Don’t worry: You can salt unsalted butter if that’s the only kind you have on hand. You just have to know how to do it properly.
You want to cook a delicious dinner for your family from a recipe, but there’s just one problem. The recipe calls for salted butter, but you only have regular, unsalted butter in the fridge.
How much leeway do you really have? Can you add salt to unsalted butter, or should you put that off until tomorrow and resort to frozen pizza? That’s a good question, and an important one to ask before you get cooking. Especially if you plan to make baked goods, where deviating from the exact ingredients can make or break a recipe.
So let’s not waste any more time with introductions and help you figure it out.
Why, yes! You can add salt to unsalted butter, as long as you add the right amount (1.5% of the total weight). To do this, you’ll need to soften or melt the butter and mix it with the salt before using it as described in the recipe.
Salted butter sounds sophisticated, but it’s really regular butter with salt added. Whenever you don’t have it on hand, you can salt unsalted butter and proceed with your recipe as usual.
But for this to work, you have to make sure you do it right.
Salted butter is used in many recipes for biscuits, butter rolls, and chocolate chip cookies because it’s uniformly salty—and it gives the dough an even saltiness that ameliorates the taste of the final product.
Adding salt and butter separately doesn’t cut it. So to replace salted butter, you basically have to make your own salted butter at home.
How to Add Salt to Unsalted Butter
There are three required and one optional steps to salting unsalted butter:
Bring the butter to room temperature. To do this, take the butter out of the fridge, cut it into cubes instead of leaving it in one stick, and let it sit on the counter for a good 15 to 30 minutes until it softens.
Put the butter in a bowl and add salt. The first part of this step is self-explanatory, so let’s focus on the second. Add 1.5% salt to the total weight of the butter. If you add 100 grams of butter, it means that you should mix it with 1½ grams of salt.
Here’s a table to help you always add the right amount:
|Butter||Salt (1.5% to total weight)|
|0.88 ounces / 25 grams||0.013 ounces / 0.375 grams|
|1.7 ounces / 50 grams||0.026 ounces / 0.75 grams|
|3.5 ounces / 100 grams||0.052 ounces / 1.5 grams|
|5.29 ounces / 150 grams||0.079 ounces / 2.25 grams|
|7.05 ounces / 200 grams||0.1 ounces / 3 grams|
|8.81 ounces / 250 grams||0.13 ounces / 3.75 grams|
Incorporate the salt into the butter. Mash up the butter and the salt together with a sturdy fork until they form an even, homemade salted butter mixture that you can either add to the dough or melt in the pan.
Melt the butter in the pan (optional). If your recipe calls for melted salted butter, transfer the mixture from the bowl to a saucepan, turn the heat to medium-low so it doesn’t burn, and stir until the butter is melted. If it calls for browned salted butter, crank up the heat to medium.
Can You Add Any Salt to Butter?
The thing about adding salt to unsalted butter is that you can’t just use any salt. You need to use a salt that will disappear into the butter and won’t alter its aroma and flavor in undesired ways.
If you use flaky salt, like kosher salt or sea salt, the finished dish may turn out crunchy, and not in a good way. (Use salt crystals, and you or someone else at the table might as well break a tooth!)
If you use iodized table salt, as some blogs out there on the Internet have recommended, the iodine will make the butter (and, consequently, the finished dish) taste funny.
The best types of salt for salting butter are non-iodized table salt, Himalayan salt, and fine sea salt.
What’s the Deal With Salted Butter, Anyway?
Salt does two things to butter:
The first and obvious thing—no prizes for guessing—is that it makes the butter saltier and more savory.
The second, less obvious thing, however, is that makes the butter last longer Many years ago, when refrigerators weren’t a given in every household and people had to store perishable foods in the root cellar, salting butter was a way to extend its shelf life.
Now that those days are long gone, it’s not the butter that’s spoiled, but us.
And yet, even with refrigerators in every home, there are still many uses for salted butter in the kitchen, especially in making pastries, cookies, and bread. (Salted butter is also great for roasting meats and vegetables, as long as you use it in moderation.)
What to Do When You Have No Butter
Since you have no choice but to replace butter with something else, let’s take a good hard look at the best substitutes for each scenario.
If the recipe calls for melted butter, you can substitute virtually any other cooking oil for the butter. Avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil work best because of their viscous consistency and slightly nutty flavor.
If the recipe calls for soft butter, you can substitute a pasty fat for the butter. Coconut oil, palm oil, and vegetable shortening are the plant-based substitutes, but you can also use animal fats such as bacon fat, beef tallow, duck fat, or lard. (To salt the fat, you can use the same process we described above).
The disadvantage of substituting butter is, of course, that the smell, taste, and mouthfeel of the final product will change in any case, no matter which option you use.