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which butter is better?

June 29th, 2011 · 15 Comments

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If you follow me on Facebook, you have probably already read about our butter tasting experiment. I was inspired by America’s Test Kitchen’s latest video in which they tasted several butters and rated them either “highly recommended” or “recommended with reservations” or “not recommended.” Would we generate the same results using a double blind taste test here at home? I had to know.

I went to Whole Foods with my mom and loaded up on $25 worth of butter, in addition to two butters that I had purchased at Costco. I had my mom dish out a pat of each butter into a numbered dish and write the numbers on the packages of butter for later cross reference. Then I whipped up a huge loaf of delicious Rustic Italian Bread (recipe to come soon!) and waited for my hubby to get home so we could dig in.

We started with four butters. Brant took a bite, grabbed a pencil and paper and wrote:

Figures.

I tasted the same one and agreed. It did indeed taste like butter. I tried #2. It also tasted like butter. Uh, oh? Was this whole experiment a waste? After tasting the third and fourth butters I began to realize that I’m no Chris Kimball, the host of America’s Test Kitchen. I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them. Meanwhile, as Brant continued tasting, he was able to discern subtle differences. “#2 has a strong starting taste but then it just disappears… it’s like it’s watery.” Or, “#3 is tangy… I don’t like that one.” I did not believe him. Could he really tell a difference or was he pulling my leg? I sent him out of the room and buttered a piece of bread. He returned and kept his eyes closed while tasting it. “#1. Definitely #1.” And he was right. I sent him back out again and we repeated the test. He knew without a doubt that this second sample was #3. Hmph. Obviously there was a difference. (Note: I tried taking the same taste test. My results were less than abysmal. I clearly cannot fool anyone. :) )

The next night we had friends over to do the same taste test, although this time we added the other 4 butters to the mix. We tasted, tasted, and tasted some more. We wrote down comments. Courtnie said, “#3 tastes like it has plants in it.” Josh exclaimed, “This one is really salty to me!” Of course, the one he referenced was the only non-salted butter in the line-up. We cracked up at this realization. Courtnie declared #7 to be her favorite, followed by #1 and #5.

For Father’s Day my mom, brother, and father tasted the butters and give their opinions. My dad also preferred #7. Brant still declared that #1 was definitely the best. My mom preferred #1 as well, but also liked #5 and #7. A common theme was occurring. My friend Nicky joined the fray later in the evening and tasted all of them in order, reaching #7 and saying, “Oooh! I like this one!”

Finally, it was time to reveal our contestants.

#1: Plugra – This butter was rated as a favorite by everyone who joined the taste test. This is about $7.50 per pound.

#2: KerryGold Irish Butter - This butter had the highest salt content of all of our butter choices, but no one liked it compared with the others. This butter is $6 per pound.

#3: Organic Valley Pasture Butter – This seasonally available butter is cultured, meaning it has a tangy, almost cheesy taste. Few people preferred this, and Brant’s comment was, “If I wanted cheese, I would have asked for cheese.” This butter is about $8 per pound.

#4: Strauss Family Creamery Organic European Butter – This butter was lightly salted so it was difficult to compare with the more heavily salted alternatives. Most agreed that if it had just a bit more salt, it would have been in their top three if it wasn’t there already. This butter is about $6 per pound.

#5: Lurpak – This is the butter that America’s Test Kitchen favored over all. It was definitely among our top three! This butter is about $8 per pound.

#6: German Butter – this unsalted butter was really impossible to compare with our other salted versions. No one liked it, but we all knew that this is likely because it had no salt.

#7: Costco’s Kirkland Brand Organic Butter – This was a real surprise winner! Almost everyone loved this butter even though it’s not a true “gourmet” butter. It’s about $4 a pound.

#8, 9: We also threw in two “cheap” butters to compare with all these gourmet options. One was the Costco Kirkland unsalted butter to which I added salt after experiencing peoples’ opinions of #6. Another was a container of whipped Challenge Butter. Most people found the Kirkland unsalted brand to be unexceptional. And the Challenge butter? “Ick! It tastes like it has chemicals!” I tasted the Challenge butter and almost gagged. There was a major difference between this and the other gourmet butters we had tasted.

Overall comments? Plugra, Lurpak, and Kirkland’s Organic Butter were our favorites. Brant says that the Plugra was definitely his favorite, but that the Kirkland brand was the best value for his money so he would most likely buy that. However, once in a while it’s fun to have a special treat. When those times come, we will be choosing Plugra.



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15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nicole@HeatOvenTo350 // Jun 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    What a fun experiment. I think I’d be like you – I wouldn’t be able to tell a difference between any of them. Did you know people have different numbers of taste buds? No joke. Some people are “super tasters” and can taste things most of us can’t. I can see this being both a blessing and a curse. I had a Nutrition PhD roommate that was tested in one of her classes and was a supertaster. I was always nervous cooking for her. :)

  • 2 Jo // Jun 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    So fun! Does this mean you’ll start using butter on your bread instead of that other stuff? ;)

  • 3 Shirley // Jun 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Plugra is by far the best in my opinion. I tasted this butter first – it was # 1, after all – and I did not need to go any further. I tried the others, but even CI’s favorite, Lurpak, could not compete with Plugra. Safeway carries this butter now if you are interested in trying it out for yourself!

  • 4 Paula // Jun 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Johanna – yes, I suppose I can set the smart balance aside. :) There’s something in the taste of the “non-quality” butters that is absolutely wretched to me. I don’t get that taste when I use the Plugra or even the Kirkland organic, so I will be able to make the shift. :)

  • 5 Maureen // Jun 30, 2011 at 4:01 am

    None of these butters are available in Australia but I think what you did is really clever.

    If I’m baking some really good bread for guests I always make my own butter. It’s delicious. Home made butter doesn’t last as long as store bought so I never make much at a time.

  • 6 Samuel // Jun 30, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for the review, it’s very interesting. I’ve seen the butter two from CostCo and have been tempted to buy the Irish one save for the price. I think I will definitely try the Kirkland Organic next time I’m out there.

    I’ve always been very particular about my butter, having grown up in a rural area with lots of fresh, local farm products. When I went off to college, I was floored by the people who arbitrarily bought the cheapest stuff in the store — butter OR margarine! — and said it all tasted the same. Good lord, gag me.

    The other divisive product is milk, of course. Glass bottled is best (although way too expensive as a niche supermarket product) and paper cartons are an okay/acceptable alternative (thank goodness for the rise of ‘organic’ milk.) Plastic jugs? The horrid chemical taste (and I’ve tried several brands) is appalling to me; might as well be drinking Chlorox. I guess if you were raised on it, you wouldn’t know the difference.

  • 7 Paul // Jun 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    This was interesting taste test. Good job! I agree about the Plugra being very good on its on though for baking I have found Lurpak to give the best crumb,taste and texture for baked goods. The Plugra is close behind. For plain tasting I have found Plugra to be a bit better than Lurpak. They are both excellent butters and can’t go wrong with either one but for baking and cooking I give an edge to Lurpak. I must try to Costco butter. That is quite a surprise. I would never think to purchase their butter.

  • 8 Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum // Jul 1, 2011 at 5:20 am

    How fun! Thanks for the info!

  • 9 Ronda // Jul 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Mmmm…now I need to go buy some Plugra. Someday you should try this one: http://www.pastureland.coop/ Ever so good.

  • 10 Paula // Jul 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    @ Ronda – I tried seeing where I could get this Pasture Land Butter, but alas, it’s not available in CA. :(

  • 11 Mezabella // Mar 4, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Oh my goodness. Someone who *gets* me! I have been called a “butter snob” and everyone claims that I really can’t tell the difference between butters and I’m making it up. Well, HA! I’ve been vindicated. I’ve tried everyone of these before- EV-ER-Y ONE. And , yes, Plugra is best, by far. Yes, that pasteurized butter was weird and confusing and I couldn’t eat it. I actuallly thought it was mislabeled. Again, THANK YOU. :-0)

  • 12 Paula // Mar 4, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Mezebella – Your comment made me chuckle. :) I would swear my husband was making it up too if I hadn’t given him a blind taste test that he passed with flying colors. Ironically, this is the same man that in college ate 4 day old unrefrigerated hamburgers. How are his taste buds so refined and yet he still eats such nasty food if I am not here to cook for him? :)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)

  • 13 Shirley Madsen // Mar 4, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Mezabella – even Cook’s Illustrated rated Plugra’s unsalted butter the best. I quote from their web site, “The cream of the crop, this “thick and luscious” cultured butter was “complex” and “just a bit tangy” and “grassy.” Some deemed its flavor the most “robust” of all the samples.” If you happen to have a Safeway nearby, keep your eye out for sales of this butter and stock up!

  • 14 Mezabella // Mar 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Yes! Further vindication and I don’t even read Cooks Illustrated. Maybe I can get some kind of butter tasting job down at the butter farm. Lol! I get my butter from my local health food coop. There’s a 10% discount and coupons. But, really, I’ve bought butter for $10 a pound before. It’s THAT serious. Lol! I get on my friends’ nerves. It’s so bad that if I go to a restaurant and they offer me margarine I get offended like they offered me rat poison or something. Lol! I have to keep myself I’m check sometimes. ;-0)

  • 15 Anna // Feb 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

    Thanks for doing this! I use a lot of butter and was debating whether or not to just buy a big load of it at Costco. I guess I will, but only if I can find the organic type. It will be interesting to see how it works in baked goods. Oddly enough, I’ve noticed a difference in texture when I switch from brand to brand.

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