Are You Eating Skinny Butter?

July 10, 2012

(Photo by dj-dwayne)

When choosing which butter to buy, most of us know about the benefits of organic and pastured dairy. And of course there is the elusive raw dairy that is often difficult to get your hands on in North America. But when selecting butter, do you ever consider the butterfat content?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. After all, butterfat content is almost never labeled – but it does vary. To be considered butter in North America, the butterfat content has to be at minimum 80%, which is what most butters sold in the United States are, as well as almost all butters in Canada. In Europe, the minimum butterfat content of butter is 82%, except for the salted butter which can be 80% (plus 2% salt). To put things into perspective, the heavy cream you buy at the supermarket in North America is typically 36% fat.

So how much higher in butterfat content are some butters? For starters the paleo sweetheart Kerrygold is 82% butterfat, which is the minimum to be considered a “high-fat” butter (salted Kerrygold is 80%). Another favourite, Organic Valley’s Pasture Butter is 84% butterfat – which is on the high end of widely available butters. Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery makes an 86% butter, which is apparently somewhat difficult to make – they temper the cream to get it to emulsify so that it’ll stay together. The fattest butter I’ve heard of is 93% from Trickling Springs – I’m curious about the process of making it relative to the Vermont one.

Do a few percentage points really make a difference? You bet they do. Butterfat affects a butter’s flavor and texture. The fatter the butter, the richer it’ll taste, and the more creamy the texture. Consider the huge difference between 2% low-fat milk and 4% whole milk. Yes, the difference between 80% and 86% butterfat isn’t as pronounced in terms of fat, but the water content is almost 50% higher in the lower butterfat butter (20% versus 14% – not accounting for the 1% – 2% milk solids). Chefs are keenly aware of the difference – top chefs pay a hefty premium to use some of the best high-fat butters in their restaurants. Thomas Keller pays $18/lb to get cultured butter FedExed weekly to his restaurant, Per Se, from Animal Farm in Vermont). And European pastry chefs that bake in North America have to adjust their recipes to account for the higher moisture content of the butter. From a paleo perspective, high-fat butter would be ideal for making ghee in terms of low moisture content (although perhaps not from a cost perspective).

The interesting thing is that the naturally occurring fat content of commercially produced butter is actually 82%. Which means that manufacturers of 80% butterfat butters actually water down the butter to lower their costs.

In the United States, there are many creameries that produce high-fat butters – these tend to be the “European-style” cultured variety. Plus, there are plenty of imported actual European high-fat butters to choose from. Unfortunately for me and my fellow Canadians, due to Canada’s strict dairy import laws, we are limited to whatever is produced within Canada, and the choices are quite limited.

Hopefully as awareness of the benefits of high-fat butters spreads (no pun intended), the butterfat content will be advertised right on the label, so we can make more informed purchasing decisions. In the meantime, you may want to do a little bit of digging to find out what percentage butterfat your favourite brand is, and perhaps give some of the higher butterfat ones a try to taste the difference for yourself. I definitely notice the difference between butters like Kerrygold and Organic Valley versus the generic supermarket brands. But next time I’m in the States, I may just have to hunt down an even fatter butter – 93% here I come.

What percentage butterfat is your favourite butter? Have you noticed the difference in taste and texture?

Shared with Real Food Renegade, Healthy Food Economist, and Real Food Wednesdays.

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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron July 11, 2012 at 8:42 PM

Hmm … you’re right, I’ve never really considered the butterfat content of butter. I’ve read about it in ice cream and gelato conversations but not butter.

Kerrygold and Smjor are my fave’s but I’ll poke around to see if anybody is selling a higher butterfat content butter in the natural food world.


admin@primalist July 12, 2012 at 5:42 PM

I tried to find out what the butterfat content is of Smjor, but it wasn’t readily available – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least 82%..


Kaitlyn July 12, 2012 at 11:14 PM

I’ve actually had Trickling Spring’s heavy cream quite a few times now. So good, and they sell it in glass bottles too. I’m in PA so that’s a good reason why I’ve had a chance to try their products, but I’ve never tried their butter! I’m not sure if my work (Whole Foods) even sells it! I’ll have to check it out.


Patrik Johansson September 18, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Interesting! We sell our invention, the Virgin Butter, to noma and it only has 40% fat content. On the other hand it is cultured for 2-3 days which gives it its taste.


admin@primalist September 18, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Interesting! I did some googling, and your virgin butter is “butter made before the buttermilk has been extracted”. So I’m guessing that the buttermilk displaces some of the butterfat, decreasing the butterfat content drastically… I guess it’s a type of butter.. or a butter-like product… since as I mentioned, butter typically has a required butterfat content of 80%+.. but hey, if it’s good enough for noma… I’d love to try some :)


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Anne Amore February 14, 2015 at 7:22 AM

My store bought Unsalted Organic Butter fat content is 11%…don’t’ quite understand where that measure on the 80% up chart? What is the healthiest butter to eat?


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