With a whole new crop of nut butters on
the market, peanut butter is fast becoming the snack equivalent of the
Members Only jacket. Almond, cashew, even sunflower seed butters are
the latest healthy hot shots on the culinary scene, and they’re
bringing novel flavors—plus a new set of nutritional benefits—with them.
Shell game: Mix up your protein
routine with some tasty and nutritious alternatives to peanut butter,
although that standby remains popular. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
With tastes that range from rich and
nutty, found in almond and cashew butter, to sweetly satisfying, in
sunflower seed and hazelnut butter, these alterna-nut butters provide a
palatable escape from the classic peanut. Packed with vitamins,
minerals, fiber, high-quality protein and essential fatty acids, not to
mention hard-to-find, cholesterol-lowering Omega 3, these health
superstars are gaining momentum, no matter how you crack it.
“People are looking more and more for
natural, healthy products,” says Amanda Gormley, marketing and member
service coordinator at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op, 618 Kensington
Road (472-1385), where the sale of nut butters increased 30 percent
last year. “Nut butters are so delicious naturally,” she says. “They
don’t need sugar, stabilizers or other ingredients to make them taste
good or last longer.”
In addition to good ol’ PB, the co-op
carries cashew butter, chocolate hazelnut butter, almond butter and
sunflower seed butter. Top sellers include cashew and almond, says
Gormley, but “all of the varieties are great in recipes, on toast or in
sandwiches,” she says. “They’re great substitutes for conventional
While not technically a nut butter,
tahini (pronounced ta-HEE-nee), a thick paste made from sesame seeds,
is another popular, versatile condiment under the same umbrella. Gabi
Ashktar, manager at Samir’s Imported Foods, 811 E. Genesee St.
(422-1850), says tahini has been a best-selling item since the store
opened in 1981. Samir’s carries five brands of both American and
Lebanese tahini. The difference, says Ashktar, is mostly in color:
American tahini is darker because the sesame seeds are roasted first.
Added in to make creamy Middle Eastern standards like hummus and baba
ghanoush, tahini is available at Samir’s in 1- to 40-pound jars
starting at $2.69.
Tahini can also provide a rich base for
flavorful Middle Eastern-style dressings, like the house dressing at
King David’s, 317 Towne Drive, Fayetteville (637-0485), and 129
Marshall St. (471-1310). Raw tahini—King David’s prefers Joyva brand
for its smooth consistency—is blended with garlic, lemon and cucumbers
to make a zesty complement to the restaurant’s salads, falafel and pita
Although nut butters may seem like a
burgeoning trend, one company has been producing the creamy concoctions
for decades. Once Again Nut Butters, located in Nunda, N.Y., (about an
hour south of Rochester), started producing peanut butter and almond
butter in 1976. The product line quickly expanded to include cashew
butter and sesame tahini. Today, Once Again offers 14 different
varieties of organic nut and seed butters. In fact, the company is the
largest producer of almond butter in the world—yes, the world.
Still, after 34 years in business, Once
Again has recently seen sales jump, especially among their
nontraditional, non-peanut products. Sunflower seed butter, introduced
in 2007, has been a “huge hit,” says Once Again’s sales coordinator
Gael Orr. The smooth, slightly sweet butter is a tasty substitute for
those with peanut allergies, because the taste and texture are very
similar to traditional peanut butter.
“People that have developed a peanut
allergy later in life miss the taste of peanut butter,” says Orr.
“Sunflower seed butter is a really great alternative.” Orr also
recommends sunflower seed butter to curious consumers who only want to
dip a toe into the proverbial nut-butter pool without taking the
“When you use sunflower seed butter in a
sandwich, you won’t be able to tell it’s not peanut butter,” says Orr.
Plus, sunflower seed butter packs the same nutritional punch as peanut
butter with fewer calories and less saturated fat, an extra incentive
to push first-timers onto the nut-butter bandwagon.
But for natural-nut-butter virgins, Orr
offers some advice: Don’t be suspicious of that layer of oil settled at
the top of the jar. “Oil separation is a natural occurrence,” says Orr.
Since nuts are mostly oil, those natural oils rise to the top when the
nuts are ground into butter. And because these oils are monounsaturated
(read: not evil trans fat) and full of vitamin E, they’re healthy for
“People tend to think all oil is bad for
you,” says Orr. “We’ve even had customers call and ask if they should
drain the oil off the top.”
The answer? Don’t even think about it.
Not only will you lose some of the nut butter’s heart-healthy benefits,
but you’ll also make stirring and spreading more difficult. If you stir
the nut butter thoroughly (until your arm hurts) and store it in the
refrigerator, the butter shouldn’t separate again.
Once Again’s products are available
online at www.onceagainnutbutter.com, or locally at the Syracuse Real
Food Co-op, 618 Kensington Road; Nojaim Bros. Super Market, 307 Gifford
St; and at select Wegmans locations: 4722 Onondaga Blvd., 700 First
North St. (Pond Street), and 3325 W. Genesee St.