November 25, 2022

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Are butter boards genius or gross? Why some say the trend has gotten out of control.

Butter boards are everywhere on social media, but is this food trend healthy? Experts weigh in. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Butter boards are everywhere on social media, but is this food trend healthy? Experts weigh in. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Butter boards are the latest TikTok trend, but they’re as controversial as talking about politics at a dinner party. On one side are legions of influencers dedicated to making beautiful butter boards decorated with edible flowers and herbs. On the other are butter board critics who think the trend is illogical at best and unhealthy at worst.

What is a butter board?

A butter board is softened butter, spread end-to-end on a board, usually wooden. Influencers each have their own take on the trend: Some top their butter with honey, cinnamon and walnuts while others add maple bacon walnut jam and roasted garlic. Butter board grazers dip crostini, crackers or pretzel rolls into the butter and call it a delicious masterpiece.

The precursor: Cheese and charcuterie boards

Serving food on boards is nothing new. Cheese and charcuterie boards have been popular for years and are hardly controversial. Not long ago, charcuterie boards — boards featuring different kinds of meats and cheeses with accompaniments like olives or fruit — took TikTok by storm, but their popularity eventually waned. Perhaps it was only natural influencers would branch out and see what else they could serve on boards in hopes of becoming internet famous.

The origin of butter boards

The first known version of the butter board comes from Joshua McFadden’s 2017 cookbook Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables. There, the butter board was introduced to the world as “herbed butter with warm bread.” The cookbook won a coveted James Beard Award, yet, the butter board languished in obscurity for five years. That changed when recipe developer Justine Doiron shared a TikTok of herself making McFaddens butter board, declaring butter boards the next charcuterie.

Are butter boards genius?

Food blogger Isabelle Cheng is firmly pro-butter board.Butter boards are undeniably genius,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We’ve all been in the situation where we’re served cold butter — you destroy your bread trying to get the cold butter to spread. Butter boards take care of that.”

Food reviewer Caleb Chen agrees. “[Butter boards] elevate a common but often under-appreciated culinary item,” he says. Chef Michael Sanguinetti thinks butter boards make sense right now considering rising food prices, particularly when it comes to the costly cheeses and meats used in charcuterie boards. “Butter boards are a more cost-effective charcuterie-like option,” he says. “It’s really easy to elevate the board by producing … infused butter, and it can easily be added on as one of the courses on a tasting menu.”

Chen has a stern warning for critics: “The future is coming and if you’re not on team butter board, you’re going to be left behind.”

Do butter boards make sense?

Food blogger Sarah Walker Caron of Sarah’s Cucina Bella thinks butter boards are beautiful, but make no sense from a practical standpoint.

“They’re messy, wasteful and ripe for germs,” she says. For those committed to serving butter creatively, she recommends compound butters instead. “Take regular butter and infuse it with flavors by stirring things in — herbs, spices, garlic, honey — there are so many options.” Caron says to serve compound butter in a cute butter dish, pointing out that the method has the added benefit of making leftovers easy to store.

Are butter boards a hoax?

Self-described “butter board truther” Valerie Marino wonders if the influencers popularizing butter boards know the spreads aren’t practical. “Do these people really think butter boards are a great idea for entertaining?,” she asks, “Are they just trying to increase their views?”

Valerie Musser, who runs a foodie Instagram account for her pet bearded dragon, thinks butter boards “seem like a bizarre joke.”

“If it goes viral, that does not make it a good idea,” says Musser. “In fact, most trends go viral because they are bad ideas and people like to see dumpster fires.”

Do butter boards breed germs?

A main criticism of butter boards is they seem impossible to clean. “You’re smearing butter into a wooden board — who is going to clean that?” asks Marino. “I’d love to see an ‘after’ shot of one of these wooden boards with the grease stain that never comes out.”

Another concern is that butter boards are unsanitary. “I just imagine a party where everyone’s hair and spit and dust are falling into the wide swath of butter,” says Ashley Austrew, “I don’t know where these boards have been.”

Recipe creator Aubrey Babb made this butter board, topped with chili crisp and served with roasted garlic. (Photo: Aubrey Babb)

Recipe creator Aubrey Babb made this butter board, topped with chili crisp and served with roasted garlic. (Photo: Aubrey Babb)

But recipe creator Aubrey Babb loves the creativity butter boards entail and counters anti-butter board sentiments with some simple solutions. “A great trick is to place parchment paper underneath the butter,” she says, specifying no one should double-dip. Some in the pro-butter board contingent think the spreads are misunderstood. Food blogger Nidhi Bothra says, “I think that’s where all the creativity lies — all the garnishes you put on top and endless options of pairing, from bread to crackers, is any entertainer and foodie’s dream.”

Will butter boards cause a heart attack?

Love them or hate them, butter boards may be the death of you. Chef Jen Welper of the Mayo Clinic Diet is not a fan of the trend. “[It’s] a trend that’s extremely caloric and I’m sure no one is having just one bite,” she says. “The average person would probably eat at least two or three pieces [of bread] and that would be about 600 calories and 36 grams of fat [for the butter alone].”

Instead, Welper recommends a healthier appetizer board like a hummus board. It’s “trendy and way better for your health,” she says. Sabra Hummus hopped on the better-for-you board trend, releasing different variations of hummus boards with pistachios, pomegranate molasses, hot sauce and classic dippers like pita bread, sweet potato wedges, pickle slices and bite-sized chicken or tofu bites. “Add vegetables and maybe prevent a heart attack,” says Welper.

Has food on boards gone too far?

Papa Johns created a butter board with their garlic butter sauce. (Photo: Papa Johns)

Papa Johns created a butter board with their garlic butter sauce. (Photo: Papa Johns)

Everyone wants to jump on the butter board trend, from pizza chains to cannoli makers. Anne Fischer, chief marketing officer at Papa Johns says, “A key reason the butter board trend has become so popular is these boards are intentionally designed to be shared, to be enjoyed together.”

It seemed natural for Papa Johns to create a board since pizza is already a popular party food. Their version pairs garlic butter sauce with everything from garlic knots to wings. People like “the fun of dipping,” says Fischer.

A cannoli

A cannoli “butter board” from Alfonso’s Pastry Shoppe. (Photo: Alfonso’s Pastry Shoppe)

Alfonso’s Pastry Shoppe has been making cannoli dipping trays for a while. Head cake decorator Angie Campitiello says, “As soon as I saw people were using boards to make butter toppings, I thought why not cannoli as well?”

“The response has been great, no backlash… yet,” says Campitiello. Other brands, like Sugar Bowl Bakery, are sticking to the butter board theme but suggesting dipping cookies into butter instead of bread. Kraft recently shared a Mac n’ Cheese Board on TikTok. Home chefs are getting into the action as well with loaded mashed potato boards, peanut butter boards and Nutella boards

Will butter boards surpass charcuterie’s popularity?

Aaron Menitoff, chief operating officer of Boarderie thinks nothing will ever replace a classic charcuterie board. “People like variety on a grazing table…they want to see lots of colors and textures,” Menitoff says, “They want to experience a unique variety of tastes and bites.”

That’s hard to replicate with other types of food boards, particularly butter. Still, only time will tell if the butter board — and the many variations it’s spawned — is a flash-in-the-pan trend or has staying power.

Perhaps the trend will be a vehicle to introduce new and interesting flavors to butter board aficionados, or maybe the country is about to experience an epidemic of clogged arteries. No matter where you fall in the Great Butter Board Debate, there’s no denying the endless creativity spawned by the trend — it’s just not for everyone.

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