Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dehydrated butter and 'butter' substitutes

The wonderful flavor of real butter is something I would miss if I couldn't buy it at the store any more, or had no one to trade for, to get butter or the makings for it.  We have been canning butter for the last few years and I had a can of freeze-dried butter put away.  But when Dave and I were working on the book, "Preserving Meat, Dairy, and Eggs" ( Dave experimented with dehydrating butter.  He used real butter mixed with powdered milk, since dehydrating just butter didn't seem to work.  It made a passable spread, but we still wondered if there was something that would work better.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit Dave in Texas and we put our heads together to get ideas, and created a test 'assignment' for each of us.  Mine was to try to make a dehydrated butter spread out of sour cream and butter extract.  We'd already learned that certain dairy products such as sour cream, yogurt, and cream cheese dehydrate very well.  What if the sort-of bland taste of sour cream, mixed with butter flavor, would make a good buttery spread when re-hydrated?
I assembled the things I would need.  I have the sour cream (right), butter extract (the bottle laying next to it's box, center), parchment paper (center), and a drying screen from an old dehydrator.
I spooned about half a cup of sour cream into a bowl and made a well in the middle of it.  You have to look close to see it but there is about a tablespoon of butter extract in the middle of the well.  It's a clear liquid but it has a strong butter smell.
I thought of using yellow food color to make it look more like butter, but I decided not to.  I intended to add a little salt to help simulate real butter but I forgot to add it before dehydrating.

I spread the mixture on parchment paper, then laid that on a drying screen.  I tore the parchment paper in a crooked jagged line but decided to use it anyway, rather than waste it by throwing it away.  Then I set the drying screen on shelf brackets behind our wood stove.  Up here in Montana we're already using it to keep the cabin warm, with nights in the 20s and days around 40.  The dry heat from the woodstove does an excellent job of dehydrating in our off-grid cabin.

The next morning it was dry, and over-dry in some places. 
 I slid the crumbled pieces of dried sour cream into a cake pan, then into a jar.  I took a piece and nibbled on it.  It tasted like cream cheese!
I put a few pieces in a bowl, added a little bit of water, then mashed it with a spoon until I had it mostly mixed with the water, then tasted it.  Yup...tasted just like cream cheese with a buttery twist.  It had that 'twang' to it that sour cream, cream cheese, and yogurt all have, which is not a prominent flavor in butter.  Well, I thought it would still be very good spread on bagels or other breads.  We used some on mashed potatoes that night and it was really good.  But it still was not what I considered a good butter substitute. 
I never did add the salt, but it might have helped bring it closer to 'butter'.  However, I don't consider it to be a success as a butter substitute.
Meanwhile, in Texas....
Dave was experimenting with plain yogurt, which he made himself. 
"Well Sue, the butter flavored yogurt is dried and it tastes like butter flavored yogurt, lol!  Its not at all bad, would be great on a baked potato or maybe even pasta, and as you said (with the sour cream), would be great on a bagel.

I don't think that it could be called a butter substitute but it is definitely worth keeping the idea around for use if the opportunity presents itself, I'm going make another batch of it and I can send it to you if you would like."
So we still don't have a workable dried butter substitute.  The closest we came is Dave's recollection of the experiments he did last winter with powdered milk:
"I was digging through some of my old recipes and came across the experiment I did last winter.  I made a spread that can be used as a substitute for butter that's made from "Nido" whole milk powder.  It came out well enough that I thought it would be useful if our jars of canned butter ever ran out.
The basic recipe I came up with is 1 1/2 cups Nido whole milk powder, 1/2 cup oil, and 1/2 cup water, blended well until all the lumps are smoothed out and the oil is well mixed.

The resulting spread can be flavored with "Butter Extract" to give it a buttery flavor.  About 3/4 teaspoon will work, or you can add a stick of real butter instead and use it to stretch the supply of butter you have.  (Susan's note: If it were me, using the extract, I'd add some salt too).
The butter extract can be kind of pricey, so I tried making it with butter-flavored popcorn oil, and not adding any other flavorings.  That came out pretty good too.
Another thing I tried doing was to use skim milk powder instead of the Nido, but that didn't impress me too much.  It came out rubbery and had a strong 'powdered milk' taste, even with a full teaspoon of butter extract added.

 I used the substitute to make a box of mac-n-cheese (Kraft) and it worked great.  It wasn't all that good spread on toast but it'd work in a pinch.  Out of all the things I used it on, I think the best was the mashed potatoes.  It really surprised me how well that worked out.
And finally, an excerpt from the book Dave and I wrote, mentioned at the beginning of this post:
Dehydrating Butter:
This is done commercially, mainly as freeze-dried butter. It can be gone at home but the finished product is more of a soft-spread than a hard butter. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I asked David if he had ever tried dehydrating butter... “I have seen “Butter Powder” but have no idea how they make it. I have never put any in the dehydrator to see how it comes out but I'm sure there's more to it than just applying heat. Maybe mixing it with cornstarch and drying? I know what I'm going to be doing tonight – trying to dehydrate butter! Will get back to you tomorrow on what happened.”
I was thinking about the butter powder and got to thinking that maybe powdered milk would work better than cornstarch. My line of thought was that cornstarch would tend to thicken anything that was cooked with the powder.
I mixed it all up and added just enough water to dissolve the milk, and it's in the dehydrator now. Because the water is bound in all that fat, it may take all night to dry. I don't know, but I will keep an eye on it.
It tasted just a little like powdered milk but I think the overall taste will be okay. If it doesn't work out the way I want it to, I'll try it with cornstarch tomorrow.”
I tried mixing some of the butter with only milk powder in it but it just clumped and wouldn't dissolve in the butter fat. It only blended in after I poured in a few cups of water. I melted 2 pounds of butter, mixed in 4 cups of milk powder, and 2 cups of water. It's starting to dry out now in the dehydrator and so far it tastes like it will have a decent flavor. If it has enough milk powder in it I think it will do okay.”
(Next Day) “I was pretty sure the butter would take a while because of the high fat content, but so far it looks like it just may turn out to be something workable. I'll know more after it finishes drying. I may have to redo the experiment with a little more milk powder. I think it may still be too oily to store. I'm thinking that to make a usable spread from it, we may be able to mix it with some olive or other good oil and use it that way. I'm sure it would be usable in cooking as it is right now, but I'll have to give it a try to find out for sure.”
(Later, same day) “I took the butter out of the dehydrator a little while ago. It is still pretty oily and I don't know how it will store. I may have to do some more experimenting with it, “BUT!”, I did try mixing some with oil and running it in the blender. The milk just clumped together like it did when I originally mixed it in to the butter. I turned the blender on and started dripping water in as it ran, and almost like an explosion, the whole batch of it turned white and thick like mayonnaise, instantly! It startled me!
I tasted it and I do think it would make a good spread, but it is most definitely not butter or margarine. I tried it on a piece of fresh bread, on some boiled potatoes, and on some plain pasta – it wasn't bad. I would consider it a plus if I didn't already have fresh or canned butter available.”
(Another 'later') “I put the bowl in the fridge for a while and it set up just like a tub of soft-spread margarine. I tried a bit more of it on a piece of bread; now I know it's a winner! It melted in my mouth just like real butter, even though it's flavor wasn't a match. It would be especially good with chives or garlic mixed in, and used as a spread on fresh,  hot bread or crackers.”
(Two days after that) “I used some of the 'experimental' butter tonight. Made “Chicken n dumplins” out of the leftover cured chicken and put some on biscuits. It worked well on both, but on the biscuits it didn't melt. It stayed crunchy but the taste was good.”
(A few days later) “I made a discovery tonight! I was going to make more of the 'powdered butter, and my mixing bowl was too small so I tried to use less water and the butter/powdered milk mixture just lumped up like a ball of bread dough when I mixed it with the beaters. It didn't feel overly oily and it didn't stick to my hands so I just pressed some of it onto the liners of the dehydrator trays and put them on to dehydrate.
I had a crazy idea and mixed some of the remaining 'dough' up with water and ran the mixer in it until it was all dissolved and guess what? It was milk! Whole milk, no butter or oil anywhere, and it tasted better than the whole milk made with the Nido Whole Milk Powder. 
That's not the only thing! I mixed a little less water with another lump and tried to whip it like whip cream and it's whipped. Not good and stiff like fresh cream but it was definitely whipped cream, no butter taste or butter fat floating anywhere."
I don't know if there is anything useful here for all of you, but I thought you might enjoy reading about our trial-and-error experiments.  Dave is always busy trying out one thing or another in his "lab-oh-rah-tory" (Kitchen), and I love hearing about it, and he's inspired to do some experimenting of my own!
My final take on the butter experiments is that I will continue canning butter because it works so well and is easy (there is a post about it on this blog: )
But I will buy commercially-prepared freeze-dried butter if I feel the need to store dry butter. 
Here are some links to sources of freeze-dried butter:
Harveston Farms
Augason Farms

I have a can of the Augason Farms butter powder and I just opened it in the last couple weeks and started using it.  We took some on our trip to Texas, in a ziplock bag, and I added it to all kinds of things.  I added some when I made biscuits, and in the gravy.  We also mixed some up and spread it on bread.  It was 'okay', but I think it works best "in" things.  I baked bread earlier this week and I added some butter powder to give it a buttery flavor, and there is actually a faint buttery flavor to the bread.  I still spread some fresh butter on the rest of the slice and ate it!  Mmmm, good!

Please leave comments or questions below, or email them to

Susan (and Dave)




  1. I've had a theory about making dehydrated butter, but haven't had a chance to test it yet. You know how when you make clarified butter, all those solids sink to the bottom? What if you added just a bit of hot water to the melted butter, so that the solids settled into the water instead of just the bottom of the fatty part. Could those solids then be dehydrated and used as butter flavoring?

    Like I said, just an idea, haven't been able to test it yet. I do know that those solids have a much stronger flavor than whole butter by itself.

    1. That's an interesting thought. Hmmm. I wonder what the solids are made of? They wouldn't contain the 'fat' part of the butter, so they would dehydrate better, but I'm not sure what sort of product would result. I think I'll pass this along to Dave and get his take on it. We might be able to give this a try. If you get to it before we do, we'd love to hear how it works.

      Thank you!

    2. Dave replied with:

      That is interesting, never thought to try it, I'll put it on my "ToDo" list, the next time we can butter I'll save the non fat liquid, see how it dries and what it makes when it does dry.

      I've done a little more research and found that some commercially made "Butter Powder" is made using "Maltodextrin". Its generally used as a sweetener and/or a binder and is made from vegetable starches and when added to an oil based substance - it can powder it.

      Soon, I'm going to order a 50 pound bag of the stuff(costs roughly $1.00 per pound) and start playing around with it and will send Sue the results.

    3. The stuff at the bottom is the milk solids (casein/lactose). Traditionally used as a spread and considered a delicacy by some. Salted butter will result if very salty milk solids. I am not sure it would be much like butter as that part is what you're keeping as ghee/clarified butter. Would probably have more of a regular milk taste. Dehydrated may be like milk powder? Might still be tasty though and with the salt could replicate the butter taste.

  2. I'm looking for powdered heavy cream. I read every single word of your experiments. I LOVE to experiment. I have butter powder from the company that makes butter buds. It's VERY salty, with a butter taste. I've mixed it with water, as they say to, before and it was very salty with a butter taste. So, I just mixed it with virgin coconut oil. the kind that tastes like coconut. first, not enough powder, could taste the vco, kinda weird taste, then too much - too salty, added a bit more vco. tastes like butter. put it in fridge. it hardened, has a grainy texture due to the powder. but it's hard and yellow, plus. it's salty but not SO bad. I don't have any bread, tried it on crackers. It works. tastes like butter and you get the added benefits of vco.