By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

Who doesn’t like butter? An essential ingredient in most kitchens, especially during the holiday season, it adds a level of indulgence and richness to any dish. Sure, you could opt for a healthier choice like olive or coconut oil, but there is truly no substitute for the luxurious flavor of butter.

Butter is made up of butterfat, milk solids and water. These three ingredients, as well as the animal, its diet and the handling of the milk will affect the final butter product. There are several varieties of butter available for purchase or to make from scratch in your own kitchen.

The classic butter that is the most commonly available is known as sweet cream butter. This product contains approximately 80 percent butterfat, the lowest of the varieties on this list. I always buy unsalted butter so that I have complete control over the salt content of what I’m preparing. This product should be used in baking, but never to sauté or roast at high heat. The water content and milk solids in this product, as well as in cultured butter, have a low smoke point of 350 degrees.

Cultured butter is derived from cream that has been fermented or soured. It contains a higher amount of butterfat than sweet cream butter, between 82 and 86 percent. This is achieved through a longer churning time, which removes more water content. This product’s rich buttery flavor and low water content is ideal for baking, or simply for slathering on toast.

Clarified butter is pure butterfat. It is made by removing the milk solids and most of the water content, resulting in a product with a much higher smoke point (450 degrees) because of the lack of burnable proteins. This product is a great option for when you want the flavor of butter and also want to cook at high heat. This product is presented alongside lobster or crab, for dunking purposes, and is a vital ingredient in hollandaise sauce. See the recipe below to make your own at home.

Ghee is clarified butter that has been taken one step further. It is cooked longer, which allows the milk solids that have settled to caramelize slightly, and for absolutely all of the water to evaporate. This results in a nuttier flavor. Ghee is often associated with Indian cuisine, where it is commonly seasoned with turmeric.

Brown butter has been cooked so that the milk solids are caramelized, but not separated from the butterfat. The end result is a nutty, toasted flavor that is deep in color and flavor without being burned. I love drizzling browned butter over roasted vegetables to intensify the roasted flavor, or as a simple sauce for stuffed pasta such as ravioli.

How to make clarified butter at home

Place 1 pound of butter (four sticks) in a heavy saucepan and heat on the low. As the butter melts and heats, it will spit and spatter—this is the water evaporating and is normal. Slowly, the milk solids will sink to the bottom of the pan and the clear, golden butterfat will rise to the top. Strain through cheesecloth and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.