The water content of butter makes a big difference in how it tastes and works in cooking. And, as we showed last year, salted butters contain considerably more water than unsalted butters. But, in a talk last week by author Patricia Wells, we learned that she prefers European butters for cooking and baking because of their lower water content.
Now, one of the advantages of European butters is that they have a vaguely nutty taste that comes from the cream being slightly fermented, as we learned from the New York Times’ Melissa Clark. We made our own butter following her recipe and while it didn’t really taste nutty, it was very good butter.
So, we decided to compare three commercial butters at three price points and see how much water they contained. None of our local markets carry any chi-chi imported butters just now, so we bought
- Stop and Shop’s inexpensive store brand, on sale for $2.50 a pound
- Land of Lakes conventional butter for $4.69 a pound
- Plugrá European style butter for about $10 a pound ($4.99 for a half pound)
All of these were salted butters. We would expect the unsalted ones to have proportionally lower moisture contents.
Then we melted 4 oz of butter, (one stick) in a microwave at 50% power so the water didn’t boil away too much, and compared them pouring them into tall glasses.
The result is shown in the accompanying photo. Clearly the Plugrá butter had far less water in it (the lower layer) than did the Land of Lakes or the Stop and Shop brands. And, incidentally, it had a much nicer flavor, some of that “nutty” flavor that Clark referred to.
While the Land of Lakes butter appears in the picture to have more water than the Stop and Shop brand, there was a plume of water in the Land of Lakes that if accounted for would make them about equal in moisture content.
We did find that the low cost Stop and Shop butter was rather crumbly when we unwrapped it: bits of butter stuck to the wrapper. And when we melted it, it seemed to “boil” rather quickly. This appears to be because it had more air beaten into it which escapes as soon as you heat it. It tasted about the same as the Land of Lakes butter did, but the additional air might make it less acceptable for baking. We note, however that this air must have been minimal, since the melted butters all weigh about the same.
Conclusion: in places where you want the finest butter, Plugrá really is much better, and the Land of Lakes is indeed somewhat superior to the crumbly Stop and Shop house brand.