When it comes to crucial cooking ingredients, butter is better; especially in California, where butter production ranks #1 in the nation. Its superior flavor, moisture, and ideal melting properties make butter best for baking. Available in many forms - salted or unsalted, sweet cream, whipped, cultured, and light - butter is a must on every shopper's list. Look for the Real California Milk seal on packages of butter to identify local dairy products made exclusively with milk produced on California dairy farms.

A Definition

Butter is made from the milkfat in cream and contains at least 80 percent milkfat, 18 percent water and 2 percent solids (mainly protein and salt).

The Facts

Butter has been used for cooking and as a moisturizer in dairy regions for centuries. Legend has it that butter originated when a traveler somewhere transported a container of fresh milk and unwittingly churned the cream to butter with each step. In the U.S., butter was made mainly on dairy farms until the mid-to-late 1800s. Improved processing technology, including centrifugal cream separators and mechanical refrigeration, contributed to the expansion of commercial creameries, and by 1900 butter was widely available in the U.S. Today, California is the largest butter producer in the country.

California is the nation’s leading dairy state and produces more milk than any other state. The California dairy industry employs the highest standards in the nation, using the best techniques for dairy farm management, herd health and milk handling.

The Process

Butter is made by churning or shaking pasteurized cream until the milkfat (butterfat) separates from the remaining fluid, known as buttermilk. After churning, the butter is rinsed and salted, if desired, and excess buttermilk is removed.

Storage and Handling

  • Some butter packaging is stamped with a “best used by” date, intended to tell how long the product will be at top eating quality. Butter can be frozen for up to four months. Store butter in the refrigerator tightly wrapped or in a covered dish. Keep it away from highly aromatic foods so it does not pick up undesirable flavors.
  • Butter can be kept at room temperature for short periods of time, but should be refrigerated to maintain peak flavor.


As an ingredient, spread or cooking fat, butter adds natural rich flavor and texture to foods and can be enjoyed as part of a well-balanced diet.

Nutrient Content of Butter (per tablespoon)*
  Calories Fat
Butter (salted) 102 12 0.1 3 3 31 82
Butter (unsalted) 102 12 0.1 3 3 31 2
Whipped Butter 67 8 0.1 2 2 21 78

* Bill Green et. al. Nutrient Content of Eight California Milk Products. Dairy, Food and Environmental Sanitation. October 1992. Calcium and protein values above differ slightly from numbers in “Nutricional Comparison of Fluid Milk” chart, page 2, due to natural variation that occurs during experiments.

Cooking with Butter

The unique flavor, melting and cooking properties of butter make it a must-have for kitchens. Butter is unsurpassed for cooking and baking, including sauces, compounds, candymaking and as a simple spread. Salted butter is often used for the table and general cooking uses, while unsalted butter is best for baking and in seafood dishes. However, salted and unsalted butter can be substituted for each other. Measuring butter for cooking is easy using the printed measurement on butter wrappers:

1/4 pound=1 stick=1/2 cup
1 pound=4 sticks=2 cups

Glossary of Terms

Butter, made from pasteurized cream and also known as sweet cream butter, is the most common type of butter produced in the U.S. Most butter made from sweet cream has salt added for flavor and as a preservative. Unsalted butter is also available, and it is referred to as sweet butter.

Whipped Butter has air whipped into it to make it fluffy and easy to spread. Whipped butter is sold in tubs and contains fewer calories for the same volume than regular butter.

Clarified Butter (also called drawn butter) is prepared by slowly melting regular butter to evaporate most of the water and separate the milk solids from the fat. After any foam is skimmed off the top, clarified butter can be heated to higher temperatures during cooking. It is used mainly in frying or sautéing because it will not burn at temperatures that cause regular butter to smoke. Clarified butter can be stored slightly longer than regular butter. One pound of butter makes 12 ounces of clarified butter.

Cultured Butter is churned from cream that has been soured by a lactic acid-producing culture. It is more common in Europe than the U.S., but is available in California. It has a stronger, more tangy flavor than sweet cream butter.


American Butter Institute, www.butterisbest.com

Mariani, John. The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. New York: Lebhar-Friedman Books, 1999

National Dairy Council

Trager, James. The Food Chronology. New York: Owl Books, 1995