If my recipe calls for unsalted butter, how vital is it that i use that? I'm trying to just whip something up with what i have but i have regular butter instead of unsalted...
depends on what you're making. i've heard that salted butter contains more water than unsalted. so if what you're making depends on the fat content it could be affected. the volume of butter you're using could also play a factor. if you're using less than 1/2 a stick it probably doesn't matter. but if you're using a stick or two it could make a difference.
Using salted butter in the place of unsalted butter usually turns out fine. (And it matters less in savory cooking than in baking, I'd venture.) The only trouble is that you don't know exactly how much salt is in your salted butter, so you risk over-salting a dish; but, if you taste as you go/add less or no salt to the dish otherwise, you should be ok.
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To follow up, on this, the amount of salt in a given quantity of salted butter varies considerably from brand to brand. A few years ago, Chow had samples of various butters tested, and the saltiest had more than twice as much salt as the least salty.
Another consideration is that salted butter is quite likely older than unsalted (a bad thing where butter is concerned), at least in the US, since the law allows a later sell-by date for salted butter than unsalted.
That said, I've substited salted for unsalted may times without major incident, reducing the salt in the recipe by 3/4 teaspoon per stick of butter.
Yes, the reason many recipes specify "unsalted" is so that you control how much salt is in the dish. As in, always taste for salt and adjust. But the thing with salt is that you can put it in but you can't take it out.
Before I was told otherwise, I only used salted butter in my recipes. It was really the only type of butter that they carried in the supermarket. It worked for everything and I never had a problem with things tasting overly salty or baked goods not turning out right.
I used to be the doesn't matter camp. But this weekend I made some peanut butter cookies and forgot to adjust down the salt in the recipe. They where still good, but really had a more salt flavor than I'd like.