One of my favorite childhood memories was digging in my lunchbox at school and pulling out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For one, who doesn’t love a pb&j? But also, my mom is the type who’d use a cookie cutter to make my sandwiches fun shapes akin to whatever holiday or season was on. Of course, in my senior year of high school, this got to be a bit much, and I had to settle for typically shaped, crust-on, whole wheat peanut butter sandwiches, crunchy only, of course.
To get to the point, peanut butter is a tradition, an institute of higher lunches in higher-learning institutes. Unfortunately, the increase in peanut allergies in the last twenty or so years has made the classic pb&j an impossibility in the school cafeteria. Fortunately, with the influx of allergies, sandwich lovers have come up with alternatives, which is good thing. Truth be told, as much as I love peanuts and the butter they make, they’ve become a food to watch out for, and allergy or no, it’s probably not a bad idea to look for healthier, cleaner alternatives.
In the last few months, I’ve graciously volunteered myself for this project—finding the best nut butters—and here’s some info worth sharing:
This is probably the most common peanut butter alternatives and can be used anywhere you would use peanut butter, such as granola bars or even pie. Of all the peanut butter alternatives, almond butter is an entity all its own, with a distinctively almond flavor about it. Just because peanut butter is the most recognized in the nut butter game doesn’t mean all that come after it are just imitations. They are just different. One significant difference for those of us on budgets is the price, which just about doubles. So, like with nearly everything, it’s healthier and cheaper to make your own almond butter, which requires only a couple of ingredients and a food processor. Nutritionally, almond butter has higher levels of Vitamin E, iron, calcium and magnesium than peanut butter does.
Well, with peanuts and almonds throwing their shells in the ring, cashews couldn’t very well sit aside and watch it all happen, I suppose. So, a new spread came to health food aisles across the United States. Cashew butter—also easy to make at home—earns special respect for having creamier content than its predecessors, and even better, the fat that makes it creamy is healthy fat that helps both the heart and metabolism. Unfortunately, unlike other nut butters, cashew lacks Omega-3 fats, something we all are in search of, though they do have high levels of iron, Vitamin B6, and even a little protein. Cashews are fantastic for making creamy nut cheeses, which are equally as desirable in a plant-based world.
This spread is much less visible on the scene, sort of an indie version next to the more popularized nut and seed butters. That doesn’t make it any less delicious, just much harder to find on a regular basis. The good thing about walnut (or pecan) butter is the higher level of Omega-3 fatty acids. Otherwise, they offer comparable nutrients as the other nuts listed, and making walnut butter on your own is simple, a good thing since walnuts can easily found in any supermarket. Walnuts are also one of the best plant-based sources of omega 3 fats and offer special anti-inflammatory benefits.
Sunflower Seed Butter
This seed butter, made popular by the brand Sunbutter, was bit runnier than I was accustomed to, but the flavor was exquisite. I actually finished my jar of sunflower seed butter before returning to the nut butters. It also offers a similar dose of protein, vitamins, minerals, and quality fats as some others, but tastes more like peanut butter. Plus, sunbutter is a little more readily available at supermarkets, and a little less expensive than other alternatives. You can use it anywhere you would use peanut butter, from a sandwich to even a batch of cookies. Or, you can make it yourself with minimal effort. Pumpkin seed butter is another seed butter, but it’s more difficult to find, so the same old nut or seeds in a blender method can be applied to make your own.
And, there are many more nut butters to consider, try and love just the same. Just remember the main rule of thumb is to find the least processed version of whichever you like to keep things healthy. The less roasting, additives and preservatives, and sugar, the higher the percentage of nutrients you’ll be getting. I recommend tasting them all.