Every so often I remember that as a kid, I didn’t like peanut butter and I’m shocked anew by how much I’ve changed. These days, I am a little bit obsessed with it. And by “a little bit,” I mean “a lot.”
My obsession goes beyond peanut butter to all sorts of nut butters. Nutella? Yes, please. Sunflower seed butter? The jar is finished in record time. And coworker Brian, if you’re wondering why your jar of Trader Joe’s crunchy natural almond butter in the office fridge seems to be magically emptying itself, I have a confession to make.
And really, what’s not to like? Nut butters are a decent source of protein, featuring 5–8 grams in a couple of tablespoons, depending on variety (peanut butter is highest). It’s no skinless chicken breast in the protein department, but this is a reasonable number for a vegetarian option. And unlike chicken breast, nut butters have 2g of fiber per serving.
Nut butters are also packed with healthy fats. Of peanut butter’s 16g of fat per serving, 8g are monounsaturated and 4g are polyunsaturated; these are the kinds of fats that won’t clog up your arteries. Walnut butter has a high amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Bear in mind that these benefits are for natural nut butters—i.e., nut and seed butters with only two ingredients: nuts and salt. Once you start adding a ton of sugar and palm oil (as Nutella does), the health benefits go way down. And it goes without saying that “cookie butter” doesn’t have a leg to stand on, nutritionally.
In addition, if you are watching your weight, nut butters must be consumed carefully because they pack in a lot of calories (though the protein and fat they contain curb hunger quite nicely). Two tablespoons contain 200 calories and are about the size of a golf ball.
PB and DIY
Although peanut butter is relatively low-cost, other nut and seed butters can be a bit spendy. I especially resent paying $10 for a 16-oz jar of sunflower seed butter when I can buy a pound of sunflower seeds from the bulk bins of my neighborhood supermarket for under $2.
Happily, it’s beyond simple to make your own nut butters if you have a food processor. It comes together in 15 minutes or less and requires no technique more difficult than patience.
You can choose to make your nut or seed butters from raw or roasted nuts. Roasted wins in the flavor department, but raw nuts have a small edge in the healthiness factor.
Homemade Nut Butter
Recipe by Miriam Wolf
- 2 cups raw or roasted nuts or seeds
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil (canola, peanut, grapeseed), if needed
- Liquid sweetener to taste (honey, maple syrup, stevia)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- If you are using raw nuts and want to roast them first, preheat oven to 350°F.
- Spread nuts on a rimmed sheet pan, and roast for 10–15 minutes, depending on the nuts.
- Stir halfway through the cooking process. Watch carefully as nuts and seeds burn easily. They are done when the color is golden and they are emitting a rich fragrance.
- Let the nuts or seeds cool, then place in a food processor. Process for as long as it takes.
(Cook’s note: This is where patience comes in. At first, it will look like cornmeal, and you will be mad at me thinking that you wasted good money to turn nuts into meal. Then it will “clump up” in the processor and you will think it’s ready. But it’s not. It’s way too grainy and clay-like at this point. Just keep processing. Soon it will relax into a silky butter. Keep processing until smooth.)
- If the processor seems like it’s working too hard, add a tablespoon of oil (up to three).
- When your butter is smooth, add salt and sweetener to taste. Process for a minute to blend.
- The flavors take a little time to develop, so don’t oversweeten. Keeps in the refrigerator up to one month, though I’ve never had a jar around that long.
- For homemade “Nutella,” use hazelnuts. Add a ½ cup of powdered sugar and a ½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder.
- For chunky-style nut butter, stir in chopped nuts after you finish processing.
Yields 1.5 cups. Prep time, 15 minutes.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter. Her favorite children’s book is Remy Charlip’s Peanut Butter Party.