Cream Cheese vs. Butter: Healthier?

Last Updated on April 18, 2023 by Aaron

When it comes to the world of dairy, cream cheese and butter are like superheroes. They both bring something special to the table, but they’re not quite the same.

For a quick answer: if you’re looking for a lower-fat option with a mild, slightly tangy flavor, cream cheese might be your go-to. But if you want a richer, creamier taste and don’t mind the higher fat content, butter could be your winner.

In this article, we’ll compare these dairy titans, discuss their uses, health benefits, and even some cool history. So, let’s dive right in and explore what makes these two titans of toast toppings so undeniably scrumptious, shall we?

What’s in Them?

Cream cheese starts with milk and cream, which are combined and heated. Then, a special bacteria culture is added to help thicken the mixture. The result is smooth, spreadable cheese with a mild taste.

What I love most about cream cheese is its uncanny ability to bring out the best in other ingredients. Whether it’s the star of the show in a creamy cheesecake or adding a tangy twist to a classic bagel and lox, there’s no denying that cream cheese is a true culinary powerhouse.

Butter is made by churning milk or cream until the fat separates from the liquid (buttermilk). The fat is then collected, washed, and kneaded to remove any remaining liquid, creating the solid butter we all know and love.

Butter has this magical ability to elevate almost any dish it’s added to, whether it’s a dollop atop a stack of pancakes or a knob of it melted over a sizzling steak. And let’s not forget how it can turn a humble ear of corn into a flavor explosion!

Health Considerations: Let’s Talk Fat

When it comes to health, both butter and cream cheese contains a good amount of saturated fats, which, in moderation, can be part of a balanced diet. Butter is higher in fat, with about 12 grams of fat per tablespoon, compared to cream cheese, which has about 5 grams per tablespoon. Thus, cream cheese usually has twice as fewer calories per serving compared to butter.

If you’re watching your fat and calorie intake, you might want to opt for cream cheese as your go-to spread. But don’t write off butter just yet; research finding (1) suggested that a moderation consumption of butter actually has little association with heart-related diseases and diabetes.

On top of that, butter contains essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Still, cream cheese is considered an overall better source of nutrition with significantly higher protein and calcium content.

For example, let’s take a look at some of the actual and popular brands in the USA. According to the FoodData Central USDA, below is the nutritional comparison table for a 100-grams serving of both Philadelphia cream cheese source and Land O’Lakes butter source:

Philadelphia Original Cream CheeseLand O’Lakes Butter, salted
Energy214 Kcal714 Kcal
Fat18 grams79 grams
Saturated Fat11 grams50 grams
Cholesterol71 mg214 mg
Carbohydrate7 grams0
Protein7 grams0
Sodium464 mg643 mg
Calcium143 mg
Vitamin A1070 IU2860 IU

Philly cream cheese contains 3x lower calories and fat content than the Land O’ Lakes butter. Additionally, it’s also lower in cholesterol, higher protein, and an overall better nutrition profile.

The Texture Tango

When it comes to texture, butter and cream cheese definitely have their own unique vibes going on. Butter is firmer when refrigerated, making it ideal for baking and cooking, while its luscious, melt-in-your-mouth quality when softened is perfect for spreading on toast or drizzling over popcorn.

On the other hand, cream cheese has a consistently smooth and creamy texture, which makes it a dream to spread on just about anything. Plus, its thicker consistency means it holds up well when mixed with other ingredients, making it perfect for dips, frostings, and fillings.

Culinary Applications: Sweet and Savory Delights

The flavors of cream cheese and butter are quite distinct — cream cheese has a mild, slightly tangy taste, while butter has a rich, creamy flavor. While both can be used in a wide range of recipes, they each have their own sweet spots in the culinary world.

Butter shines in baked goods like cookies, cakes, and pie crusts, where its rich flavor and high-fat content contribute to a tender, flaky texture. It’s also indispensable in creating silky, luxurious sauces like hollandaise and béarnaise. And let’s not forget the simple pleasure of enjoying melted butter with seafood or a warm, crusty bread roll.

Cream cheese, on the other hand, is a champion when it comes to creamy, tangy desserts like cheesecakes, frostings, and parfaits. Its versatility also extends to savory dishes like stuffed chicken breasts, pasta sauces, and as a spread on sandwiches and bagels. The possibilities with cream cheese are virtually endless, making it a must-have in any kitchen.

Allergies and Dietary Restrictions: A Consideration

For those with allergies or dietary restrictions, the choice between cream cheese and butter may be more straightforward. Cream cheese contains some (low level of) lactose, which can be problematic for those with lactose intolerance.

However, some brands may have the lactase enzyme added to be completely lactose-free, such as the Green Valley Creamery cream cheese, which is mentioned in the best cream cheese brands post here.

Butter, on the other hand, has very low lactose levels (trace amount) and is often tolerated by those with lactose intolerance.

Additionally, cream cheese is not suitable for vegans, as it’s made from animal-derived ingredients. Butter is also not vegan-friendly. Fortunately, there are vegan alternatives to both cream cheese and butter available on the market for those following a plant-based diet.

Fun Origins Fact: Where Did They Come From?

Cream cheese has its roots in the United States, where it was first made in the late 1800s. A dairy farmer from New York named William Lawrence is credited with accidentally inventing cream cheese while trying to recreate a French cheese called Neufchâtel. He ended up with a rich, creamy cheese that quickly became popular in America.

Butter, on the other hand, has a much longer history. People have been making butter for thousands of years. It’s believed to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia or India, where it was made by churning milk or cream until the fat separated from the liquid. Butter has been a staple in many cultures throughout history and is still loved today.

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