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Butter is an animal fat made from separating the cream of full cow milk and churning it to a smooth and creamy texture. In this chapter butter will be discussed in detail – what it is, what types of butters are available and what products can be made from butter.

Function of butter

Butter is an ingredient principally used to give dishes a rich, full flavour.  However its uses are extensive and include for frying and braising.  Butter is indispensable in sauces made from a white or brown basis roux and as a binding agent.  It is also the basis of many pastries and butter creams.  Melted and clarified butter have many uses in the kitchen:

  • For spreading on toast and sandwiches
  • As an accompaniment for meat, fish and cheese
  • For frying and braising
  • As an ingredient in pastry
  • As binding agent in soups and sauces
  • As a component of composed butter
muffin with melting butter

The nutritional value of butter

Butter contains roughly 82% milk fat, l6% water and 2% fat-free milk components such as proteins, milk sugars and salt.  As well as this, soluble (in fat) vitamins A, D and Beta-carotene.

Butter contains the three categories of fatty acids, built up in such a way that it is easy to digest.  The three categories of fatty acids are: the polyunsaturated, the monounsaturated and the saturated fatty acids.  The amount of carotene varies depending on how much grass the cows eat – in summer there is more carotene in the milk than in the winter season.  This can be seen in the colour of the butter in summer however it can be masked in the winter by adding Beta-carotene or the vegetable colouring bixine or norbixine

The preparation of butter

During the production of butter a number of main steps are taken.  These steps vary on whether the butter is made traditionally or whether it is made by a modern method.
The traditional preparation consists of the following steps:

  1. The raw milk is centrifuged
  2. The cream is pasteurised and cooled
  3. The under-milk (or skimmed milk) is removed
  4. The sweet cream is churned and kneaded
  5. The cream is injected with a culture
  6. The cream is ripened and lactic acid and diacetyl are formed giving the butter its aroma
  7. The packaging of the butter
kenading of the butter churning equipment

Raw cow’s milk contains 4% milk fat.  Butter consists mainly of the fat of the milk.  Fat is lighter than water and by adding pressure in a centrifuge, it is possible to separate the cream from the rest of the milk.  The cream, with a fat content of 35 – 40% is pasteurised.  Traditionally acid forming bacteria are added to the pasteurised milk.  When the soured cream is fully ripened (after 16 – 20 hours), it is churned.  However this produces too much buttermilk (acidified milk).

In the new method, the cream is no longer acidified but churned and kneaded as sweet cream.  Only after the kneading is the butter acidified and this special culture (bacteria), ensures the desired aroma.  The milk that is leftover is skimmed milk.  The butter is packaged according to requirements.  The whole process of churning, kneading and acidifying is done nowadays in the ‘butter canon’.

It is important to note that the amount of free fat in butter (butter contains 82% fat) is the deciding factor for the properties of the product.  The more free fat, the easier the butter is to spread and the easier it will melt.  Butter that contains fat particles/fat balls or crystals is harder and not so easily spread.

Purchasing butter

When purchasing butter, it is important to take note of the following points:

  1. The types of butter
  2. The legal requirements and regulations with regard to the quality of butter products
  3. The price of the various types of butter
  1. Types of butter

The following types of butter are available:

    1. Fresh unsalted butter
    2. Fresh salted butter
    3. Farmers butter (traditional)
    4. Grass butter
    5. Half-full butter
    6. Frying and braising butter
    1. Fresh unsalted butter

Fresh butter is not stored in a cooling house for anything but a short period of time.  This butter has no added salt.  All types of butter are unsalted unless stated otherwise clearly on the packaging.  Unsalted butter has a higher smoking point than salted butter and is suitable for frying and braising.

    1. Fresh salted butter

Salted butter is simply butter to which kitchen salt has been added.  There are two classifications of salted butter: minimal 0.7% and maximum 2%. The salt content of lightly salted butter varies between 0.1 and 0.6%.  The smoking point of salted butter is lower than that of unsalted butter.

    1. Farmers or traditional butter

Traditional butter is prepared following the traditional method from raw milk (which may or may not have been acidified). This type of butter contains a regulated (lawful) different amount of liquid and has a different microbiological composition than factory butter.  The production process is less controlled and the raw milk is not pasteurised.

    1. Grass butter

Grass butter is available both salted and unsalted.  Grass butter is made from the first milk from cows that have eaten the young grass for the first time after the winter period in the barn. The colour and flavour of this butter can vary considerably.

grass butter

    1. Half-full butter

The fat content of half-full butter must be 41% according to the rules laid down by the European Community.  Since it has a high moisture contend, it is only suitable for spreading toast and bread.  Half-full butter is not suitable for frying and/or braising.  This butter is easy to make by adding lukewarm water and can be used to make herb butter.

    1. Frying and braising butter

The liquid content of frying butter has been more or less extracted and protein rich whey powder and lecithin added. This is done to ensure the product being cooked will have a brown colour and to avoid splashing while cooking.
(Whey powder is produced as follows: the residual liquid from cheese making is called whey; the liquid is evaporated off till the whey powder remains.  Whey powder contains a high milk sugar percentage.)
Frying butter contains colouring materials to distinguish it from butter  (to ensure that this butter is not reprocessed to ordinary butter, where no additives are allowed.)

  1. The regulations with regard to the quality of butter products

Based on the Agricultural Quality Law Regarding Butter Products, rules have been laid down concerning factory-processed butter.
In Holland the Central Organisation for Quality Controls of Dairy Products in Leusden carries out the monitoring and testing of butter.  Quality classifications are made, depending on consistency, aroma and flavour, appearance and moisture dispersion. This organisation stamps the ‘extra quality’ with a blue hallmark and the ‘standard quality’ with a green hallmark.
Officials from the Inspection of Health Protection from the Food Standards Agency carry out inspections on the quality of butter and butter products in the kitchen

Additional materials and additives
In the preparation of factory butter additional materials and additives are used.  Legally allowed are harmless cultures of lactic acid forming micro organisms; kitchen salt, colourings and water.

Regulations with regard to the quality
Factory butter must meet the following requirements:

  1. The fat content must be minimal
  1. 80.0% for butter with a kitchen salt content of minimal 0.1%
  2. 82.0% for butter with a kitchen salt content of less than 0.1%
  1. The content of fat-free dry milk components must be maximum 2.0%
  2. The moisture content must be maximal 16.0%
  3. The content of kitchen salt must be maximal 2%
  4. Additional materials and additives may only be kitchen salt, colouring and water
  5. Unusual components including antibiotics, dirt and other pollutants should not be present

The criteria for the quality class ‘extra’ which contain a blue hallmark are as follows:

  1. The consistency must not be:
  1. Crumbly, hard or otherwise insufficiently spreadable
  2. ‘Over-worked’, salve-like or otherwise insufficiently firm
  1. The flavour and aroma must be perfect
  2. The appearance must not be:
  • ‘Multicoloured’ or ‘slightly coloured’ or otherwise irregular of colour and contain no hard, yellow particles
  • ‘Loose’ or ‘slightly loose’, crumbly or otherwise insufficiently processed
  • ‘Wet’ or ‘slightly wet’
  • Dirty, or contain any visible unusual components
  • The moisture distribution and the microbiological condition must be in accordance with the regulations.

Golden rule:  Pay attention for signs of decay

Butter is a delicate product.  The Inspectors of the Health and Safety Food Standards Agency employ a number of bacteriological requirements with regard to butter.
Due to its composition butter is an ideal breeding ground for fungus and it is sensitive to fat oxidation.

3. The price of the various types of butter

The price of butter is a topic of concern for politicians.  In Europe, price agreements have been made about the minimum price of butter.  For this reason butter is relatively expensive. When the demand for butter is high, there is no problem however when the demand is lower than the supply, the butter producers can offer the excess stocks to the EU.  The EU buys the butter up at a pre-arranged price.  This butter, the so-called intervention butter, is stored in cool houses. 

The treatment of butter in the kitchen

The handling of butter is broken down into the following stages:
1.The delivery to the kitchen
2. The storage
3. The use of butter

1. The delivery to the kitchen

Attention should be paid to the following points:

    1. That the butter delivered is the type that was ordered
    2. That the correct amount is delivered
    3. That the quality of the butter meets the quality requirements

Butter must be transported under cool conditions; check if this is the case when butter is delivered.  When butter is delivered to the kitchen check that it is cool (maximum 7º C), that the type of butter ordered is the type delivered and that it is in the correct packaging and weight.  The quality, the use-by-date and the price should all be checked.

Butter is packed in aluminium wrappers in weights of 125, 250 or 500 grams, in tins of 500 grams.  It is also sold in special, individual portions of 5, 10, 15 or 25 grams for industrial purposes and in boxes with waxed paper with contents of 5 – 25 kilo.

The following flaws in butter are possible:

  • The butter can be irregular in colour.  This is normally the result of it being insufficiently churned
  • Small moisture drops can appear when a knife is pressed onto the surface of the butter.  This is the result of faults in the production process
  • The butter can be rancid due to storage at too high a temperature
  • There can be structural flaws in the butter due to improper storage
  • Fungus can appear in the form of black stripes, again this is due to improper storage
    1. Storage of butter

All types of butter must be stored in an undamaged, light and air-free packaging.  This type of packaging is necessary to ensure that the butter does not oxidise under the influence of light, that the fats present do not become rancid and that the butter does not dry out.  Butter should be stored in a cool, dark area and not in the vicinity of strong smelling products.  Butter has the capacity to absorb other smells whereby its own flavour deteriorates rapidly.

Unsalted butter
Unsalted, fresh butter should be stored at a temperature of 2-4º C. This butter can be stored for six weeks without deterioration taking place as long as it is stored in its original packaging. Unsalted, fresh butter can be stored in the freezer for around six months at a temperature of –15 C.

Salted butter
Salted butter must always be stored in the fridge at a temperature of 2-4º C.  It can be stored for about six weeks.  Salted butter cannot be stored in the freezer as the salt encourages the oxidation of the fat.

    1. The use of butter

Butter should be removed from the fridge before use to facilitate spreading. When using butter for frying and braising it is important to know the temperatures it can be heated to.

The smoking point of butter
Butter reaches the smoking point by heating to roughly 120º C.  At 100º C the water begins to evaporate and the dry components begin to burn.  This is visible in the form of white damp rising from the butter. Butter that has reached its smoking point becomes bitter and strong flavoured – so also will the food cooked in it. The smoking point of unsalted butter is 125º C and salted butter 115º C.  One way to increase the smoking point is to mix butter with oil.  Another way of increasing the smoking point is to clarify the butter (this is the removal of the water and milk components from the butter).  The smoking point of clarified butter is 150º C.

clarify clarify 2 clarify 3

Butter products

There are several butter products:

  1. Butter oil
  2. Herb butter
  3. Butter concentrate
  1. Butter oil

Butter oil is the purest concentrated fat from the milk.  This is obtained by removing the moisture and the fat-free components from the milk and/or fresh cream.  Butter oil has the same characteristic flavour and aroma as milk fat.  The colour is pale yellow – yellow.
Butter oil is used in the preparation of a great many industrial and traditional products for example in chocolate, ice creams, confectionary and the baking industry.  Butter oil is also suitable for frying and braising.  It is also exported in large quantities to tropical areas as it has a long storage life.  In the export country, it has skimmed milk powder and water added and it is used for drinking milk.

  1. Herb butter

To make herb butter, finely chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice, pepper and salt are added to butter or half-butter.

herb butter

  1. Cream-butter concentrate

For the production of cream-butter concentrate, only the best quality cream-butter is used.  The milk fat which has a minimum fat content of 99.8% is extracted from the butter which has been melted and centrifuged. Since butter concentrate contains almost no moisture, micro organisms cannot damage the product.  For this reason the storage life is almost unlimited and the chance of deterioration very low. Cream butter concentrate that has been mixed with colouring must be stored dry and cool at a temperature between 15 and 18º C. It should not be stored together with strong smelling products.

butter concentrate

Butter concentrate
The use of butter concentrate instead of fresh butter makes it possible to produce products with a constant quality.  For certain companies this can be very important.
In the preparation of baked products the firmness and elasticity of the butter concentrate is very important. Butter concentrate is ‘fractioned’, since the various uses demand various melting points.  Fractioning is a process whereby the hard and the soft fats are separated from each other.  For use in the kitchen is this very important.  For example butter concentrate of the soft fraction is used for the preparation of ice cream and ice-mix powders.  Butter concentrates of the hard fraction are used for example for making pastry. 
When using butter concentrates for preparations, factories must use colouring. These colourings are used to differentiate butter concentrate with fresh butter.  The colourings used are vanillin, carotene E 160f.
Fractioned butter is much cheaper than cream-butter. A change of wrapper could lead to illegal practices of selling fractioned butter for fresh-cream butter.  To avoid this, these colourings make fractioned butter more identifiable and fraud more difficult.