Volatile compounds are responsible for the aromas of butter. A simple technique for the determination of these components is described which is based on solid-phase extraction (SPE) after melting of the butter and separation of the aqueous phase from the fat. Volatile flavours present in the water fraction are collected by off-line SPE on cartridges packed with a copolymer sorbent. After desorption with 500 μl of methyl acetate, 1-μl aliquots are quantified and/or identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The procedure was tested with respect to recovery, linearity and limit of detection in real-life samples using five polar model analytes. It allows the characterisation of polar flavour compounds in butter prior to and after heat treatment at 170°C. From the five model compounds, vanillin, traces of diacetyl and maltol were found to be present in the butter samples. After heat treatment 500-1000-fold increased concentration of maltol, and substantial amounts of furaneol were detected. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.