Although peanut butter was the standard in nut butters for years, it isn’t the only nut (or seed) you can use to make spreadable butters. These days, you can find all kinds of butters on grocery store shelves - almond, cashew, soy, sunflower and beyond!
Nuts and seeds are high in fat and it’s the fat that makes it all come together into a creamy, delicious spread when blended up. These peanut alternatives are great - especially when it comes to nut-free school lunches - but they can often be pretty pricey or, depending on where you live, hard to find! Making your own can have a few benefits:
It’s often less expensive
You can control the sugar, salt and other additions
You can create your own blends
You can use up nuts and seeds you have on hand
The catch is, you must have a blender or food processor. Alternatively, you can make nut or seed butter using a mortar and pestle, but it’s a time consuming, effort intensive process that will only yield small amounts at a time. Although if you’re looking for a good arm workout, make that mortar and pestle your friend!
Using a blender or food processor, you can make large or small batches with easy cleanup and minimal effort.
Why Nut Butters Separate
Before we get into how to make it, if you have any experience with natural butters (meaning, with no additives), you’ve probably noticed that the oil and nut solids tend to separate, leaving you with a chunky mass under a little pool of oil. Supposedly you can just stir that up, but if you’ve ever tried, you know it’s not that easy.
Nut butters that don’t separate have added stabilizers - usually in the form of a hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil - that binds the components together and extends shelf life. The problem is, there are some concerns that these oils and stabilizers may be bad for our health. You can get a bit of info on that here.
So how do you stop separation? It’s actually pretty easy. Firstly, natural and homemade nut and seed butters should be stored in the fridge to extend their shelf life. Secondly, by simply flipping the jar from time to time, the butter will stay blended.
Once you make your nut or seed butter, store it in an airtight, leak proof jar or container. Once you notice a bit of oil separation, flip it over and store it upside down. When you start to notice a bit of oil coming to the top again, just flip it again!
The oil will naturally rise up through the solids over time, and it usually takes several days for it to start noticeably pooling on the top. By flipping the jar or container every few days, you keep the oil continually mixed throughout the butter.
How to Make Seed and Nut Butter
Choose your seed, nut or combo. Just about any tree nut will work - peanut, almond, cashew, pistachio, walnut, pecan, hazelnut, etc.For seeds, you want one with a high fat content as it’s the fat that gives the creaminess. Sunflower is the most popular, but you can also use pumpkin, hemp or sesame. Seeds like chia, poppy and flax have textures that don’t work well for a pure butter, but can be mixed in with other ingredients. Homemade peanut and flax seed butter, anyone?You can also use roasted soybeans (often marketed as “soy nuts”) to make a nut- and seed-free butter.You can use raw or roasted seeds or nuts, and salted or unsalted. Just keep in mind that salted nuts will produce a salty butter.
Toast… or not. Even with roasted seeds or nuts, toasting them a bit beforehand will enhance the flavours for a rich tasting butter. This step isn’t a must, but it really does give a nice flavour.Toast them in a pan on medium-high heat while moving the nuts or seeds around constantly (they can burn fast), or toast them in the oven at 350° for 5-10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent burning.You test doneness by smell. When the nuts or seeds become deliciously fragrant, they’re done! Remove them from the heat and let them cool before continuing.
Blend! Once your nuts or seeds have cooled, put them in your blender or food processor and get blending. Stop to scrape the sides from time to time, but otherwise just keep on blending.Getting to a creamy state can take time. First, your nuts or seeds will have a crumb texture, then a kind of crumbly texture, then clumpy, then eventually creamy. The lower the fat content, the longer it will take to reach a creamy texture. Be patient, keep scraping the sides and it’ll happen.
Season. Once you’ve reached a creamy texture, you can stop, or you can add some seasoning. Sugar, honey, maple syrup or other sweeteners are common choices. A dash of salt brings out the richness of the flavours, and you can even experiment with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, black pepper, cocoa and other seasonings. Even pumpkin spice or apple pie seasoning, or a bit of chocolate hazelnut spread!
Store. As mentioned above, choose an airtight and leak proof jar or container so that you can flip it regularly without making a mess. Store in the fridge.
How Long Do Nut and Seed Butters Keep?
This really depends on the ingredients used and how it is stored. Keeping it in the fridge is a must. Also, be sure that whatever container you use is REALLY clean. If you’re reusing a glass jar from something else, make sure it gets a good scrub with hot, soapy water, is rinsed well and dries completely, or use sterilizing techniques from canning. Take special care of cleaning the lid as those can sometimes have hard to reach nooks and crannies where food particles can get stuck.
Stored properly, most homemade nut butters keep for several weeks or even months. Keep an eye out for signs of spoilage like a change in smell or colour, but overall your butter should keep nicely.
How to Use Nut and Seed Butters
Use them as a spread, as a topping for oatmeal bowls or yogurt, in protein smoothies and shakes, or in baking. You can also use them in soups or sauces. Butternut squash soup can take on a savoury richness when blended with a bit of nut butter and you can make your own Thai-style “peanut” sauces by swapping in a soy nut or seed butter instead.
Freezing Nut and Seed Butters
Depending on the ingredients, freezing nut and seed butters can result in a texture change that makes them not so nice as spreads. However, they can still be perfect for baking or in smoothies or shakes. If this is your plan, freeze it in small quantities to extend shelf life even further. Using an ice cube tray, for example, could give you exact portion sizes for dropping into smoothies on busy mornings!
What if I Don’t Like it?
It happens. We try something new and… yuck! Not to our liking. No problem. You can try adding a little more sweetener, salt or other seasonings to enhance the flavour, or find recipes like baked oatmeal, homemade fudge, cookies, brownies, protein bites, sauces and more that use nut or seed butters.If you plan to use it in recipes, but don’t have the time right away, measure out the quantities and freeze it with each quantity labeled with how it will be used. This way, nothing goes to waste.