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The Science of Butter

The Science of Butter

January 23, 2020

This month, we’re celebrating Dr. Suess’ birthday and St Patrick’s Day! So let’s mix the two and make butter like in the Butter Battle Book and add to your irish soda bread!

You Will Need:

  • Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Mason Jar with Lid
  • Lots of energy

One ingredient is all you need to get the shaking party started. Make sure you set aside 15-20 minutes for your butter making activity.


STEP 1:  Fill your mason jar about 1/2 way with heavy whipping cream and put the cover on tightly!

STEP 2:  Shake it up! You will be shaking for at least 15 minutes! Feel free to stop and check at the 5-minute mark. You won’t see much of anything just yet, but it’s a great way for the kids to see what’s going on and give the arms a bit of a rest.

STEP 3:  Keep going and check in another 5 minutes or at the 10-minute mark. This check-in will be a little more exciting this time because you now have whipped cream. Make sure to take a taste at this point if you want. Remind the kids that there is no sugar in this whipped cream so it won’t taste like what they think it might taste like! Put the cover back on and keep shaking!

You’ve made it to the butter stage! You’ve learned how to make butter in a jar with a fun-filled 15 minutes of shaking your jar of heavy cream! You will see the separation of the solid and the liquid and you will be ready to spread your homemade butter in just a few minutes. Read more about this cool science below.

Open up the jar of butter and see what’s happening. What can you see?   You should notice a giant clump surrounded by a milky substance which is actually buttermilk. No, the buttermilk won’t taste like actual milk. It’s a bit more acidic. Buttermilk is often used in pancakes or waffles to create the unique texture they have.

Strain the solid (butter) from the liquid (buttermilk) and put it in a new container.

Spread your new butter on a cracker or piece of bread to enjoy.

What Happened?

Heavy cream has a good deal of fat molecules in a water-based solution. That’s why it can make such delicious items. By shaking the cream several things happen. Of course, you are forcing air into the cream, but also the fat molecules begin to separate from the liquid and start to bind together.

The more the cream is shaken the more these fat molecules clump together forming a solid which is the butter.

Now if you take a look part way through the shaking process, you will notice that you have whipped cream. This isn’t the real butter stage yet even if your arms think it is! All the whipped cream is a clump of these molecules but still with air inside making it light and fluffy. This is the desert stage for a pie or fresh berries!

If you continue to shake the jar of whipped cream the air pockets will go away. This extra shaking is what causes the final butter product to be a solid clump of fat molecules surrounded by a liquid. This liquid is called buttermilk.

Drain out the buttermilk (reserve it for pancakes or waffles if you like), spread the butter on a piece of bread, and taste all of your hard work. Science can be fun to eat!