Butter: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Butter is a popular and versatile dairy product used in cooking and baking, known for its rich and creamy flavor and potential health risks if consumed in excess.

What is Butter?

Butter is a dairy product that is 80% butterfat with the remaining 20% as milk proteins and water. It is solid when chilled and soft at room temperature. Butter is made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk.

Is Butter Good For You?

Whether or not butter is good for you is up for debate. Some say because it is high in saturated fat, it is harmful to heart health. But others say that saturated fat doesn’t negatively affect heart health.

5 Benefits Of Butter

1. Butter is a great source of some vitamins and minerals:

  •  Vitamin A - antioxidant and beta-carotene for our eye health
  •  Vitamin D - for healthy bones (helps absorption of calcium)
  •  Vitamin E - for healthy skin
  •  Calcium - for healthy bones
  • Vitamin B12 - helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy
  • Vitamin K2 - may protect against heart disease and osteoporosis

2. The butyrate in butter, has been shown to potentially reduce inflammation in the digestive system and has been used as a treatment for Crohn’s disease.


3. The Vitamin A in butter could help with eye health


4. The calcium and Vitamin D in butter can help strengthen your bones


5. The Vitamin E in butter may improve skin health

History, Background, and General Facts about Butter

  • Butter is high in saturated fatty acids (about 70%) and has a moderate amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (about 25%).
  • Around 11% of the saturated fats in butter are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), the most common of which is butyric acid.
  • The first reference to butter in written history was found on a 4,500-year-old limestone tablet with instructions on how to make it 
  • Early butter likely came from the milk of yak, sheep, and goats
  • It was probably an accidental discovery back in history, when carrying milk or cream while walking, agitated it enough to make butter
  • There are discoveries in Ireland of hidden bog butter — wooden buckets filled with butter and hidden in mossy swamps — dating back to 400 B.C. 
  • Cool weather in Northern Europe allowed people to store butter longer than Mediterranean cultures could
  • Butter was popular among European peasants as an inexpensive food and used on vegetables and meats, except during Lent for the Christians. They gave it up for Lent.
  • During the Great Depression and WW2, there were butter shortages, so margarine came about as an alternative that was also shelf stable. It was made with vegetable oil (or shortening) and yellow food coloring.
  • In the 1980s, butter became less popular during the whole ‘fat free’ phase, and more families chose margarine
  • Researchers have discovered that margarine is significantly worse for heart health than the saturated fats found in natural butter.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Butter?

  • French - crepes, Beef Bourguignon, puff pastry
  • Indian - butter chicken, butter murukku
  • Greek - baklava
  • Italian - polenta
  • British - buttermilk pie
  • Dutch - Hollandaise sauce
  • Austrian - linzer torte
  • American - pie crust, biscuits, compound butter

What Is The Best Way To Store Butter?

The best way to store butter is to keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, away from strong-smelling foods, and consume it within a few weeks to maintain its freshness and quality.

Keeping butter in a butter bell on the counter can help keep it soft and spreadable, but it may not stay fresh for an extended period of time. The butter may become rancid more quickly due to exposure to air and warmth, which can also increase the risk of bacterial growth. It's generally recommended to use butter kept in a butter bell within a few days and store any remaining butter in the refrigerator to maintain its quality and prevent spoilage.

What Are The Different Types Of Butter?

Salted Butter

  • Butter that consists of cream, water, and salt

  • The amount of salt varies with each brand, so it is best to use when the amount of salt doesn’t matter, such as sautéing, spreading on bread, cooking vegetables, etc.

Unsalted Butter

  • Unsalted butter is best for cooking and baking

  • It is recommended that you bring the butter to room temperature first for most recipes so that it mixes well with other ingredients, except in pie crust and biscuits, where you need it to be cold. 

 Clarified Butter (Ghee)

  • Plain butter that's been gently simmered to remove the water content, then strained to remove the browned milk solids

  • Because it will not burn at high temperatures, it is good for frying and sautéing

 Cultured Butter

  • Butter made from cultured cream, cultured butter has a rich, complex flavor 

  • It is ideal for baking because the lower moisture content produces flakier pastries and fluffier cakes

European-Style Butter

  • This butter is made from cream that is churned more slowly and for a longer time 

  • It has a butterfat content of at least 82 percent (higher than standard butter)

  • The higher amount of butterfat is good for cooking and baking

 Whipped Butter

  • After butter is churned, nitrogen gas is whipped into butter to make soft, easily spread butter

Grass-fed and Grain-fed Butter

  • Grass-fed butter is made from cows that graze in pastures 

    • Grass-fed milk products are much more common in Ireland and New Zealand and the butter has more omega-3s and CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid), a type of PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid), and antioxidants.

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Butter

Butter is high in saturated fat, which some studies say is linked to heart disease.

People with milk allergies or lactose intolerance may be sensitive to butter and may need to limit it or avoid it.

What Is The Best Substitute For Butter If I Don't Have Any?

If you don't have butter available or need a dairy-free alternative, there are several substitutes you can use depending on the purpose of butter in your recipe. Here are some common butter substitutes:

  1. Vegetable Oil: Vegetable oil can be used as a substitute for melted butter in recipes like cakes, muffins, and quick breads. Use an equal amount of vegetable oil as you would for melted butter. Keep in mind that using oil may result in slightly different texture and flavor in the final product.

  2. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a versatile substitute for butter, especially in recipes that benefit from its natural coconut flavor. It works well in baked goods, sautéing, and frying. Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing butter with coconut oil, but note that it may solidify at cooler temperatures.

  3. Olive Oil: Olive oil can be used as a substitute for butter in certain recipes, such as sautéing vegetables or drizzling over cooked dishes. However, it has a distinct flavor that may affect the taste of the final dish, so it's best suited for savory recipes.

  4. Applesauce: In some baking recipes, applesauce can be used as a substitute for butter to reduce the fat content. It works well in recipes like muffins, cakes, and quick breads. Replace the butter with applesauce in equal amounts, but note that it may add some sweetness and moisture to the final product.


Margarine is also sometimes suggested as a substitute for butter but we do not recommend using margarine. Traditional margarines often contain partially hydrogenated oils, which are a significant source of trans fats. Trans fats have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, and consuming them in excess is generally considered unhealthy.