Butter is a staple of many foods and baked goods, but sometimes butter flavor can be a better ingredient than real butter.

Besides its fat content and milk base, butter can be difficult to mix, seal and ship in large quantities. Butter flavor excels in these characteristics compared to real butter or butter extracts. Butter flavor is useful because it removes all the unnecessary parts of butter and focuses solely on the flavor. But what is butter flavor?

What is butter flavor?

Buttered Popcorn in a white bowl

Butter flavor can be found in ice creams, microwave popcorn, and other foods found in grocery stores.

Butter flavor is often created by isolating compounds like diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, or acetoin. These compounds can be sourced from butter, soybeans, or other oils. Mixing any of these compounds with water and other ingredients creates a rich buttery flavor that many consumers have come to know and love.

In the 2000s, the government acknowledged that there can be dangers of improper handling of large quantities of butter flavor by workers. Those issues have since been corrected. Additionally, the federal government has said consumers can enjoy the rich butter flavor that comes from these compounds without much worry.

There will always be real butter purists, of course. But many grocery store foods use butter flavorings instead of butter, and many people never even think to ask about butter.

Is butter flavor artificial or natural?

Butter spread in Sliced Bread

Due to the chemical processes involved in creating butter flavor, it’s fair to ask whether butter flavor is an artificial or natural ingredient.

Diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin undoubtedly sound like artificial flavors. But despite their names, these ingredients are sourced from either milk or soybeans which are considered wholly natural ingredients.

By isolating these compounds, the process preserves the natural flavors and allows the rich, buttery flavor to be applied to other ingredients.

Is butter flavor healthy?

Melted butter in small transparent bowl

Butter flavor’s health benefits are a part of what separates it from real butter.

For consumers looking to eat healthily, butter flavoring is a wonderful option. Butter flavor doesn’t have a calorie to its name because it isolates compounds within milk or soybeans. This process separates the flavor from the fat content and many other unnecessary parts found in butter.

Butter flavor can be made kosher and without GMOs, which are great pluses for most consumers who keep their eyes on the label. Here are a few of our different flavors:

  • Butter Real C3 — Made with actual butter for label purists, this butter flavor is certified Kosher Dairy and can be used in various food applications for added flavor.
  • Buttermilk Flavor Parve — A Kosher Parve product without any allergens, this natural buttermilk flavor is a great addition to many products where straight butter may not suffice.
  • Butter Flavor – Oil Based — This non-diacetyl butter flavor is made from soybean oil. It is also Kosher Parve and does not contain any dairy allergens.

When scouring foods that contain butter flavor, many low-calorie cheeses, dressings, sauces, dips, and baked goods find different types of butter flavor great alternatives. With the right recipe, consumers can avoid adding needless calories to their diets while still enjoying that rich butter taste.

Does butter flavor conflict with major dietary restrictions?

Mashed potato in pan with butter

Butter flavor is a great way to create buttery food that is accessible to people with dietary restrictions.

If the isolated diacetyl or acetoin is sourced from a non-dairy food like soybeans, the butter flavor can be considered dairy free. Additionally, this also means that the food can be classified as vegan if it isn’t sourced from milk.

This is another reason why butter flavor has exploded on the scene in recent years in smart branded, low-calorie snacks.

Are there major health concerns with butter flavor?

Whisking melted butter in cooking pan

It was discovered that the usage of butter flavor in high concentrations triggered health issues in workers at manufacturing plants in the 2000s.

Workers who handled large batches of butter flavor were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans — a lung disease. After learning of this disease nicknamed “popcorn lung,” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services intervened. In a short study, the government found that inhaling diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, or acetoin caused significant injury to the respiratory tracts of rats and mice.

The government eventually released new guidelines suggesting that manufacturers needed to limit and better control the handling of these ingredients. They additionally indicated that consumers shouldn’t worry about ingesting butter flavoring, assuming they eat it in moderation.

That being said, the Federal Drug Administration currently lists the commonly used diacetyl among its Generally Recognized as Safe substances. The studies on acetyl propionyl and acetoin are completed, but their reports are still being prepared.

How are butter, butter flavor, and butter extract different?

Sliced Butter in White Plate

When is the best instance to use butter, butter flavor, or butter extract?

  • Butter — Despite their similar taste, many people believe that they can taste the difference between butter flavor, butter extract, and real butter. Home cooks looking to stick to the basics would likely be able to find regular butter easily and at a cheaper price than butter extract or butter flavor. They also won’t have to deal with any risks of handling butter flavor.
  • Butter extract — Butter extract is made by extracting proteins from butter, and can be a great replacement in cakes, pastries, and bread. Compared to butter flavoring, butter extract cannot be made vegan, nor can it be dairy free. It is, however, safe to use in small doses.
  • Butter flavor — Butter flavor is best used by large food producers, due to its highly concentrated properties and food handling risks. Butter flavor is safe to eat and can help create a low-calorie, vegan, kosher, and dairy-free food.