Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Easy Way to Tell if Your Butter is Nutrient-Dense

Left - Conventional Butter, Right - Grassfed Organic Butter
Butter is one of our most prized, health-promoting foods. Butter is a great source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 (referred to as Activator X by Weston Price).  In the article The Skinny on Fats, Mary Enig and Sally Fallon describe that butter is a great source of "true vitamin A or retinol, vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin E as well as all their naturally occurring cofactors needed to obtain maximum effect...Vitamins A and D are essential for growth, for healthy bones, for proper development of the brain and nervous systems and for normal sexual development."

Nutrient-Dense Butter

To make sure that we are getting the most nutrition from our butter, I make sure to buy nutrient-dense butter.  The best butter is from cows that have been grazing on their natural diet of grass, rather than grains.  The easy way to tell if butter is nutrient-dense is to look at the color. 
While conventional butter looks almost white, nutrient-dense butter has a beautiful yellow color. This color indicates the presence of nutrients, especially carotene and vitamin A.  In Weston Price's studies, he found that Activator X (now known as Vitamin K2) "was only present when the animals were eating rapidly growing green grass. In most regions, this occurred in the spring and early fall."  In addition to having more nutrients, grassfed butter also has superior flavor.

Why We Eat Pasteurized Butter

I am sure that raw butter is nutritionally wonderful, but it is hard to find locally and extremely expensive ($14/pound). We consume lots of butter, and buying raw butter just does not fit into our budget. Additionally, I use a significant portion of our butter for cooking and baking, so the raw butter benefits would be lost in those uses anyway.

However, I feel confident that my family is still getting great nutrition from our pasteurized grassfed butter. The nutrients in butter are largely heat-stable. For instance, according to Chris Masterjohn, "everything I have read indicates that vitamin K is very heat-stable (though it can apparently incur losses from exposure to light)".  So we are still getting lots of nutrition from our butter, even though it is pasteurized.

Seasonal Differences

There are seasonal effects in the nutrient content of butter.  Butter has a deeper yellow color (and therefore more nutrients) in the warm months when the grass is growing rapidly. During the cold months, butter tends to have a lighter color, indicating that there are fewer nutrients present.

The three brands of grassfed butter I typically buy are Kalona Supernatural, Organic Valley, and KerryGold. During the winter, I find that KerryGold butter has the most dark yellow color, followed by Organic Valley and finally Kalona Supernatural.  From late-spring through Fall, all three of those brands have a nice yellow color, but the Kalona Supernatural butter has the deepest yellow color. 

Is your butter nutrient-dense? Do you typically use raw butter or pasteurized butter?


Unknown said...

We live in SW Florida and are very fortunate to live near a good sized Amish community in Sarasota. They provide many healthy food products to surrounding area stores, one being Roll Butter, butter coming from grass-fed cows. I haven't paid attention to whether its raw or not but it is deep yellow most of the time, has intense butter flavor which took a little getting used to. It is sold in our local natural/health grocery store and it isn't that expensive.
Thanks for telling me the benefits that come from eating nutrient dense butter.

Tara said...

Interesting about the seasonal differences. I tried the Kalona brand one time and didn't find it to be as richly colored or flavored as the Kerrygold. But that was months ago. Just the other day I was looking at my Kerrygold and wondering why it wasn't a deeper yellow color. Maybe it's due to the seasonal differences you mentioned. But is it accurate to assume that the butter we are buying in each season actually came from cream produced during those seasons with rapidly-growing green grass? That is, can we be sure the produce we buy this season was actually produced this season? I guess I assumed that since butter keeps a while, the product we buy at the store might have been produced a good while ago. I do get some raw butter from my local farmer, but as you said, it is expensive, so I don't use it in abundance like I do with the Kerrygold. I've wondered about the color of it, as well. Maybe I should buy a stick of "regular" butter and compare these; perhaps they would seem more yellow to me when compared to the nearly-white stuff.

Sarah Smith said...

I think it is definitely possible that the butter bought right now is from a few months ago. I noticed the Kalona butter was relatively pale until early June, so I would guess that is how long it took for the springtime butter to make it to the local shelves. Organic Valley also sells a special "pasture butter" which is only made from cows feeding on rapidly growing grass; that butter has a nice yellow color, but I find that the regular Kalona butter is just as yellow during the summer months.

Unknown said...

I lost my source for raw butter recently (they stopped seling it), so I am now buying Kerrygold butter and I love the flavor and deep yellow color. My next option would be the Organic Valley pasture butter, but since Kerrygold is sold at a good price at Costco, I am going for that. Gotta cut the budget wherever I can....

Anonymous said...

My goats' butter is white even though they graze on pasture year round. I wonder if they just don't secrete the beta-carotene like cows do?

Sarah Smith said...

I did a quick search and found that, yes, goat cream does not contain the carotene because the goats absorb all of it that they ingest.

Krista said...

Thanks for the post. We just moved from the West side of Washington, where I could buy Kerrygold butter at Costco, to the East side where it is only sold in the specialty organic stores for over $6/lb, which is out of my budget. Thanks for the thoughts on other brands with pastured butter. I look for them the next time I am at the store.

Sherapps said...

I am Australian. Our regular commercial, pasteurized butter is yellow and our cheese is white. When I came over here (20 something years ago) I kept thinking there was something wrong with the butter (looked unhealthy) because it was so white and I was very put off with the cheese being a vivid yellow/orange(THAT color looked so fake)! I never did go for the yellow cheese, always paying extra for English cheddar as the yellow is very off putting (and it didn't crumble like "proper"cheese should!!) and English cheese, like Aussie, is white.
Which makes me wonder if the differences in color are just what people expect the color of their foods to be!
I'm suspecting the butter might be dyed. How else would it all be a consistent colour?
Do you actually notice that the color of the butter changes with the seasons or is it the same consistent color all year? Would be interesting to buy in the Spring and freeze the butter to compare with a Fall butter.
Could Kerrygold be so yellow because that's the way we like to see our butter? The company is originally Irish, I believe.
I lived there many years ago and don't remember being surprised at the butter colour (like I was when I came here) , so I'm suspecting their butter was the same colour as ours in Australia. It does take some getting used to, to not be put off by the colour of the butter.
Just thinking out loud.....

Sherapps said...

The same thinking with eggs. We think insipid, pale yellow is bad and bright yellow is good (read "healthy"). Our chickens are free range, get lots of pasture grass ( natural, not fertilized or sprayed) and bugs etc. but their yolk colour is all over the map. I saw online some organic chicken owners feed their chickens sunflower seed or add turmeric to their feed to make the yolks more yellow. Because that's what their buyers like... A nice yellow/orange yolk. Even though their chickens are on organic feed and free range etc. the customers wanted a deeper colored yolk because they thought that meant more nutrients....

I suspect the truth is somewhere inbetween.....what they eat affects the colour but it could just be Anatto seed or turmeric rather than a nutrient dense diet (though people are all onto turmeric these days for the health benefit.. Lol!)

Sarah Smith said...

Hello Sherapps,
Yes, the butter color does vary in the Organic, grassfed butters I buy. It tends to be more yellow in Spring and Fall, a little less yellow in summer, and much less yellow in winter.

In our own chicken's eggs, the yolks are pretty pale in the winter. But once we start having lots of weeds and can let them graze, the yolks turn a very rich orange color and stay that way for the whole season. Giving them more fresh greens in the winter does help some with getting the yolks less pale. (And you are right, some people can give specific feed items to enhance the color of the yolks.)