Should Butter Be Stored On the Counter Or In the Fridge?

Words: Crush

Is it safe to store butter on the counter? A culinary debate home cooks and butter buffs around the world have tried to smooth over for years. Whether you are a staunch supporter of soft butter or reckon it should be chilled in the fridge, we have some answers on where your butter is safest.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, butter can be safely left at room temperature for up to two days.

Inside or On Top?

There’s something undeniably satisfying about soft, spreadable butter waiting on the counter. For many, it’s a morning ritual: a schmear of softened butter on toast, melting smoothly and covering every corner. Beyond the practicality, room-temperature butter boasts a richer, more pronounced taste that can enhance the flavour of sauces and can either make or break the texture of baked goods – cookie and cake lovers will know.

However, using room-temp butter comes with a catch. Despite the convenience, using room-temp butter might not be the most sustainable option, given one obvious factor: dairy products are prone to spoilage. Leaving it out for too long, especially in warm environments and hot seasons, can lead to the growth of bacteria and mould, potentially turning your beloved butter into a health hazard.

Butter Gone Bad

When butter is left in warm environments for extended periods, it undergoes a process called oxidation, where fats break down and produce unpleasant odours and flavours. If you tend to store butter on the counter for extended periods, you will notice a vast difference in taste if it has ‘turned’. What was once creamy, slightly salty and a little sweet could transform into a rather unpleasant taste.

What does spoiled butter taste like? One word: rancid. Expired butter has a sour, bitter taste and an off-putting smell, reminiscent of spoiled milk. The texture can also change, becoming gritty or oily instead of smooth and creamy.

Expired butter is a surprisingly common culinary conundrum – if you haven’t experienced it, consider yourself lucky! While consuming small portions won’t kill you,  eating rancid butter can result in gastrointestinal discomfort, with symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In more severe cases, it can cause food poisoning. So should you store butter on the counter and for how long?


How To Keep Your Butter Fresh

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, butter can be safely left at room temperature for up to two days. After this period, it’s advisable to refrigerate it to prevent spoilage and reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. When it comes to margarine, although safe from the risk of contamination, the oil, water and solids will separate when not refrigerated.

Here are some tips to ensure your butter keeps fresh…

Portion Control: Leave out only a small amount of butter that you can use within a day or two; the rest should be refrigerated. This way, you always have fresh butter ready to spread on bread and incorporate into baked goods like cookies and cakes.

Use a Covered Butter Dish: This can protect butter from contaminants and reduce its exposure to air and light, slowing down the oxidation process.

Keep It Cool: If your kitchen stays relatively cool (below 21°C), butter can stay on the counter longer without spoiling quickly.

Always Use Your Senses: If you suspect that the butter has spoiled, chances are, you’re probably right. A simple taste and sniff test will instantly tell you whether the butter smells off or tastes sour; if so, then it’s time to chuck it away.


The Best of Both Worlds

Whether it’s best to store butter on the counter or in the fridge hinges on preference and the heat conditions of your kitchen. Leaving butter in the sun during scorching summer is obviously not the smartest idea. Besides turning into literal hot butter, it’s the fastest way to cause spoilage and waste your money – let’s be honest, butter ain’t cheap!

The best approach is to follow the two-day limit. Keep a portion on the counter and simply top it up with cold butter from the fridge. It’s also convenient if baking certain pastries like flaky pie dough or sauces like beurre blanc – or simply for the satisfaction of watching it slide off a warm stack of flapjacks.


Butter Me Up!

From crusty loaves to flapjack stacks, you’ll love these buttery recipes.

Avocado Flapjack Stack

Stacked to the heavens and drenched in syrup, this flapjack tower is begging for butter.

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Thick & Chunky Speckled Egg Cookies

Countertop, soft butter wins when it comes to these chocolaty and chunky cookies.

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Mielie & Mozzarella Bread

Cheese, bread and butter – yes, please!

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Basic Ciabatta

Crusty yet soft, this basic ciabatta is the perfect canvas for your butter.

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Roasted Baby Potatoes with Miso Brown Butter Drizzle

Miso and butter are a match made in heaven in these fluffy potatoes.

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Miso Butter Onion Charred Potjie

An Ottolenghi-inspired dish filled with buttery, umami goodness from the onions.

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