Pantry 101: Salted butter vs. unsalted butter

Which you should use when baking, how to substitute salted butter for unsalted, and how to make your own homemade butter.

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 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!

Garlic herb butter

Cultured butter

And for those feeling extra-adventurous:

Hot buttered chai latte

Originally published October 16th, 2015. 


8 comments on “Pantry 101: Salted butter vs. unsalted butter

  1. So if I were to substitute UNsalted butter for SAlted butter, would I add 1/3 tsp of salt?


    • yes, its almost equalvalient to that


  2. What is the one ingredient with blender to make my own butter?


  3. In May and July of 1991, two different studies were published showing that reducing salt intake does *not* reduce the chance of stroke or heart attack, and in fact might *raise* it. Article “It’s Time to End the War on Salt” posted at on 08 July 2011.


    • Make that “May and July of 2011”. Sorry about the 20 year shift…


  4. I read sometime ago that salted butter had more water- do you believe this to be true?


  5. I have many old recipes calling for butter (before unsalted butter became popular). Some of these recipes call for no salt and you can taste the lack of it when unsalted butter is used. Thank you for the measurements, so that I can add back in the salt when needed.


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