Knowing how to tell these two types of butter apart can make or break your recipe—or your diet. 

By Elizabeth Laseter
Updated: June 10, 2019
Amazon

Whether you're baking banana-nut muffins or making caramelized onions on the stovetop, butter is an essential ingredient in so many recipes. (It also happens to be absolutely delicious!) However, you've probably noticed more than one type of butter at the grocery store, namely salted and unsalted butter. But does the type of butter you use in recipes actually matter? And is one healthier than the other? Let's take a closer look at the nutrition and best uses for salted and unsalted butter so you can decide which one is right for your needs.

Salted Butter vs Unsalted Butter

Salted butter is simply butter that contains added salt. In addition to giving a saltier taste, the salt actually acts as a preservative and prolongs the shelf life of the butter. Salted butter is perfect for spreading over crusty bread or melting over homemade pancakes or waffles.

RELATED: We Tested 14 Fancy Butters, And This Is the Best One

Unsalted butter contains no added salt. Think of it as butter in its purest form. As a result, unsalted butter has a shorter shelf life than salted butter (and many cooks will also tell you that it has a fresher taste). In terms of flavor, unsalted butter has a more pronounced mellow sweetness than salted butter. It's best used in baking, or in situations where straying from exact ingredient amounts can make or break a recipe.

What is the Healthiest Butter?

To better understand the nutrition differences between salted and unsalted butter, let's take a look at how they stack up. Here is the nutrition information for a standard one tablespoon serving size of unsalted and salted butter:

Unsalted Butter 

  • Calories: 100
  • Fat: 12g 
  • Saturated Fat: 7g
  • Unsaturated Fats: 
  • Protein: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Added sugars: 0g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Calcium: 0% DV
  • Potassium: 0% DV 

Salted Butter

  • Calories: 100
  • Fat: 12g 
  • Saturated Fat: 7g
  • Unsaturated Fats: 
  • Protein: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Added sugars: 0g
  • Sodium: 90mg
  • Calcium: 0% DV
  • Potassium: 0% DV 

Source: USDA

The difference between salted and unsalted butter is simple: about 90 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. Other than that, these two butters are largely the exact same from a nutrition standpoint.

If you're watching your sodium intake, we reccomend using unsalted butter because it gives you complete control over the amount of salt in your dish. If you want to buy unsalted butter, look for the words "sweet butter" or "unsalted" at the grocery store. The term "sweet cream butter" is used for both salted and unsalted butter, so make sure to read the package label carefully. 

Can I Substitute Salted Butter for Unsalted Butter?

Photo: Jennifer Causey

In many cases, the answer is yes—you can substitute the same amount of salted butter for unsalted butter in recipes for soups, stews, sauces, and roasted vegetables without too much worry. Just keep in mind that you'll increase the sodium content of the entire dish by about 90mg per tablespoon of salted butter that you use. To prevent oversalting, make sure to taste your food as you cook. But for baked goods, especially breads, which aren't as forgiving, it's best to stick to unsalted butter. 

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