Why does butter get gross in my fridge?
October 15, 2020 9:00 PM   Subscribe

No matter how I store an open stick butter or where I put it in my fridge, it gets a funky smell/taste (maybe kinda pungent oniony?). I've tried Ziploc bags and plastic wrap and Tupperware, but it seems to happen regardless--sometimes the same goes for blocks of cheese. The butter is usually either Kroger brand or Land O' Lakes. Any ideas/fixes?
posted by mermaidcafe to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The solution is to not store open sticks of butter in the refrigerator. Keep it in a covered butter dish kept outside the refrigerator. Unrefrigerated butter will last weeks without any spoilage. And it spreads much easier.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:15 PM on October 15 [30 favorites]

Pungent oniony foods stored in the fridge, too? If so, that'll do it. Fatty foods seem especially prone to this kind of contamination. Truly airtight containers for such foods should help. Also for storing pungent oniony foods. I've had unopened (but not airtight) sticks of butter take on pungent oniony food essence if pungent oniony foods are stored are also there. And not rigorously sealed off.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:36 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]

In the southern US, it does sometimes make sense to store butter in the refrigerator.

How long are you storing the butter?

You might be interested in trying cultured butter or at least a different brand of butter, if you end up experimenting more. Also, cultured butter is nice.
posted by amtho at 9:38 PM on October 15

If you have access to relatively inexpensive activated carbon and some Melitta coffee filters, put three or four tablespoons of carbon in the filters, fold them over and staple them shut to keep the carbon completely contained and throw them in the fridge. That will probably absorb the odor to a level you can't taste in the butter, and may make the vegetables in your crisper last longer by absorbing ethylene which is given off by vegetables and causes them to ripen and then overripen.
posted by jamjam at 9:55 PM on October 15 [14 favorites]

Keeping a small open box of baking soda in the fridge is also a traditional method for dealing with fridge odors.
posted by eviemath at 10:11 PM on October 15 [5 favorites]

How about a butter bell? Our local kitchen store had a basic one for like $10.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:47 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]

Keep it in a covered butter dish kept outside the refrigerator. Unrefrigerated butter will last weeks without any spoilage. And it spreads much easier.

Unrefrigerated salted butter will last weeks without any spoilage.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:12 AM on October 16 [16 favorites]

My roommate had some essential oils he'd use for aromatherapy type stuff that he kept in the fridge to prolong their shelf life, and they soaked through the plastic bottles, through the ziploc baggies the bottles were in, and through the ziploc baggies my cheese was in and then UGH Sandalwood cheese!

It took months for the fridge to stop doing that, because it had also permeated all the soft plastic surfaces in the fridge. During that time we had a bunch of activated charcoal in there, which helped but basically if the situation is bad, it'll take a while for the smells to seep out of all the oil-permeable surfaces (rubber) in the fridge.

Cover all your other food pretty well and this will be less of an issue, because unlike my weird situation, that's probably where your off smells are coming from. But even if it's not, it'll keep your other food from picking up off flavors itself.
posted by aubilenon at 1:40 AM on October 16 [5 favorites]

Unrefrigerated butter just melts where I live.

Seconding keeping the butter in its own closed container in the fridge, plus using a charcoal bag or baking soda to absorb volatile organic compounds. An old glass jam jar with a sealing screw-top metal lid will do better at keeping airborne smells out of butter than any kind of plastic container.
posted by flabdablet at 3:16 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]

You could also try using a butter bell/crock.
posted by EllaEm at 7:15 AM on October 16

We keep ours in a glass container with a glass lid. (In the fridge.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:37 AM on October 16

Firstly, clean your fridge, freezer, and the trap underneath in case it's something spilled or stuck that's smelling bad. Next, do not put onions in the fridge without securing them in a glass or plastic lidded container. Keep an open box of baking soda in it, and you should be good to go!
posted by ananci at 7:40 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Nthing using the charcoal or baking soda in the fridge and cleaning your fridge (we use some baking soda when cleaning as well).

I keep butter in the fridge in either glass or glazed ceramic containers with lids, or sometimes in aluminum foil. Plastic and plastic wrap do not work well. (FYI, we have cheese storage bags for the cheese.)
posted by gudrun at 7:51 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

Butter/dairy is amazing at sucking up fridge smells. So I'd suggest a deep clean of your fridge, my mum used to put some drops of vanilla essence on a cloth for a final wipe for no reason other than it smelt nice & do the old open box of baking soda trick. It works & absorbs the smells before the butter can.
posted by wwax at 8:21 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

Wrap your butter in aluminum foil. Paper, plastic, coardboard, etc are permeable enough to let fridge flavor in.

I normally have one stick of butter in just the paper wrapper in the fridge for use over the next few days and the remaining sticks wrapped in foil. If you're an infrequent butter user buying the fancier butter with mylar or foil wrappers is convenient.

Also, if you wrap butter in foil you can keep it indefinitely in the freezer with no changes to the butter. Takes about 24 hours to thaw in the fridge.
posted by gregr at 8:27 AM on October 16

Mine only does that when it's been there for too long. Maybe you just need to eat more butter?
posted by the_blizz at 8:27 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

Unrefrigerated salted butter will last weeks without any spoilage.

I buy unsalted butter and it lasts weeks without going rancid. In the summer I keep it in a butter bell so it doesn't go too soft, but the rest of the year I don't bother. (However I don't live in the US south)
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:01 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

I left unsalted butter in a crock for seven weeks and then due to confusion over who was supposed to replace it, we used it up with no ill effects. 30C weather during the first half of this time and no air conditioning.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 9:52 AM on October 16

1) Fats absorb odors. For this reason I don’t allow onions in my fridge because they will ruin the butter and cheese. Think about what stinky foods you have in there and take steps to mitigate.
2) Some containers are a lot better than others at excluding odors. I keep my butter in a Lock & Lock container.
3) Despite all of the above, I find that some butters resist picking up off odors better. Kerrygold stays good despite mild lapses in storage protocols. Cheaper butter like Tillamook seems to go off no matter what I do. I think this is actually the main issue.
4) If you must buy cheap butter, it does work to keep it out. My partner buys cheaper (i.e. not Kerrygold) butter and keeps it on the counter in his generally cool house and although it doesn’t fulfill my heart’s butter desires, it doesn’t ever taste bad.
posted by HotToddy at 1:15 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Why are there onions in the fridge? Is it too hot where you are to keep some veg out of the fridge, those alleles like your garlic and onions ('cept scallions or spring onions) are going to add their scent to your butter.
posted by k3ninho at 2:47 PM on October 16

Re: activated charcoal, if you're in Canada: Bulk Barn sells it.
posted by ipsative at 2:34 PM on October 17

I never store leftover onion in the fridge, only chopped in a ziplock bag in the freezer. But if I don't have the time/inclination to chop up the leftover onion, I throw it away. The smell and contamination of other food in the fridge is just not worth it. Onions are way cheaper than butter. Just buy smaller onions so you use it all up at once, or throw the rest away. It's like, cents worth. I know this will offend people sensitive about food wastage, but wasted onion is better than wasted butter/other dairy

(I also can't stand onion waste left in the kitchen bin stinking up the house... goes straight into the outside bin)
posted by Zaire at 10:24 PM on October 18

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