Why Trader Joe's Shoppers Are Divided On Its New Brown Butter

Earlier today, @traderjoeslist, an unaffiliated Instagram account that posts pictures of various food finds, uploaded a post for Trader Joe's Brown Butter. The poster had never heard of brown butter before, but described it as "very smooth, mildly nutty and slightly creamy. The brown bits are a little crunchy and were welcomed by my tastebuds." For those similarly in the dark, Country Living clarifies that brown butter is simply butter that's been cooked until it melts, leaving the milk part of butter to descend to the bottom and develop a nuttier flavor.

You can either make brown butter at home by cooking butter until it turns a caramel color and then cooling it, or buy it from Trader Joe's in its five ounce containers for $5.99. As of this writing, two people in the comments noted that six dollars may not be worth the "effort" saved, while others threw examples of dishes they've improved with the presence of brown butter. These included chocolate chip cookies, gnocchi, and Rice Krispy Treats.

Some didn't like the ingredient list

The other complaint leveled against Trader Joe's Brown Butter was its list of ingredients: "Butter (Pasteurized Cream, Natural Flavors)." In other words, the half doing the heavy lifting flavorwise is a complete mystery.

The mystery deepens when you realize that the FDA classifies natural flavors as any oil, essence, or extract that's been derived from sources of plants, animals, or fermentation and is used purely for flavoring purposes, not nutritional. However, as CNN reports, this doesn't mean that there are some artisanal-minded people squishing berries over every tub of brown butter; it's simply that the chemical compounds of natural flavors are later added to the butter. "The differentiation [between artificial and natural flavors] is really down to the origin of those molecules, whether synthetically processed in a lab or purified in a lab but from a natural source," David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, told CNN.

While the University of Nebraska notes that by law companies have to list the eight major food allergens as present if they appear in the product, the obscure nature of writing off ingredients as "natural flavors" withholds information that could help people with rarer allergies and the general populace. To that end, the most likely culprit of Trader Joe's Brown Butter's natural flavors is either enhanced butter or milk, but we'll simply never know. And that's always a tad shady.