using salted butter v. non-salted

i'd like to hear from anyone who feels using salted butter yields or doesn't yield a different baking result than just adding salt to the recipe. i'm specifically looking at a french walnut tart that uses salted butter in the dough and in the filling. Tx

  • Posted by: alan
  • December 29, 2021


Paula January 9, 2022
American recipes in the '60s clear through to about 2000 simply called for "butter", and what they intended was salted butter, because that is the norm here. Recipe authors started to call for unsalted butter purportedly "because you want to control the amount of salt in your baked goods." Hogwash. They did it to be highfalutin. (Just like how now snobby recipes call for sea salt, as if you'd notice the difference.) Unfortunately though, you can't know whether they've compensated for the unsalted butter by adding extra salt to the recipe. I generally find they do not, or not sufficiently. (As for how much salt is in salted butter, it's actually a shockingly high amount. I tested it once, and I believe it was approaching 1 teaspoon per stick. So it's not to be discounted.)

I agree with ustabahippie -- using salted butter in baking results in better distribution of the salt. When I use unsalted butter, I can usually detect the individual grains of added salt on my tongue as little sharp spots, like the salt on a saltine cracker. That's not always a bad thing -- for example, it's what I would want in a digestive biscuit. But usually it's not preferred. That said, it's not going to ruin what you're baking either way as long as you adjust the added salt to account for what is or isn't in the butter.
Paula January 10, 2022
Okay, I just fact-checked myself: salted butter contains about 1/3 teaspoon of salt per stick.
ustabahippie January 9, 2022
So far nobody has commented who lives on restricted sodium/salt diet. So I use unsalted butter exclusively so I can control the amount of sodium in my baking. Adding lemon or orange rind has been a good sub to replace the sharpness of salt.
Lori T. December 29, 2021
I guess I'm going to be the thorn here. Personally, I prefer to use a good quality salted butter unless I'm making ghee or browned butter. Butter is just a fat, derived from milk. If it is being made into a salted butter, then the salt is added to that churned fat while it is still soft, and being washed and pressed to extract the excess whey. So the salt gets dissolved and evenly distributed in the butter fat. Obviously, a non-salted butter isn't getting salted at all. Now when you are cooking, the objective is to get your seasonings as evenly distributed as possible- and when you season does count. After all, a steak cooked without any added salt or seasonings, which is not seasoned at all until AFTER it's cooked does not taste nearly as good as one seasoned properly beforehand. The amount of salt added to butter is also pretty negligible in most cases, though you should be familiar with the product you are using ideally and know for yourself as to "how salty" it tastes. Salt is also a flavor enhancer of sorts, which enhances sweet and savory flavors, while helping mask bitter ones. Now the freshness of your butter is also an important factor, and salt is also a preservative. So if your butter is old, that salt can be covering up a certain amount of stale or even slightly rancid flavor. An argument for unsalted butter, perhaps- except companies also know the shelf life of unsalted butter is shorter. So they make less of it, stores stock less of it, and turnover is less frequent because most folks don't buy it. Your unsalted butter is probably an older product on the shelf than the salted versions. And so, more likely not to have the fresh, sweet buttery taste you are hoping for. And in consideration of all this, I opt to simply use salted butter. The purists among us might cringe, but honestly, I just don't think it makes that much difference. An overly salty dish is overly salty because of the stuff you add from the shaker, not likely from the tiny bit the butter brought to the party. The only time I buy unsalted butter is to make ghee. If I just want a small bit to make a very special compound butter, I make it myself from heavy cream. It's not rocket science to shake cream in a jar, and at least then I know the butter is about as fresh as it can be, short of milking my own cow.
Nancy December 29, 2021
Lori - good points (both information abd your opjnions/exoerience).
Besides, how can we have a cluster of opinions without different points on the graph?
alan December 29, 2021
i'm in israel and i see quite a number of french butters and probably at least one is w salt. butter and baked goods from brittany all call for salted butter. i'm doing a number of french baking recipes -- gateau basque, canneles, gateau breton -- where butter is a key player. the points u make above are invaluable and u and 1 or 2 others said they notice a superior taste. so i will look for a salted butter which probably will b french. Tx
Stephanie G. December 29, 2021
I use organic salted butter only. I can tell a difference in my baked goods- the salted butter makes a much more flavorful product, but I love salt.
AntoniaJames December 29, 2021
According to Ann Burkhardt, a respected food writer in Minnesota who wrote "A Cook's Tour of Minnesota," when the Land O Lakes company operated a holiday baking hotline back in the 90's - which she helped staff - the most frequent question was, "What's the difference between salted and unsalted butter?" They told callers that the amount of salt in their unsalted butter is quite small, and that you shouldn't adjust the salt called for in your recipes.

I don't know if the amount of salt in their salted butter is the same now that it was then, or if all salted butters are comparable in their salt content.

I've recently thought about making 2 batches of chocolate chip cookies (using the recipe for Toll House cookies on the side of the bag), one with salted butter and one without, to see if there is a noticeable difference. More importantly, I'd like to see if the salted batch tastes more like the ones we made as kids - with salted butter. ;o)
Nancy December 29, 2021
AJ -
Interesting in itself and what Burkhardt says.
Also makes me think of a possible conference of the people who have staffed various Good help lines. Sort of like Comic-Con for foodies.
Gammy December 29, 2021
AJ..... Do post the results of your chocolate chip cookie experiment!
Dawn M. January 10, 2022
I actually make my tollhouse cookies with one stick of each (one salted and one not salted). I've never had a better tasting cookie!
Nancy December 29, 2021
In addition to what Gammy said, some recipe writers (or regional home cooks) use salted butter out of habit or tradition. And since the butter in the region tends to be consistent, so are the results from the dishes.
But once you go beyond the original region or country, salt and water percentage in butter can vary and, with it, cooking and baking results.
So, either do a test batch with salted butter and if the results are good, make notes (what brand of butter, percent salt) and repeat.
If results not to taste, use unsalted butter and measured salt.
Gammy December 29, 2021
Curious to learn what other cooks and bakers have to say..... to me, if the butter is only an ingredient and not the main flavor, i will use salted if I don't have unsalted on hand and either eliminate or cut back on the added salt. I have read that unsalted butter does not keep as long as salted (salt being a preservative), but I freeze most of my butter and also use the oldest first.
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