Digging deeper into salted/unsalted butter debate

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buttersticksLast week’s query about salted versus unsalted butter inspired many of you to write in with your own thoughts, and it was fun hearing how you each developed your preference for one over the other.

Sam Stephens pointed out that unsalted is a must for people on a low-sodium diet that has helped him feel great, despite a terminal illness that he’s been living with for many years. He said that he’s been amazed at how well he can eat on a low-sodium diet, especially now that his palate has adjusted to using unsalted butter and zero salt at the table. “This low-sodium diet has turned my life around in the last year,” he wrote.

Gaye Kriegel said it’s too much trouble to keep both in the house, so she defaults to salted butter and decreases the amount of salt if a recipe calls for unsalted, and Briana Miriani said that she’s had to resort to unsalted when making meat or pasta dishes and didn’t like the taste of the results.

Lou Scaruffi, a fellow salted butter user who keeps a stick out on the counter so it’s soft enough to spread, brought up a point about preservation: “I’ve heard the origin of salted butter was to act as a preservative. Hearkening back to the days of the ice box, I think most people at the time kept their butter in a covered dish on the kitchen counter.”

Gail Fitzwoller, a cook and “big baker,” says she uses salted butter for everything, but several people, many who were born or lived abroad, including Ruth Deitch and Argentina native Hadassah Schloss, said salted butter was either a luxury or an anomaly.

Wendy Gordon, who grew up in a house that was practically salt-free, wondered why a sweet treat would need salt, especially when Americans eat so much salt as it is. Salt is a flavor enhancer, so it brings out nuances of flavors in everything from caramel to chocolate that your taste buds wouldn’t be able to detect otherwise.

Doug Hector told a great story that might help bring all this together. His German mom and American dad married after World War II, and some years later, she asked him to drive out of his way to buy unsalted butter. His dad couldn’t understand that there would be much of a difference, but he obliged anyway. Upon their return, she spread that unsalted butter on a slice of homemade rye bread and then, to his horror, dusted it with salt from the salt shaker.

“My father just about lost his mind!” Hector wrote. “My mother earnestly claimed that putting salt on unsalted butter generated a superior taste than just using salted butter.” Whether that was due to a scientific disparity between the water or fat content in one versus the other or simply a habit that re-enforced the cultural norms of her childhood home is up for debate, but in my mind, it proves that the difference matters because personal preference matters.


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