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Are European-style butters better?

plugra, european-style butterWalk into just about any grocery store and, in the dairy aisle, you’ll see several butter packages labeled “European style.” The descriptor was seen rarely only a few years ago and now brands like Plugra are all over the place. Some cooks swear by these specialty butters – but are they better than the standard American-style?

The difference between European-style and American-style butters is butterfat content. It has nothing to do with the actual origin of the butter or the cows that made the milk that went into it, as there are plenty of American producers who make “European-style” butters here. Regular butter is 80% butterfat and 20% water. Plugra is around 83% butterfat. It might not seem like a huge difference, but this slight increase gives the butter a creamier taste. If you do a side by side taste test with toast or bread, you may notice that Plugra tastes richer than regular.

When baking, however, this flavor difference is usually lost because it is subtle and masked by other flavors. It generally only comes out when you are making a very butter-heavy dish, like a very rich shortbread. In regular chocolate chip cookies, there may be a slight difference between two otherwise identical batches, but it will be the sort of difference that is incredibly hard to pin down unless you already know the secret. Since the water content of butter is what produces flakiness when baking pie crust (the butterfat produces tenderness), a traditional crust made with Plugra might be slightly less flaky and a bit more tender, similar to the way a crust made with part shortening and part butter is. Overall, however, the difference between the two when it comes to baking and cooking is nearly negligible. If you like the richer flavor of European-style, feel free to substitute it in any recipe, but consider sticking with regular when the butter flavor is going to be masked by something stronger from a cost-effectiveness standpoint.

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  • Christina
    February 7, 2008

    Nicole, Thank you for writing this up. I read on a foodie board that people really liked just Plugra for baking cookies. I have purchased it a few times, but you’re right, I couldn’t really tell the difference.

  • JEP
    February 7, 2008

    I have been tempted to buy the European butter, but never have—thanks for sharing your insight!

  • Carole R.
    February 7, 2008

    I love the European butters. I shop at a store that carries several different brands.

    Try this experiment. Make the same recipe twice. Once with your regular butter and once with the European butter. Then decide for yourself if you can taste the difference.

  • rositta
    February 7, 2008

    Yes, yes, yes..they taste way better but for baking I don’t think it makes much difference, not when you consider the difference in price…ciao

  • Ella
    February 8, 2008

    I’ve heard it makes a difference when you’re making buttercream, but I haven’t tried it. Is the color whiter, too? I think that may have been part of the reason it was preferred for buttercream, too, especially for a white frosting.

  • Steve
    February 8, 2008

    Thanks, I was wondering what the difference is and whether our butter here is what you would call European-style. I live in the EU and apparently (or so I’ve read) butter has to be at least 82% fat and not more than 16% water if you want to call it “butter” (I’m guessing that the other one or two percent are milk solids).

    Ella: The color of butter is influenced by what the cows feed on (carotene content) and how much carotene (red/orange coloring) is added to the butter. I don’t think that fat content has anything to do with it.

  • joolz
    February 11, 2008

    plugra is the only butter i use, no matter what the application, and as far as it being expensive, well… if you shop at trader joe’s, they sell it there. it’s cheaper than the house brand butter at my local megamart even.

    plugra definitely makes a better frosting, be it buttercream or cream cheese. the extra fat makes for a noticeably creamier frosting.

    so, if you’re lucky enough to be within driving distance of a tj’s, get it. there most definitely IS a difference.

  • Barbara
    February 13, 2008

    The best way to taste the difference with the two butters is slathering them on toasted bagels. The regular butter taste oily and bland while the european butters are tastier and yummier. Even my kids can tell the difference!

  • EM
    February 13, 2008

    Like Joolz, I buy Plugra at TJ’s, because it’s cheaper than their organic butter. I do find it makes a difference in piecrusts—an all-butter crust with Plugra or other high-butterfat butter is tastier and somehow more workable than a regular-butter crust—and perhaps in some brownie recipes very light on flour, but I don’t sweat it with anything else.

  • maria
    August 9, 2009

    Being european myself..i can tell the difference in taste ..never use salted butter for anything …and european butter does taste better

  • Bridget
    March 10, 2011

    I think the higher butterfat makes a big difference in baking b/c that butter seems to not want to melt. It’s harder to cream butter and sugar together, for one thing. I think this is why puff pastry is so prevalent in countries with that type of butter, as are sponge cakes (little to no butter) or recipes calling for the butter to be melted.

  • DrGraceG
    October 18, 2012

    I only buy my butter from actual European stores. If you have one or can make an effort to find one, you will not be so sorry because they sell them much cheaper. European butter taste like real churned butter from cream. The butters at the grocery stores even with the label European do not really taste like the authentic butters you can buy at the European markets. Please do try. When you find a store near you, they will have several different ones. Lift the flap just a little bit and smell it. It’s so delicious smelling you will know why IT IS BETTER. It is also not true about the melting part with the REAL European butters. They melt very nicely 🙂 I hope this helps.

  • DrGraceG
    October 18, 2012

    This is the tastiest, but they have other really divine butters 🙂


  • Leire
    October 31, 2012

    This is so funny…!!!
    We as europeans try to find american butter because your recipes don’t work very well with our butter. The additional fat content creates all types of disaster’s 😉 when baking american recipes…

    Oh man! why do we always want what we do not have…?

  • Dana @ Wanted Adventure
    September 16, 2014

    This was very interesting to read! I’m a hobby baker who’s an American but I live abroad in Germany. I’m trying to think if I ever noticed a difference in the butter taste over here. I don’t think I have not–not in the food I bake, as you said, or otherwise. But perhaps you have to eat it next to “American butter” to notice anything.

  • Gimlet
    March 16, 2015

    I wonder if most of these opinions would stand up to blind taste tests. I personally have not found the European butter to be better or worse than standard American but I will try again maybe on some very bland toast. The biggest difference I have found is the rich color and of course the cost.

  • Tom
    July 6, 2016

    There are different types of butter in Europe though. British butter has a sharp, slightly bitter taste that leaves an aftertaste. French butter is very smooth and mellow and creamy. Italian butter has a slightly sour taste but in a good way, it’s even better than the French butter. Those are the three I’m familiar with. I imagine the breed of cattle is a factor along with the cow’s diet, which in turn is affected by the soil and type of grass that grows in each region. American butter is fine but it’s not the same as European butter regardless of the fat content.

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