Butter

Butter is a smooth, fatty substance that is made by churning cream. Churning causes the fat in the cream to separate from the liquid (the remaining watery portion is known as buttermilk). It takes about 12 litres of milk to make 450 grams of butter. Before it can be churned, the cream has to be separated from the milk because the fat is the only part of the milk that can be made into butter.

Although butter is usually made from cow's milk, it can also be made from the milk of other mammals such as goats, donkeys, horses, buffalos, and camels. Usually produced by local dairies, these rather strong-tasting butters are used mainly in Asia, Africa, and certain parts of South America. The word "butter" also refers to creamy, fatty substances derived from a variety of sources; the names of these butters specify the source (peanut butter, cocoa butter, almond butter, coconut butter).

History

In ancient times, butter was used in religious ceremonies and as a medication; for example, it was applied as a plaster to infected or burned skin. The ancient Greeks and Romans rarely cooked with butter, but they did use it as a medicine, especially as a salve. And no matter what the source, they always referred to butter as butyrum (Latin) or bouturon (Greek), meaning "cow's cheese."

Butter was not used in Italy or France until the 15th century. During the Middle Ages, the butter produced on farms and in dairies was put in stoneware pots and covered with salted water, then sold at markets. North African and Arab cooks rely on clarified butter, or smeun, which fares much better than regular butter in hot climates. Butter is now produced in such vast quantities that many countries have enormous stockpiles of surplus butter.

Nutrition

Whipped butter, salted butter, and unsalted butter all contain vitamin A.

Regular butter is comprised of 80 – 82% animal fat, 14 – 16% water, and up to 4% salt. Sixty-two percent of the fat is made up of saturated fatty acids containing 22 milligrams of cholesterol per 10 grams. Also high in calories, butter contains 72 calories per 10 grams. It contains only minuscule amounts of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, with the exception of vitamin A and added sodium, which makes up 2% of salted butter and 1% of lightly, salted butter.

Unsalted butter does not contain any sodium.

Whipped butter is slightly lower in calories (69 calories/10 grams) and fat (7.8 g/10 grams) than regular butter.

"Light" butter contains only half as many calories as regular butter, as well as 50% less fat, 46% less cholesterol, and 25% less salt.

Low-fat butter should not contain any more than 39% fat. Softer than regular butter, it may contain emulsifying agents, stabilizers and preservatives, salt, and artificial colouring.

A controversial food, butter is defended by dairy producers as a "natural" product and condemned by those concerned about the high percentages of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol it contains. Oil and margarine manufacturers are among its most vocal critics. It is important to note, however, that the total amount of fat in your diet is much more significant than your consumption of one particular kind of fat. That being said, butter should be eaten in moderation because it does contain high levels of saturated fatty acids.

Storing

Butter readily absorbs odours and can lose moisture if it is not well packaged; dehydration heightens its colour and alters its flavour. Butter can also be discoloured by mould or other marks caused by bacteria or fungi. If stored for too long at room temperature, it can taste rancid.

Seal it tightly in its original packaging or ensure that it is well covered, and store it in the refrigerator away from foods whose odours it is likely to absorb. Butter is usually packaged in material that protects it from the light and prevents oxidization, the absorption of odours, moisture loss, and discoloration.

Unopened unsalted butter should not be refrigerated for any longer than 8 weeks, but salted butter in its original packaging can be refrigerated for up 12 weeks. Once a package of butter is opened, it should be used within 3 weeks.

Butter can be frozen, but it begins to lose some of its flavour after about 6 months. Freezing can also make butter taste saltier.

Preparing

Measuring butter is no easy task in some countries where recipes specify the volume rather than the weight required. One solution to this problem is to measure the butter in water: If you need a quarter cup of butter, put a quarter cup of water in a measuring cup and add butter until the water reaches the half-cup mark; then pour off the water and drain the butter. (It may be useful to know that 500 grams of butter is equivalent to 500 milligrams of butter.) In cup measures, ¼ cup butter is 62g, ½ cup butter 125g and 1 cup butter is 250g.

Butter can be "clarified" by removing the whey. Known as ghee in Indian cuisine, clarified butter is a clear, oil-like liquid that can be fried. To easily clarify butter at home, melt it in a microwave or on the stove top. Pour the melted liquid into a container and refrigerate. When solid again, lift out the solid clarified butter nad discard the whey (liquid portion).

Homemade clarified butter can be refrigerated for about 2 months and frozen for up to 3 months. Store-bought clarified butter can be left at room temperature.

Cooking

Butter has a relatively low smoke point and therefore butter burns more easily than oil. As such, it should not be cooked at high temperatures. However, it can withstand higher temperatures when used in combination with oil (heat the oil before adding the butter).

Solid butter is easier to digest than melted butter that has begun to separate. The fat in butter begins to break down at temperatures as low as 120 – 130°C. When heated to higher temperatures, butter becomes dark and releases an indigestible toxic substance called acrolein that can lead to increases in blood-cholesterol levels.

Using

Butter is a key ingredient in the cuisines of many countries, because it gives food an incomparable flavour. It is used primarily in sauces (kneaded butter, roux, Béarnaise sauce, hollandaise sauce), pastry (French butter cream, puff pastry), creams, and soups. A staple food, it is eaten on bread, canapés, toast, and sandwiches.

Various ingredients are added to cold butter to make the flavoured or compound butters used to season grilled foods, fish, snails, seafood, canapés, vegetables, and soups. The butter is first creamed with a wooden spoon or spatula. Ingredients such as garlic, shallots, parsley, horseradish, caviar, mustard, Roquefort cheese, sardines, watercress, lemons, and almonds are then finely chopped and pureed; some ingredients are cooked until the water they contain evaporates. Finally, the chosen ingredients are combined with the butter, which is then formed into a roll, wrapped, and refrigerated or frozen.

Whipped butter should not be used in recipes that call for ordinary butter; nor should "light" butter, which contains much more water than regular butter. These butters are normally used only as sandwich spreads.

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Varieties

  • Cultured Butter
  • Whipped Butter
  • Churned Butter or Sweet Butter
  • Flavoured Butter
  • Farm Butter
  • Ghee (Clarified Butter)
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Semi-salted or Lightly Salted Butter
  • Salted Butter
  • Butter of Echhire