There are few things worse than trying to spread cold, hard butter on a piece of toast. Achieving fluffy cake batter mostly depends on how soft your butter is. How about mixing herbs and spices in a stick of frozen butter? An almost impossible feat. Sometimes it feels like life would be so much easier if we could always store our butter on the kitchen counter. But is it really safe to store butter at room temperature?
The short answer is yes, to some extent. Butter can be stored at room temperature longer than other dairy products. The reason is the structure.
Why butter can stay at room temperature (mostly)
Butter is the result of churning, the process of separating milk or cream into its solid and liquid components. The solid part is the fat naturally present in milk, while the remaining liquid is buttermilk. This buttermilk, once fermented, becomes the stuff you use to make fried chicken or ranch dressing.
Without this liquid, the solid fat is much more stable than when the milk was in its original state. The high fat content inhibits the growth of bacteria more than other types of dairy products. In the United States, butter you can buy at the grocery store must be at least 80% fat.
Although butter is less likely to promote bacterial growth and become unsafe, that doesn’t mean it can’t go bad. Instead of spoiling, butter can go rancid after being left at room temperature for more than a day. The continued presence of oxygen will denature the fat molecules in the butter and change the chemical structure. It won’t hurt you like eating salmonella-contaminated eggs would, but it will taste bitter and a bit sour.
How to store butter at room temperature?
Luckily, there are kitchen utensils you can use to keep your butter soft without inviting in extra oxygen. Butter dishes with lids will keep the air out and keep your butter fresh for a few days.
Another tool that has been used for centuries is a butter pot. This ceramic gadget lets you fill the bell-shaped top with butter and place it in a ceramic cup filled with a little water. The water seals the container and keeps out oxygen and any troublesome bacteria. If you replace the water once or twice a week, your butter will stay fresh and spreadable for up to a month.
How long can butter last in the fridge?
If you want to store your butter longer or don’t want to shell out money for another gimmick, the fridge is your best bet. Unopened butter sticks will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 months and opened butter will keep for up to two weeks after the date printed on the package.
Gabby Romero is a New York-based writer. As Delish’s Editorial Assistant, she writes about the latest food trends and is also the human on the other end of firstname.lastname@example.org.
She loves to eat spicy food, read cookbooks and add a mountain of Parmesan cheese to whatever dish she can.
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