Unsalted Butter (often called Sweet Butter) is butter made without salt. Many cooks like to use unsalted butter in baking or cooking to control the total amount of salt in the recipe. Sweet butter spoils faster than salted butter but many think it has a fresh flavor that enhances both cooking and baking.
Salted Butter is butter made with added salt. Salt acts as a preserve and extends the butter’s shelf life. Salt also enhances flavor. It is a matter of preference whether you choose salted or unsalted butter. The salt content varies slightly from one manufacturer to the next, but they generally add about ¼ teaspoon of salt per 1 stick (¼ lb) of butter.
Sweet Cream Butter vs. Sweet Butter can be a confusing distinction. Most of the commercially produced butter in the US is sweet cream butter (produced from fresh sweet cream), as opposed to butter made from cultured or soured cream. Sweet cream butter comes in salted and unsalted varieties. Cookbooks and food writers often use the term Sweet Butter to describe unsalted butter, even though most sticks of “Sweet Cream Butter” are salted butter! It pays to read the label closely if you are trying to reduce or control salt in recipes since “sweet cream butter” could apply to any butter made from sweet cream.
European-Style Butter is butter with a higher butter fat content: 82 to 86 percent compared to the typical American or Canadian butter with its average of 81 percent butter fat. European-style butter has less moisture and therefore produces flakier pastries and fluffier cakes. European-style butter can be used for all cooking and baking tasks, although some bakers use less than the recipe requests due to the product’s high fat content. European-style butter also has a tangier flavor than lower-fat sweet cream butter.
Cultured Butter is traditionally made from fermented cream. Nowadays, dairies make much of the commercial cultured butter by incorporating live bacterial cultures and lactic acid. European–style butter is often made from cultured butter.
Ghee is a class of clarified butter that originated in South Asia. The cook heats the butter until all the water evaporates. The milk solids are left and allow to brown. This browning carmelizes the milk solids and creates a nutty flavor. This method creates a higher smoke point and a longer shelf life. Ghee is practical for sautéing and frying.
Clarified Butter is butter in which the cook boils off all of the water and spoons off the milk solids to create a clear amber-colored liquid. Clarified butter has a higher smoking point than regular butter, making it useful for high-heat cooking such as sautéing and frying.
Drawn Butter, depending on whom you ask, could be the same as Clarified Butter. Those that consider them to be different define Drawn Butter as melted butter with the water evaporated but the milk solids remaining. Drawn butter is usually used as a rich sauce for dipping lobster chunks or artichoke leaves.
Whipped Butter is regular butter with nitrogen gas whipped into it. This process creates a higher-volume, lighter butter that is easier to spread at colder temperatures. Producers prefer nitrogen as the additive over air. Air can encourage oxidation and rancidity. Whipped butter is seldom recommended for cooking or baking because it has a lower density relative to regular butter, not enough fat solid.
Spreadable Butter is a blend of regular butter and vegetable oil (often canola). This combination is easy to spread when cold and has a buttery flavor. Like whipped butter, spreadable butter is not recommended for cooking and baking.
Light Butter is traditional butter with added water, air and sometimes other fillers. As it’s name suggests, light butter is lower in calories because it contains about 25 percent less butterfat. Once again, light butter is not recommended for cooking or baking.
Organic Butter comes from cows whose feed (and therefore milk) contains no antibiotics or growth hormones. To qualify for this USDA designation, the dairy cows also must eat 100 percent organic feed grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
Whey Butter is made from the liquid whey drained from cheese curds. Whey butter has a stronger, cheesier flavor and often contains salt.
Raw Cream Butter is hard to find in the U.S. or Europe. Dairies use fresh or cultured unpasteurized cream to make this butter. You may never find this butter unless you own a cow or purchase raw whole cream and make the butter yourself.
Compound Butter (or flavored butter) is traditional butter mixed with ingredients. Cooks include almost any ingredient, but some of the more common selections are herbs, garlic, spices, and honey.