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All the Butter Facts From Culinary School in Baltimore

Chef Todd Mohr

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There are a lot more butter facts than salted versus unsalted. This a question often asked of me. “Should I use salted or unsalted butter in my cooking”? Of course, it depends on the application, but there is so much more to consider when using this cooking staple than whether it has salt added to it or not.

Butter is a fatty substance produced by agitating or churning cream. It’s comprised of 80% fat, 5% milk solids and 15% water. Microscopic bits of butterfat are found in unhomogenized milk and cream. Membranes surround these globules that are comprised of phosphor lipids and proteins, which prevent the fat in milk separated.

Unless you live on a farm and drink straight from the udder, your milk is homogenized. It is subjected to mechanical treatment that holds the fat in suspension to make it drinkable. Without this process, you’d have a watery substance and a thick fat layer in your glass.

This would not be appetizing to too many people. If you had to spoon unwanted fats from your glass and drink a chunky substance, you might wonder why you “got milk” in the first place.

However, the butter facts are that this separation of elements in milk is just the way to make a household fat that is excellent for all cooking methods. Can you imagine sauté’ without butter? How about a grilled steak without a flavored butter on top? Just watching butter melt will make most people hungry.

Butter is produced by agitating cream. This physical churning damages the membranes that keep fats separated and allows the milk fats to join, leaving other parts of the cream behind.

The churning process creates small butter grains and a watery ingredient. This liquid is called buttermilk. The buttermilk most common today is not a by-product of butter making as in days of old, rather a fermented skimmed milk.

Free butterfat, butterfat crystals, and undamaged fat globules are the three types of fat found in butter. After the churning process, different proportions of these forms result in different consistencies within the butter. Thus, butters with more crystals are harder than butters with more free fats.

Butter is an excellent ingredient to cook with as well as spread on toast because it melts at about 93F, a temperature lower than the human mouth at 98F. That’s why butter melts in your mouth as opposed to vegetable and animal based fats and oils.

Butter is “clarified” when the water and milk solids are removed from it. This is a simple but delicate procedure that will result in butter “oil”. Indian cuisines use this ingredient and call it “ghee”, simply clarified butter.

Clarified butter has a higher smoke point and will not burn as easily as whole butter because of the removal of the milk solids. Milk solids in butter will burn long before clarified butter will smoke, making it an excellent ingredient for high-heat cooking.

To clarify butter, simply warm whole butter in a small sauce pan. Be sure to do this gently, softly, slowly and do not agitate or stir the butter during the process. Then, let it cool and you will see a clear separation of the water, milk solids and butterfat components.

From there, gently pour the yellow “oil” into a container, leaving the unwanted ingredients behind. One pound of whole butter will result in 12 ounces of clarified butter, giving you a 75% yield.

The real butter facts say that you can use this necessary ingredient in you cooking for much more than spreading it on toast. Once you can clarify butter like a pro, you’ll be experimenting with many ways to use it in all your daily cooking.

See the video with all the butter facts from culinary school in Baltimore.


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