New Ways to Enjoy Nut Butters

By Bryn Mooth, for SparkPeople

Peanut butter may be a household staple, but spreads made from other nuts and seeds can add nutrients and variety to your diet.

Peanut butter has that ideal balance between sweet and salty, making it the perfect companion for everything from whole grain toast to celery sticks. And it's an inexpensive source of protein and good-for-you monounsaturated fats. Generations of kids have gotten through the school day fueled by peanut-butter sandwiches and a carton of milk-you were probably one of them!

But did you know that there's more to nut butters than just plain peanut butter? How about spreads made from almonds, cashews, and even seeds like sunflower? As an alternative to the old standby, consider these other products most easily found in gourmet, natural and/or organic grocery stores.

Almond butter
Like peanuts, almonds are a source of monounsaturated fats.

Cashew, pistachio or hazelnut butter
Like the nuts themselves, these butters are rich and slightly sweet. They make good additions to Indian curries or Mediterranean dishes.

Macadamia nut butter
Also rich and sweet, this type of nut butter is typically used with chocolate or fruit spreads, in desserts, or sweet snacks.

Seed butters
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be ground into a smooth paste and used like nut butter; both contain beneficial nutrients like zinc, iron and potassium. Tahini, made of ground sesame seeds, is a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.

As a kid, I was fanatically devoted to one-and only one-national peanut butter brand. As an adult, I've come to love the pure, unadulterated taste of natural nut butter. If taste alone isn't enough to make you go au naturel, then consider the ingredients list: One major brand contains peanuts and sugar, plus small amounts of molasses, hydrogenated vegetable oils (i.e. trans fats), preservatives and salt. On the natural PB jar label? Peanuts and salt. Better yet, the fresh-ground version I buy at our local deli contains just dry-roasted peanuts. Buyer beware: Even jars labeled "natural" may contain added sugar and oil since the labeling term isn't regulated, so always read labels to see what you're really getting.

The flipside, ironically, is that truly natural butters are more expensive than most mainstream brands that contain additional ingredients (sweeteners, oils, etc). If you can find fresh-ground or grind-your-own nut butters (natural foods grocers carry them), you'll find that the price per pound is somewhere in between major brands and natural, minimal-ingredient butters.

If you really want to cut the cost of buying nut or seed butter by the jar, consider making your own at home!

Homemade Nut Butter Recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread 2 cups of nuts or seeds (your choice) on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning, until nuts are fragrant. Cool slightly, then place the nuts or seeds into a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until a smooth paste forms. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per cup of nuts or seeds if you'd like (this enhances the flavor; omit if you're watching your salt intake). Kept in an air-tight container in the fridge, your homemade butter will last for weeks!

Related links:

Going Nuts for Flavored Nut Butters

Make Your Own Nut Butters

We Ate Them: Nut Butters Fortified with Flax

SparkPeople is the country's largest health and fitness website. Learn more--and get a free fitness and diet plan.