Sunshine yellow, rich and delicious, a little bit of butter makes everything just a touch more indulgent. It can be spread on sandwiches, toast or crumpets, used in frying, sautéing, and baking, or to make sauces. You can even make your own butter at home.
But when it comes to storing butter, there is something of a divide. Some people like to keep it cool in the fridge, while others keep it on the counter in a butter dish, to make it easier to spread. So which way is the right way? We take a look at the evidence to try and find out.
Butter is composed almost entirely of fat, at 80-83% of its total volume. The rest is made up of water (15.5 to 17%), salt (1 to 3%) and not-fatty milk solids, also known as curds (1 to 1.5%).
Because of its high fat content, butter is also extremely high in calories, with 100g providing almost 700 calories. It is rich in Calcium, Phosphorus and Potassium, as well as vitamins A and E, and several B vitamins. Like any high-fat food, butter should be eaten in moderation, but luckily, a little goes a long way.
When most people think of butter, they probably imagine a lightly salted cow’s milk butter. But there are actually many different types of butter, some from different animals, and some produced in slightly different ways. Here are a few of the most popular.
As the name suggests, this is butter with no added salt. It is often used in baking, and still has that slightly sweet flavour from the cream used to make it.
What most people would think of as regular butter, salted butter contains between 1 to 3 percent salt, giving it a more savoury flavour, and also helping to preserve it for longer.
Sweet Cream Butter
Sweet cream butter is made from fresh pasteurised cream, or ‘sweet’ cream, as opposed to cultured or sour cream. Most butter is sweet cream butter, and it is available both salted or unsalted.
A handcrafted or artisan butter, made by adding bacterial cultures to the cream and leaving it to ferment before churning. It has a tangy, slightly acidic flavour.
Clarified Butter / Ghee
Pure butterfat with the curds and water removed. This is achieved by melting some butter and skimming off the milk solids while the water gradually evaporates.
Organic butter is made using milk from cows that are free from hormone injections and fed only natural, pesticide-free feeds.
There are various different plant-based butters, all of which are vegan friendly and free from animal products. They can be made from olive, almond, coconut, palm, or avocado oils, among others.
Representing an even greater commitment to natural conditions than organic butter, grass-fed butter is made exclusively from the milk of cows that are allowed to roam open pastures, eating a grass-only diet.
With a light, spreadable texture, whipped butter has nitrogen gas whipped into it to keep it soft and airy.
Made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, goat butter has a slightly stronger flavour, and is better tolerated by people with lactose intolerance.
Brown butter is a pale brown butter that has been heated to toast the curds, giving it a nutty, caramel flavour.
How long does butter last in and out of the fridge?
In the fridge
According to USDA guidelines, butter will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, if properly stored. This applies to both opened and unopened butter. It may also be frozen for up to a year. It is generally easy to tell when butter is spoiled, as it will begin to smell stale and cheesy, and may also turn pale or grow mould.
Out of the fridge
Butter has a much lower water content than most dairy, which makes it less attractive to bacteria. In addition to this, salt is an effective preservative, so if you have salted butter, it can be kept outside of the fridge for longer periods without turning rancid. According to the USDA, butter can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, but many people store it in this way for a week or even two without problems.
There are exceptions, however. Some butters, like unsalted or whipped butter, spoil more easily than others. These types of butter are always better stored in the fridge, and should be left to soften at room temperature for no more than an hour or two before use.
How to store butter inside or outside the fridge
As we can see, butter can actually be stored in or outside of the fridge. For ultimate freshness and spreadability, try keeping butter that you plan using in the next few days at room temperature to keep it soft, while storing the rest in the fridge.
Whichever method of storage you decide to use, here’s how to do it.
For longer-term butter storage, as well as butters that are more prone to spoiling, using the fridge is best. Storing butter in the fridge is fairly simple - just keep it in its original foil wrapping. The foil helps to protect the butter from exposure to light and air, both of which can encourage spoilage, and also acts as a barrier to the smells and flavours of other ingredients in the fridge. Store butter on the fridge shelves, and try to keep it away from anything with a particularly strong smell.
When storing butter outside the refrigerator, you need to protect it from light, air and heat. Find a cool spot, away from direct sunlight, and store in an opaque butter dish to keep it away from air and light. Keep an eye on the temperature in your kitchen, too, as anything above 70–77°F (21–25°C) is too hot, and you will need to transfer the butter to the fridge.
Recipes with butter
Treat yourself to one of these indulgent butter-based recipes.
Brown butter: with its golden colour and delicious, caramel flavour, brown butter, or beurre noisette, adds a touch of luxury to any dish. Find out how to make it with our simple, step-by-step guide.
Lamb ravioli with butter and sage: the signature dish of Giorgio Nava, owner of South Africa’s prestigious 95 restaurant group, this exquisite pasta dish is sure to impress your dinner guests.