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I love butter.
I love butter on toast.
I love butter in baked goods.
I love butter so much I used to eat it straight with a spoon as a child. (Yes I was a fat little kid and no I don’t eat butter straight with a spoon anymore but not because I don’t want to…)
Butter is one of those magical cooking ingredients right up there with salt, olive oil, and bacon. It should be cherished and well cared for and for goodness gracious, it should be stored correctly.
But what does that mean?
Should butter be refrigerated?
It is a dairy product and we all know dairy products require refrigeration. When we buy butter at the store we get it out of the refrigerated section so it makes sense to put it in the fridge when we get home (unlike cucumbers and tomatoes which you shouldn’t be putting in the fridge).
But does butter really need to be refrigerated?
Safety First – Will Butter Left Out at Room Temperature Make You Sick?
Oxidation, a chemical reaction that occurs when a substance is exposed to oxygen or another oxidizing substance, is what turns butter rancid. Air, sunlight, heat, and metal containers all accelerate the oxidation process. That’s why people often store butter in opaque ceramic containers like this one:
(I’m not a huge fan of these dishes. Keep reading for the absolute best butter storage container ever!!!)
Since a chemical reaction, not bacteria, is responsible for rancidity – rancid butter will smell and taste terrible but it won’t make you sick.
In fact bacteria doesn’t really grow in butter due to its high fat and low water content unlike other dairy products such as milk or cream. Salted butter precludes all bacterial growth except for S. aureus even when left out at room temperature. According to the same study, “traditional butter [has] had a long history of safety without time/temperature control. The few problems that have occurred are related to modified products.”
When food scientists mess with the natural composition of foods they alter their microbiological inhibitory factors. Translation? When food scientists change the make-up of butter to make things like “whipped” or “reduced fat” butter, the end product loses its ability to naturally fight off the bad bacteria that causes food poisoning.
So long story short, if you buy traditional, full fat, salted butter it will not make you sick if you leave it out at room temperature but you should take steps to prevent it from going rancid. (Keep reading to learn how to store butter without refrigeration.)
If you buy modified, reduced fat or unsalted butter it may actually make you sick if you leave it out at room temperature.
Reasons Why Butter Should Be Refrigerated
There’s no denying that butter lasts longer when it’s stored in the refrigerator. Well wrapped, butter can last for up to three months in the fridge and up to nine months in the freezer. If you’re like me and buy butter in bulk, you’re going to want to refrigerate whatever you don’t use on a daily basis to make it last as long as possible.
For those of you who prefer unsalted butter or any kind of extra processed butter such as whipped or reduced fat, store it in the fridge since it’s at a higher risk for growing harmful bacteria.
Sometimes recipes call for cold butter (think biscuits and pie crusts). If you want extra flakey pastries, make sure you start out with cold butter from the fridge.
And lastly, if it’s the height of summer and you live some place humid like Connecticut that regularly gets over 90 degrees F and you don’t have air conditioning, it’s best to put your butter in the fridge.
Reasons Why Butter Should NOT Be Refrigerated
The NUMBER ONE REASON to not put butter in the fridge? Cold butter is impossible to spread!
Unless you microwave it or slice it into the thinnest pats ever to put on a piping hot bagel, cold butter is going to thoroughly abuse any baked good you try to spread it on.
It’s not worth it, man. Nothing is sadder in the morning than a squashed piece of toast with chunks of cold butter.
If you want your butter to be spreadable, do not put it in the fridge!
Not to mention some recipes actually call for softened or room temperature butter.
How to Store Butter Without Refrigeration
Back in the day (i.e. colonial America circa 1700) women used salt to preserve butter. After squeezing out the excess buttermilk using butter paddles, women would heavily salt the butter to draw out even more moisture which made it nearly impossible for bacteria to grow. The salted butter would last for weeks without refrigeration. Over time people developed a taste for salted butter which is why it’s still sold in grocery stores today.
Making butter is really fun (especially with kids) but luckily for us we have this wonderful thing called Amazon where we can buy the best butter storage container ever and skip all the extra work and salt.
Lovely reader, please let me introduce you to… the butter crock!
These nifty containers used to be all the rage before refrigeration was invented. A small amount of water in the base makes an airtight seal when the bell (the portion filled with butter) is placed in, butter side down. The water and ceramic container help to keep the butter cool but still soft enough to spread.
With no exposure to air, sunlight, metal, or heat, the butter crock makes for the PERFECT butter storage container.
Once refrigeration was invented these wonderful dishes went all but extinct. Thankfully L. Tremain, Inc., a family owned Los Angeles based company, brought them back in the 1990’s and butter lovers have been grateful ever since.
While I’m partial to the classic white, there’s a large assortment of colors to pick from like this beautiful teal:
We bought our butter crock a few years ago when I started regularly making bread from scratch. All of our friends and family were so amazed by it and its wonderfully soft, spreadable butter that we ended up buying each of them their own for Christmas!
Butter crocks truly are the best way to store butter without refrigeration.
So, Does Butter Need to Be Refrigerated?
Does butter need to be refrigerated?
Should butter be refrigerated?
That’s entirely up to you.
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published on the 15th of every month.