The great butter debate: Should butter be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator?

Experts weigh in on whether butter is meant to be stored on the counter or in the fridge. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Experts weigh in on whether butter is meant to be stored on the counter or in the fridge. (Photo: Getty Creative) (Stephen Gibson / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Social media can always be counted on for fervent debates about things that don't really matter, and the latest issue in contention is whether the pantry or the fridge is the proper place to store butter. While some strongly believe butter is meant to be kept on the countertop or in a cabinet, others stand firm that the fridge is the only place for it to be.

Sure, there's science behind this: Food scientists and chefs are the best people to ask for the final say (and even they sometimes have differing opinions). But for a more vivid depiction of the great butter debate, Yahoo Life went to the households that are strongly pro-fridge or pro-pantry (and even homes that are divided by butter storage preferences) to get their thoughts on the best way to store butter.

Team fridge

"I'm Team Cold Butter all the way," says Crystal Garman, co-founder of travel site Simplify Orlando. "I believe butter should be kept in the fridge because that's the way I grew up in the Midwest — my mom always had it in the fridge."

Garman believes the refrigerator keeps butter fresh for a longer period of time. "I never met anyone who left it out on the counter top until I met my mother-in-law," she adds. "She keeps hers in the butter dish in her dining room. I'll admit, it's nice to butter bread with soft butter, but I just can't wrap my head around doing it."

Vered DeLeeuw is founder of Healthy Recipes Blog and believes butter is pure fat that contains milk solids, which can spoil — or at least spoil more quickly — when left out of the refrigerator. "I'm a foodie and it's incredibly important to me to eat food at the right temperature, but I don't want rancid or spoiled food," DeLeeuw tells Yahoo Life. "Yes, my grandma kept her butter in a ceramic container on the counter, but grandma was from Europe, back when Europe was nice and cool, even in summer."

"What I do instead of keeping my butter on the counter is take the portion I'll need for a certain meal out of the fridge 30 minutes prior," she adds. "I use Kerrygold butter, which softens quickly, so by the time dinner is ready, the butter is perfect."

Team counter

"I keep about a week's worth of butter on the counter in an enclosed container so it can stay nice and soft for spreading," says Amber Rogers, founder of My Chicken Guide. "The rest of the butter stays in the fridge to preserve it. I will then take out more butter in weekly quantities as required."

"The butter I buy is 100% milk butter with no other softening ingredients, so if all of it is kept in the fridge it stays very hard and is too hard to spread," she continues. "I find if the room temperature is too warm, the butter starts to spoil after a week of being out of the fridge: This is why it's important to only keep small quantities of pure butter out of the fridge in warmer temperatures."

Team divided household

"The great butter battle is real in our home," says Sara Bachmann, who blogs at Sara's Veggie Kitchen. "My husband is of the belief that butter should be kept out of the fridge so it can remain soft and perfect for spreading on bread, toast or muffins. I on the other hand strongly believe butter belongs in the fridge."

"We live in Florida," she explains, "and even with great [air conditioning], we keep our home around 75 degrees. At 75 degrees, if butter is left out, it can become a melty mess that's gross and unmanageable. Another concern for me is even with your butter covered, it can attract bugs."

Bachmann also worries about food safety. "It makes me uncomfortable leaving out any dairy product for more than a couple of hours," she says.

What does science say?

Caitlin Clark is a food scientist and instructor at Colorado State University who says butter is "perfectly safe" at room temperature if you can keep it free of pests and spoilage organisms.

"The greater problem with butter is oxidative rancidity, in which oxygen causes fats in the butter to break down and taste rancid, although this does not make it unsafe," says Clark, adding that keeping butter in the fridge prevents all of these problems for several months.

Science seems to fall on the side of keeping butter out, but doing so carefully. "If you require spreadable room temperature butter, you simply need to find a way to protect it from pests, spoilage organisms and oxygen while keeping it at room temperature," Clark says.

This is usually accomplished by the use of a butter crock, a container designed to store butter behind some kind of seal (usually water or rubber). "While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends leaving unsealed butter out at room temperature for no more than a couple days, butter crock manufacturers claim they can extend the shelf life of room-temperature butter for up to a month if used as directed," says Clark.

In her own kitchen, Clark says they use large quantities of spreadable butter, so they simply keep it on a plate on the countertop. "We use it before it turns rancid," she adds. "This happens around day four in my house, where the kitchen is about 72 F."

Chefs agree: Butter out is the way to go

"Without getting into too much on the history of butter, one of the main misconceptions about butter in the states stems from how butter is treated in Europe and some of the remaining Old World-type handling of this item," says Fresh Food Further owner and chef Andrea Uzarowski. "Back in Europe, to this day, butter is made with raw milk, versus here in the states, where it is made with pasteurized milk, allowing it to be stored out in the pantry or countertops."

As a chef, Uzarowski has a preference for storing butter mostly in the pantry or out on the counter. "Contrary to popular belief, storing it out on the counter does not affect the butter's flavor in an adverse way," she explains, adding that it actually helps us taste the butter better.

The reason behind this claim is pretty simple: "Temperature affects how we taste things as they touch our tongue," Uzarowski says. "When something cold touches our tongues, our taste buds restrict or close up from the cold temperature of the food and this delays our sensations for taste."

Room temperature butter, specifically between 67 and 70 F, tastes best, according to Uzarowski. But she warns there is such a thing as storing butter at too high a temperature, which can cause it to separate.

Of course, there are times to keep that butter in the fridge. "I do keep a stash of cold butter in the fridge for specific uses, such as making pie crust and specific sauces like beurre blanc, which can only be made with cold butter," says Uzarowski.

Uzarowski's advice: If you want to taste your butter at its best, store it out of the fridge, in a cute covered butter dish. But just in case the fancy to make a sauce strikes you, always have a couple sticks in your fridge kept cold.

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