Aaah, butter. Sweet, sweet butter. You make everything taste so good. Today we’ll show you how to make some amazing Garlic Thyme Compound Butter, we’ll delve into the Butter vs. Margarine Debate, we’ll cut through the fat (give you the skinny on trans fats and saturated fats), and we’ll unearth some hidden talents of butter.
If you’d like to just skip down to the Garlic Thyme Compound Butter recipe then go for it, otherwise let’s start our buttery journey…
Why does butter taste so good?
Those chocolate chip cookies you love so much? Butter! Those flaky croissants from the neighborhood bakery? Butter. The best way to transform that warm fresh from the oven loaf of bread into something special? Butter. The plethora of examples are undeniable, butter is amazing! There’s a reason why it sits atop your stack of Sunday morning pancakes. There’s a reason why it’s a key ingredient in so many baked goods. Let’s face it, butter makes a lot of stuff taste better. But, why? What is the secret behind butter’s goodness?
What is butter?
To unravel the mystery of butter we first need to understand exactly “What is butter?”. Butter is primarily made up of milk fat (commercial butter is 80-82% milk fat). To make 1 kilogram of butter you need 20 liters of whole milk. 1 kilogram of butter equals 8.82 sticks of butter. Yes, I found a butter to kilogram converter on the interwebs. You really can google anything. The other roughly 20 percent of butter is usually mostly water with some milk curd.
The takeaway being butter is mostly made up of fat and fatty food often taste better because fats become a great vehicle for carrying other flavors. An example given in this Why does butter taste so good? article is that when you saute an onion in butter then the flavor from the onions will be carried by the butter into the final dish. How nice of the butter to be so helpful.
Are we genetically inclined to like butter?
There also may be a genetic evolutionary component to why we love butter and other high fat foods so much. It makes sense that we are genetically engineered to seek out high-energy foods: more energy = more productivity (success). This has to do with the caloric breakdown of different types of food — remember a calorie is a unit of energy and our bodies need calories to provide energy so they can function properly. So note the following:
- Every gram of protein yields 4 calories
- Every gram of carbs yields 4 calories
- Every gram of fat yields 9 calories
- Bonus: every gram of alcohol equals 7 calories
So when you are consuming fats your body is getting more bang for the bite. From a strictly evolutionary point of view you can see the advantage of a diet that is high in fats: you are being a more efficient eater than your competitors. The problem for butter (and alcohol) is that in today’s world — which for many involves eating for pleasure and over indulging — we often find ourselves watching our expanding waistlines. For this and some other reasons butter has sometimes gotten a bad wrap.
The Butter vs. Margarine Showdown
Ah, the Butter vs. Margarine Showdown. If you’re of a certain age there’s a good chance that at some point in time during your life your household replaced butter with margarine. Margarine is an imitation butter spread that became increasingly popular when the high levels of saturated fats in butter became commonly associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease. The idea was that margarine was made with less saturated fat yet packed some of the same flavor punch. A slam dunk for margarine right? Not so fast. To get the desired consistency the margarine making process uses hydrogenation which results in something called “trans fats” which turn out to not be your friend. The below video from ASAP science gives you a great rundown of what’s going on in this process and differences in the chemical makeup between butter and margarine.
Trans Fat vs. Saturated Fat
Confused yet? Well, let’s expand your mind a little further with a post from Shawn Stevenson who points out that people should not be afraid of saturated fat and that saturated fats actually provide a lot of benefits including brain health, cardiovascular health, bone health, immune health, and nervous system health.
Trans fat on the other hand appears to be pure evil. In the above linked blog post from Shawn he cites a study of 80,000 women in which a 2% increase in trans fat consumption increased a woman’s risk of heart disease by a disturbing 93%. Yikes! So consume trans fat at your own risk. Apparently New York City restaurants even banned trans fat from restaurants and bakeries almost 10 years ago and Shawn says “if you’re consuming margarine and other trans fats, you’ve got one foot in the grave”. More of the disturbing truth on Trans Fats.
Shawn is a pretty interesting guy who has gained a lot of credibility in the health and nutrition field by transforming his own life and the lives of many others through diet and exercise. You can learn more about Shawn on his website and he also has a wildly popular Health, Fitness and Nutrition Podcast that you might want to check out.
Shawn is not alone in touting the benefits of saturated fats in your diet. The Food Renegade even goes so far as to refer to butter as a health food. I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of people recommending copious amounts of butter in your diet, but I feel okay about enjoying the magic of butter in appropriate moderation.
The takeaways on eating butter and your health in general
- How you fuel your body matters GREATLY.
- Saturated Fats are not bad as some would have you believe. Be aware of their high caloric content, but understand they actually have some health benefits. I think the key here is moderation (In other words don’t eat a pound of butter in one sitting). Enjoy a balanced diet and make sure you are getting regular exercise.
- Trans Fat is pure evil and should highlight for you the potential dangers that may exist in processed or chemically altered foods. Educate yourself on what you’re eating.
Now that we’ve got the health and nutrition stuff covered, let’s continue along the buttered path.
So what is compound butter?
Compound butter is just a mixture of softened butter with any other ingredient. Since we love garlic and since we have lots of thyme in our herb garden we decided to make Garlic Thyme Compound Butter, but there really are endless opportunities. Over at Kitchen Daily they share some other ideas and have a nice video on making compound butter.
Butter in Baking
Even if you’re not a professional baker, the chances are high that you have done some form of home baking whether it was homemade chocolate cookies or making a cake for your child’s birthday (or for yourself). And if you’re baking, the chances are it involved butter. And the chances are it didn’t turn out perfectly every time. That’s okay. We all have our kitchen fail stories. But, if you want to want to increase your chances for that perfect puffed pastry, the perfect cinnamon scones (or whatever it may be) then you might want to check out this article on baking with butter which talks about how to deal with the sometimes finicky nature of butter and talks about when you might want to use salted vs. Unsalted butter.
Butter Substitutes in Baking
What?! You are looking for a butter substitute? While butter is amazing, there are vegan eaters and people that are just watching their calorie intake and so you might sometimes find yourself looking for a butter substitute. If you do, there are options. This Popsugar article gives some surprising butter substitutes.
Non Cooking Uses for Butter
Just when you thought our buttery journey could go no further, here are more things you probably didn’t even know you could do with butter. I, of course, knew you could shave with butter because of episode 157 of Seinfeld — The Butter Shave — in which Kramer falls in love with shaving with butter, but then falls asleep in the sun and begins to cook himself leading to the following disturbing hallucination for Newman. 🙂
And apparently butter sculpting is a thing.
Alright, alright, on to the Garlic Thyme Compound Butter Recipe:
We made our compound butter from butter from a great local farm, Nice Farms Creamery. Their cows are heavily grass fed which is why the butter is more yellow in color.
Garlic Thyme Compound Butter
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 c . butter , room temperature
- 1 Tbsp . minced fresh thyme
- Pinch of Sea salt
Cut off the top of the head of garlic. Wrap in aluminum foil and pour olive oil over top. Roast garlic in oven.
Process butter in food processor until smooth. Add garlic, thyme, and salt. Process until blended. Add salt to taste.
Roll butter into log. Seal in foil like a tootsie rool. Refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for six months. Use on bread, fish, chicken, baked potato, etc.
Adapted from Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking
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