We cut through the fat to answer your every burning butter question.

By Betty Gold
Updated March 31, 2020

If you think there's just salted and unsalted to choose from, think again. From ghee to clarified butter to delicious plant-based options, here's a handy glossary of your best buttery possibilities for cooking and baking.

Unsalted Butter

Sometimes called “sweet cream butter,” this is the most versatile variety. It will see you through every cooking job, from baking to sautéing. Made from only milk or cream (or sometimes both), it contains at least 80 percent milk fat—the fatty particles in milk that are separated out to make cream.

Salted Butter

Just like the original, but with (surprise) the addition of salt. Many people reach for this when buttering bread, but use caution when you’re cooking or baking, since most recipes call for unsalted butter.

Clarified Butter

Butter is an emulsion made from fat, water, and milk solids. When you heat butter slowly, you'll notice that it starts to separate into these three components: white milk solids, foam (which is the water evaporating), and bright yellow clarified butter fat. Basically, clarified butter is "pure" fat without the milk solids or water—it's richer and more shelf-stable than traditional butter. It has its own deliciously toasty flavor and a higher smoke point, too, which make it ideal for high-heat searing and roasting, or for finishing dishes. Ghee is one well-known type of clarified butter.

Organic Butter

Comes from cattle raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and given 100 percent organic feed grown without toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It is available unsalted and salted and can be used like conventional butter.

Whipped Butter

This variety has air or some other gas, such as nitrogen, added to it to make it less dense than standard butter, so a little goes a long way. The increased volume results in fewer calories per tablespoon (often half) and a lighter texture. Best for spreading on toast and finishing dishes, whipped butter is not recommended for baking or cooking.

European-Style Butter

This is the reason French croissants are so utterly irresistible: Loaded with extra milk fat—82 to 85 percent for most brands—European-style butter has less moisture than standard butter and so produces extra-flaky pastries and tender, fluffy cakes. Because it is made with fermented (also called “cultured”) cream, it has a slight tang. European-style butter can be used for all cooking tasks.

Plant-Based Butter

These are a game changer for those with dairy allergies or anyone practicing a vegan diet. Plant-based butters—like the new Country Crock Plant Butter line that features avocado, almond, or olive oil—taste like dairy butter and can be swapped one-for-one for dairy butter in all your favorite recipes. You can find them in both tubs and sticks, so it's just as easy to bake and cook with as well as spread on toast or bagels.

Spreadable Butter

A combination of regular butter and vegetable oil (and sometimes other flavorings and fillers), this product maintains a soft texture even when refrigerated. It is not recommended for baking or cooking.

Light Butter

This option has half the calories of standard butter because it contains less milk fat—40 percent at most. The rest is made up of water, lactic acid, and other fillers. It is not recommended for baking or cooking.