Where do you fall in the great butter versus olive oil debate? Many butter enthusiasts consider themselves purists who wouldn’t dare compromise flavor just to cut down on saturated fat while olive oil devotees point to the celebrated health benefits (hello, antioxidants!) of the pantry favorite. So which cooking must-have ranks supreme? The good news is there’s plenty of benefits to both butter and olive oil, making it tough to choose (so why should you?). But if you want a full breakdown of what makes butter and olive oil so crucial to your kitchen lineup, we’re ready to chew the fat.
Butter is made by churning milk or cream until the butterfat (milk solids) separates from the buttermilk (milk liquids). Essentially, the separated butterfat is what we refer to as butter.
Sure, butter is delicious and capable of transforming a decent dish into something downright spectacular, but for years, this golden dairy staple acquired a reputation as an indulgent (and therefore unhealthy) food. The truth is that butter delivers some important nutrients along with its rich and creamy texture. It’s a good source of vitamin A and also contains vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, and phosphorus. Butter’s lower smoke point makes it a good option for baking and sautéing.
While it can be made from sheep, goat, yak, or buffalo milk, the butter we traditionally consume is made from cow’s milk and available in the following forms:
Just as the name suggests, salted butter is butter with salt added. More or less an all-purpose butter, the salted variety is great on its own as a spread or used in savory dishes like meat or roasted vegetables.
Unsalted butter has no salt added, giving you complete control over the flavor of your dish. This type of butter is well-suited for baking when you’re unlikely to want anything to interfere with the natural buttery flavor of the recipe.
Also known as ghee, this form of butter has a higher smoke point and is traditionally made by melting cow’s milk butter and removing the milk solids so only the golden liquid fats remain.
Used for centuries for both culinary and wellness purposes, olive oil is obtained by extracting the oil from the fruit of olive trees. This process is traditionally done using a press. Olive oil typically falls into two categories: refined and unrefined. Refined olive oil is treated with heat and chemical solvents to remove any flaws in the liquid while unrefined oil is left pure and untreated.
Delivering vitamins E and K along with essential fatty acids, olive oil is a nutrient powerhouse and consequently linked to many benefits, including supporting healthy blood pressure and heart health. Olive oil has a slightly higher smoke point than butter, making it better suited for sautéing and shallow frying. Adding olive oil to your dishes will add a variety of flavor profiles, depending on which type of olive oil you choose.
But the benefits of olive oil extend beyond the kitchen and into DIY skin and hair treatments. Olive oil can be used to tame frizz and deeply condition hair, soften skin and cuticles, and even soothe a sunburn.
Not all olive oils are created equal. Here’s a handy reference guide:
An unrefined oil, extra virgin olive oil is made by grinding the olives into a paste before pressing without heat (known as cold pressing) and doesn’t include any chemical solvents. It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives. This type of flavorful olive oil is great for drizzling, adding flavor to roasted meat and vegetables, or adding to pasta dishes.
This unrefined olive oil is similar to EVOO but has less intensity in flavor.
Typically a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil (where heat and chemicals are used in the processing), this type of oil is an all-purpose cooking oil.
Although not lower in calories, this refined olive oil has a neutral flavor and higher smoke point, making it a good fit for baking, sautéing, grilling, and frying.
Still baffled by butter? Here are some common questions answered.
Grass-fed butter comes from pasture-raised cows that primarily feast on a natural grass diet. Not only do these cows produce more milk than grain-fed cows, but the milk tends to be higher in nutrients. According to the Journal of Dairy Science, grass-fed butter has five times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than butter from grain-fed cows, a fatty acid known for many health benefits.
While often used interchangeably with butter, margarine was created in the 1800s as a cheap, stable butter substitute. The typically non-dairy spread is traditionally made from vegetable oil, water, salt, and emulsifiers (though some brands do include milk). While similar in overall fat content to butter, margarine doesn’t contain the cholesterol and saturated fat found in butter and has a higher percentage of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
As a zero-carb, high-fat food, butter fits the bill if you’re following a keto diet. In fact, it’s a staple ingredient in keto coffee. We suggest you opt for the grass-fed variety to maximize nutrients.
One tablespoon of unsalted butter contains 30mg of cholesterol and 8g of saturated fat, which is certainly a hefty amount. Since increased saturated fat consumption has been historically linked to increasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol, butter is often criticized as a high-cholesterol food. However, a 2014 study found no definite link between saturated fat and the increased chance for heart disease. Still, if you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, the American Heart Association suggests to keep your saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of your daily calorie consumption.
Here are nutritional facts of butter, based on what you’ll find for a stick of unsalted butter:
Learn more about this pantry staple.
Olive oil is best suited for searing, shallow frying (like eggs or pork chops, for example), sautéing, roasting, and grilling. It’s not a top choice for deep frying primarily because the amount needed would get pretty pricey because olive oil is a lot more expensive than vegetable oil.
Olive oil has far less saturated fat than butter. Instead, it is primarily made up of monounsaturated fats, a type of long-chain fatty acid that’s considered one of the healthiest, according to the American Heart Association.
Yes! Made from pressed olives, olive oil does not contain any animal products and is considered a vegan food.
Both olive oil and coconut oil, bring their own benefits to the table so it’s tough to call a clear winner. Olive oil is a great source of antioxidants while coconut oil is brimming with medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs). And while olive oil is a great option for oven-cooking, salad dressings, light sauteing, and drizzling, coconut oil’s taste and texture make it a good fit for dessert recipes. Both are also prime picks for DIY hair and skin beauty treatments.
Here are nutritional facts of olive oil, based on what you’ll find in a bottle of Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
Best Olive Oils
Drizzle on the flavor with these premium olive oil selections (and shop more favorites here).
Our very own olive oil is known for its fruity and slightly peppery flavor. It’s made from 100 percent certified Koroneiki olives from Greece. In fact, it’s grown, harvested, and produced all at a single estate in Crete.
This 100 percent organic unfiltered olive oil has been crafted for over 100 years using all-natural Koroneiki Greek olives that contain no added preservatives, sweeteners, or artificial ingredients.
Go ahead and get garlicky without worrying about digestive discomfort thanks to this certified low-FODMAP garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil. It’s crafted in Italy with just non-GMO extra virgin olive oil and garlic.
These rich and hearty recipes deliver a dose of buttery flavor.
Here’s a great hack for perfectly juicy drumsticks: simply slather butter with sage, garlic, and chili spices under the skin and enjoy the finger-licking results.
Busy week? Serve up an Indian-inspired meal made easy thanks to an Instant Pot. The keto-friendly recipe serves up tons of flavor thanks to boneless chicken thighs in crushed tomatoes, ginger, cumin, cayenne, and butter.
Make the most of that bottle of EVOO with these essential olive oil recipes.
If you’re looking for dessert that doubles as a conversation starter, this unique recipe has you covered. Italian olive oil cake (infused with fresh rosemary and orange zest) gets drenched in an irresistible topping—rich, dark chocolate ganache.
Enjoy a taste of the Mediterranean at breakfast with this simple but flavor-packed scramble of sweet cherry tomatoes, fruity olive oil, fresh basil, and tender zucchini.
Celebrate the bright and zesty flavor of summer’s favorite fruit by topping sweet heirloom tomatoes with chopped mixed herbs, thinly sliced shallots, large flake salt, and olive oil.
Stock up on these butter-infused favorites.
Made using the time-honored Indian method in which the milk solids separate from the butterfat, this organic ghee is paleo-approved.
Blending together organic coffee, grass-fed butter, and MCT oil, this rich caffeinated beverage is brewed for performance. Not only do you get 10g of protein with every serving, but the unique combination of ingredients works to sustain energy levels without the crash.
Try it in smoothies or butter coffee, this shelf-stable, keto-friendly powder is loaded with vitamins, minerals, MCT and CLA, along with 1.5 billion CFU probiotics to keep you fueled.
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