Julia Child said it best, "With enough butter, anything is good." As long as you have these culinary building blocks hanging around, you can whip up everything from baked goods and luxurious sauces to the fluffiest scrambled eggs—diet be damned. That's why we embarked on perhaps our most important taste test yet: sampling our way through six popular grocery store butters to determine which is best.
We limited ourselves to six widely available choices: four American-style butters, one European butter and one brand of margarine (to see how it would fare, for better or for worse). All of the selections were unsalted, so that their true tastes couldn't hide behind seasoning.
Testers judged each butter spread onto pieces of bread, tasting for the ideal stick: one with a pure milky sweetness and a creamy, nonoily texture.
Our Top Pick
Horizon Organic (44¢ an ounce)
The organic cream makes all the difference when it comes to this butter: Out of all the brands, Horizon Organic had the most unadulterated dairy flavor and a rich denseness that made it all too easy to spread more than we should have onto our toast.
Organic Valley Cultured Butter (44¢ an ounce)
Cultured cream—in which bacteria is folded in and allowed to slightly ferment—gave these slow-churned sticks a stronger, almost cheese-like undertone that made this a group favorite (though some found it a distracting quality).
Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter (45¢ an ounce)
The longer churning time of European-style butter leads to a higher fat content and an extra-yellow color, which editors mistook as artificial coloring at first. And although Kerrygold's flavor was too intense for some when eaten alone, its butterfat percentage makes it ideal for baking extra-flaky piecrusts and richer pastries.
Land O'Lakes (37¢ an ounce)
A more subtle flavor made this one of the less memorable options, and though that's not necessarily a bad thing for baking, we prefer to spread something more flavorful onto toast.
Whole Foods 365 (28¢ an ounce)
Similarly, Whole Foods private-label butter lacked the rich dairy flavor we desired when eating it plain. However, being the cheapest option of the bunch, we wouldn't mind stocking our freezer with a few of these sticks for last-minute baking crises.
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (25¢ an ounce)
Truthfully, we wanted this infamous margarine brand to pleasantly surprise us, but alas, colored vegetable oil can only go so far. While these sticks indeed looked like the real thing, the bitter flavor of the oils became too overwhelming and left a greasy mouthfeel.
Are we missing a butter brand you swear by? Let us know in the comments.
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