You may be forgiven for holding the belief that butter, being a fat, is capable of surviving the passage of more than a few years. Sadly, the reality of the situation is much more complex than this, with it lasting far longer in certain circumstances than others. One particularly interesting example of butter lasting for practically forever is the peculiar case of “bog butter”, which originates in Ireland. In Ireland, there was a tradition dating back to the 1st Century A.D of burying large quantities in peat bogs for preservation purposes.
These low temperature and low oxygen environments would then preserve the butter for long periods of time, when they could later be dug up. Right up to the current day, these hoards of butter are still being unearthed right up to the current day. Remarkably, some of this is still considered to be edible. That being said, not many of us have access to such a preservation technique and are forced to rely on such daft things like fridges and cabinets. Keeping that in mind, we will try to keep our preservation techniques and shelf life estimates within those confines. And, here’s a bit of a spoiler, these techniques won’t exactly enable you to store butter for millennia.
How Long Does Butter Last?
The long and short of it is, it is complicated. For example, a salted butter will outlast an unsalted one by quite some margin. It also depends on whether you are the type of person who stores your butter on the countertop, in the fridge, or in the freezer. Thankfully, butter in general is much more resilient than many other dairy products and will give you some pretty clear signs when it has gone beyond being edible.
The Best Way to Store Butter
Oxygen is the mortal enemy of butter. When butter has had too much exposure to oxygen it will react with the fat in the butter causing it to spoil.
On the countertop
Unfortunately for us, our chosen way of storing butter also gives it its shortest shelf life, and that is in a covered butter dish on a countertop. This way it is ready to spread at any given time; no more hacking messily at refrigerated butter. If you are also a fan of this form of instant gratification, you will probably have noticed that it really caused the butter to degrade quickly. We estimate that the absolute maximum amount of time that butter will keep in this way (unless you’re living in the Arctic Circle) is just two weeks. Be wary though, in particularly warm climates, this estimate can go down as far as just 3 days. If you are storing your butter this way, it is best to take out only what you reckon you will need for the next few days – keep the rest in the fridge.
In the fridge
In the fridge, this situation changes entirely and your butter will last considerably longer. So, if you have had some butter that you have just noticed dwelling in the back of the fridge unnoticed, all may not be lost! Generally refrigerated butter will last pretty much exactly as long as the expiration date would lead you to believe. So, in terms of storing butter in the fridge, there is little to be wary of. One thing that can happen is that your butter can become strangely dry and also absorb some hints of flavour and odour from other things in your fridge. To avoid this, simply wrap it up firmly in cling film or store it in a box in your fridge.
In the freezer
Butter’s shelf life is extended dramatically after freezing, but this comes at a cost. The flavour will begin to change after a certain amount of time. Because of this, we would really only recommend going this route if you have bought a considerable amount of the stuff in a bulk buy bargain deal. Otherwise, do you really need to extend its shelf life beyond the expiration date? Nevertheless, if you are going ahead with this it is best to freeze it unopened and in its original packaging.
Signs That Your Butter has Gone Bad
Butter has a definite and very clear way of letting you know that it has gone off, if your senses are sharp. If you are unlucky and you have simply dived in, you will notice that it may taste just a little funky. We’ve noticed that this can happen even if it was totally fine the day before, so it can happen pretty quickly if you are the type to keep it on the countertop. Asides form this, we would advise giving it a little smell before spreading it, as it will have a musty kind of cheesy odour which should give it away. In extreme cases, it can spoil to the point where it is visibly moldy. In all of these cases, if there is any doubt whatsoever, it is best to simply chuck it away and restock.
Should Butter be Refrigerated?
For us, refrigerating butter is the best method by which to preserve your butter for an extended period of time. Rather conveniently, the date that it will store well to will also closely match the expiry date printed on the packaging. Ideally, one should always have some in the fridge in reserve and another bit on the countertop for that instantly gratifying spreadability. Just make sure that the butter is either sealed in a container or wrapped in its original packaging, otherwise it can absorb flavours form other objects in the fridge. An onion tinged butter is fine when you are going to fry an egg, but not quite so appealing when it comes to making a cheesecake.
Butter Storage, Sell-by Dates, and Other Related Questions
So, that’s about it for our tips on how best to store butter and how long it will last. We even chucked in a bit of history to the mix too! We hope you enjoyed it and found the answer to the question that you were looking for. Feel free to consult our frequently asked questions regarding butter below.
How long does butter last after packaging?
The great thing about butter sell by dates compared to most other products is that they seem to actively reflect reality. As such, if you store your butter correctly, there should be no surprises waiting for you around the corner.
How much longer will salted butter last?
Salted butter will generally last from between 6 to 9 months in the refrigerator and can last a little bit longer than its unsalted equivalent. Whereas the sell by date on regular butter is a solid indicator as to when it will expire, unsalted butter can survive for about a month beyond its sell by date.