Butter FAQ's


General Butter Info


Q: What is the definition of butter?

A: Butter is a food product, which is made exclusively from milk, cream or both, with or without common salt, and containing at least 80 percent milkfat by weight.

Q: How much milk does it take to make butter?

A: One pound of butter represents the amount of cream in approximately 10.5-11 quarts of milk.

Q: How many different types of butter are available in the U.S?

A: There are two main types of butter produced in the U.S. – sweet cream butter and cultured cream butter. The United States primarily produces sweet cream butter, which includes lightly salted, unsalted and whipped butter.

  • Lightly salted butter is the perfect ingredient for general cooking.
  • Unsalted butter is great for baking, creating flaky crusts and sweet treats with great taste and texture. Both lightly salted and unsalted butter are available in sticks for easy measuring when cooking or baking.
  • Whipped butter is whipped with air to make it light and fluffy and comes in tubs, making it an ideal table spread.

Cultured butter, a rich butter made from cultured cream, is popular in Europe and is now being produced in the U.S. It is available in most regions of the country. As with lightly salted and unsalted butter, it's available in both sticks and tubs.

Q: What's the difference between salted and unsalted butter?

A: Salt acts as a preservative and adds flavor to butter. Lightly salted butter is sometimes called "sweet cream butter," and is best used as a table butter and for general cooking needs. Unsalted butter, too, is "sweet butter," but is used mainly for baking. Although unsalted and salted butter may be specifically recommended for cooking or baking particular items, they can generally be substituted for one another.

Q: What's the difference between butter and margarine?

A: Butter is a natural dairy product made by churning or shaking cream until it reaches a semisolid state. Margarine is made from a single oil, or blend of oils, including animal and vegetable fats.

Because butter is a natural product, its performance in cooking and baking is unduplicated, naturally enhancing food flavor and providing a creamy texture.

Butter and Your Diet top


Q: I've heard reports linking diets high in saturated fat with heart disease. Does including butter in the diet increase one's risk of developing heart disease?

A: It's best to make dietary decisions based on the advice of a doctor and/or registered dietitian rather than individual news reports. While there is evidence that saturated fat in the diet can raise blood cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease, genetics play a strong role in determining an individual's blood cholesterol response to diet. All foods can fit into a heart healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Butter contains 4 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat per teaspoon, and can easily fit into the daily value of 65 grams of fat and 20 grams of saturated fat recommended for individuals consuming a 2,000-calorie per day diet.

Q: How much butter can I have each day?

A: Butter, like all foods, can be incorporated into a healthful and moderate diet. Portions should be monitored and it is important to note that one serving of butter is one teaspoon. Using moderate amounts of butter as a spread, ingredient or flavor enhancer can be part of healthy food choices.

Q: How is butter measured?

A: Printed measurements on sticks of butter make measuring easy and convenient. Good-to-know butter equivalents are:

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

Butter Pricing top


Q: What accounts for the giant swings in butter prices?

A: The price of butter, like the price of virtually all foods, is a result of supply and demand. When the supply on butter does not keep up with the demand for the product, prices will rise, at least in the short term.

Q: Why does the supply of butter sometimes not keep up with the demand?

A: There are both short term and long term factors that affect butter supply.

  • Short Term: Butter starts out, as all dairy products do, as raw milk from a cow. The cream portion of a cow's milk is churned into butter – or it can be made into similar products like cheese, bottled milk, ice cream, sour cream, etc. When milk production slows down due to outside forces such as weather (drought, extremely hot or wet weather), there is less raw milk to produce butter, which can limit the supply and drive up the price. When milk production surges, there can be a surplus of raw milk, which can lead to higher inventory levels of butter and a lower price.
  • Long Term: Government price support programs, which once purchased surplus butter and cheese in an effort to stabilize the dairy marketplace, have been greatly reduced during the past 10 years. Because the government no longer has significant stocks of butter and cheese, commercial buyers don't have a reserve supply to fall back on during periods of high demand. As the U.S. dairy market moves toward a more competitive marketplace and no longer has the government to help with inventory management, consumers can expect to see more volatility in the price of dairy foods, including butter. Also, the number of dairy farmers has dropped significantly in the past two decades, from roughly 300,000 in 1980 to only 88,000 in 1999.
Q: How has demand for butter affected the price?

A: Consumption of dairy products, many of which have a significant cream or butterfat content, has been rising steadily during the past decade. Some examples:

  • Ice cream consumption rose 14% between 1990 and 1998, and many of the most popular flavors are relatively high in cream content
  • Cream cheese consumption doubled between 1984 and 1998
  • Overall cheese consumption hits new records each year. In 1999, U.S. consumers ate a record 28.9 pounds of cheese per person

This growing demand for butterfat-rich products has sometimes produced spikes in the retail price for dairy products.