What is the Difference Between French and American Butter?

Are you inspired by all of the decadent baked goods on The Next Baking Master: Paris? Want to try your hand at recreating some of these tasty treats? Before you break out the rolling pin, you’ll want to choose the right butter.


Not all butters are created equally, and the butter you select can make or break a recipe. One of the key questions you may ask yourself is: do I use American or French butter?

Chefs Ludo Lefebvre and Stephanie Boswell — and hosts of The Next Baking Master: Paris — break down the key differences between American and French butter, how you would use them, and of course, which one they think is better.

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What are the main differences between French and American butter?

French butter is known for its higher fat content, rich flavour, creamy texture and yellow hue. The fat content is typically from 82 to 85 percent (sometimes up to 90 percent) and the water content is a maximum of 16 percent, giving it a softer texture and a lower melting point. It’s the fat content that makes French butter more expensive. French butter is celebrated for its tangier flavour, which is affected by the cows’ feed, a characteristic that is considered a downgrade in American butter. It’s easier to work with for bakers and the fat content provides stability, which is a trait that you want when making something like a buttercream frosting.

American butter, on the other hand, has a less creamy texture, lower fat content, higher water content and more of a white hue. It’s regulated by the USDA, which states that it “is made from sweet cream of low natural acid to which a culture (starter) may or may not have been added,” and that it “may possess a slight feed and a definite cooked flavor.” American butter is also not churned as long as its French counterparts.

Both Lefebvre and Boswell agree that French butter is better. But are there cases when you would choose French butter versus American butter? If you’re making pastry, pie crust, croissants or anything where flakiness is key, you’ll want to use French butter. If you’re greasing a pan or baking something like banana bread or brownies, American butter is a good choice.

Related: How to Master the Art of Brown Butter (It’s Easier Than You Think)