You won't find a kitchen without butter. The creamy substance is used as a condiment, a spread and for baking and frying. Its versatility makes it a must-have for daily life -- but what, exactly, is butter?

swirls of butter sitting on a white plate

How Butter Is Made

Butter is a dairy spread traditionally made by churning cream or milk. This causes the solid butterfat to separate from the liquid buttermilk. The buttermilk is then removed and the remaining solid is washed, shaped and stored until serving.

Today, instead of churning, the cream is separated through the use of centrifugal force. The butter is then pasteurized, which is when it's rapidly heated to eliminate any harmful bacteria and make the butter remain fresh for longer. In general, butter can last 6-9 months refrigerated.

Butter is typically made from cows milk, but can also be made from the milk of sheep, goats, yak or buffalo.

butter on a butter tray with a butter knife
Stephen Gibson/Shutterstock

Types of Butter

Salted Butter

As its name indicates, salted butter contains salt for flavoring purposes. Though this butter can easily be used in cooking and baking, it's more ideal for working as a topping or spread.

Unsalted Butter

Unsalted butter can be used interchangeably with salted butter, but when used in baking it gives the cook a complete control over the dish's flavor -- because there is no salt, the butter does not alter the taste. This is a great butter to use for making baked goods.

Whipped Butter

Whipped butter is designed to be a spread and contains more air and fewer calories than normal salt or unsalted butter. It's light, fluffy and less dense, making it a great condiment to spread on toast or biscuits. You can easily make your own whipped butter by mixing butter with milk and beating it until fluffy.

European Butter

European-style butter is churned longer than American butter, resulting in about 82 to 85 percent butterfat (compared with 80 percent butterfat of American butter). This difference, though seemingly small, is key -- the higher content of butterfat produces a richer taste, soft texture and melt-in-your-mouth quality. It's made to produce flaky and flavorful pastries.

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