There has been a long-running debate that many don’t realize is actually a debate. Without thinking about your answer, do you put your butter in the refrigerator or in a butter dish on the counter or table?
No matter your answer, it likely seems like common sense. You may not even be aware that there are people who may store their butter differently. So, what’s the right way to store butter? Are there health concerns? We’re looking into the big questions of the better butter debate to see if there is a correct answer.
Spoilage and Safety Concerns
For many people (specifically Americans), refrigerating butter is the only way to go. Butter is a dairy product, since it’s made from cream, and every other dairy product needs refrigerated to prevent spoilage, so why wouldn’t it be? It’s certainly true that other dairy products require refrigeration, but that isn’t really the case with butter. Most butter you get at the store is pasteurized, which means the cream has been heated to kill any pathogens before becoming butter. At the same time, bacterial growth is inhibited in butter due to its high fat and low water content. Salted butter also tends to resist the growth of bacteria when stored at room temperature.
So, it’s a clear win for storing butter on the countertop, right? Not so fast. While butter may not make you sick, it can spoil giving off a foul odor and flavor. The biggest reason to store butter in the fridge is effectively elongating its shelf life. Butter stored on the counter at room temperature will go bad in a few days (about a week), though it can stay good for longer than that, depending on how you store it. In the fridge, butter can last anywhere from one to three months. This is perhaps the biggest and most notable difference between options of where you store your butter.
Consistency and Baking Needs
How you store your butter could depend on how you’ll be using it when you get it. The temperature that you store the butter at can influence a lot about it, primarily its consistency. Have you ever tried spreading cold butter on bread? Counter-stored butter is soft and spreadable, so you don’t mangle the bread or whatever you’re spreading butter on. Softened butter is also better for creaming with sugar (like a buttercream) or recipes for denser baked goods. However, there are some cooking and baking instances that call for cold butter.
When you’re baking anything that calls for a light, flakey crust or texture, you’ll likely be using cold butter. If you’re ever making a pan sauce, cold butter helps to pull the fats and waters together in an emulsion for a thicker, cohesive sauce.
The temperature of the butter can also change your perception of its flavor. While the actual flavor of the butter doesn’t change based on the temperature, your taste buds may perceive warm butter as having more flavor. Research shows that warmer temperatures enhance the flavor of what you taste, though certain flavors have the opposite effect. In this case, the milkfats in butter stand out more when you’re eating it warm. One study even found that long-term refrigeration could affect the actual flavor of the butter.
There’s no reason you can’t do both. This isn’t a cop out, trust us. Butter is a multifaceted ingredient, and to store it only one way may be wasting its potential. With a little forethought, you can utilize the advantages of both countertop butter and refrigerated butter. Store most of your butter in the refrigerator but take a little out to store on the counter. All you need is the amount you’ll use in a day or two. When that’s gone, place more out. This allows you to have easily spreadable, delicious butter without the worry of it going bad too soon!
If you do store butter on the counter, make sure to follow a few guidelines. First, make sure it’s pasteurized, free of bacteria to start. Second, ensure that you don’t cross-contaminate the butter with other ingredients that could cause bacteria to grow or simply ruin the flavor. Third, store it in an airtight container to keep out light or further protect against cross-contamination. Finally, fourth, keep your kitchen around 67 to 70 degrees. If it gets hotter than that, the butter will go bad quickly. These steps will help keep your butter from spoiling or going bad before you get a chance to use it!
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There’s no reason you can’t enjoy the best of both scenarios by storing some butter in the fridge and some on the counter. In fact, it’s our belief that that’s exactly what you should do!