writer for Natural Awakenings magazine editions across the country. To connect, email her at [email protected]