vegan • plant-based • dairy-free • gluten-free • low-carb • paleo options
Nut butter is a serious business in our household. Our favourites are probably cashew or almond, but they’re expensive, and the almonds are a nuisance to peel, so we often fall back on peanut as a staple. (Technically peanuts are not nuts, they’re legumes, but legume butter doesn’t sound so yummy.)
The Aztecs used to roast peanuts and mash them up into a paste, so they can probably be credited with inventing peanut butter. Dr JH Kellogg (of cereal fame) produced it on a commercial scale towards the end of the 19th Century. Initially he developed it as a healthy plant-based source of protein for his patients. Kellogg himself was vegetarian.
We’re certainly not alone in our fondness for nut butter, and peanut is popular worldwide – especially in America. Apparently there’s a jar of peanut butter in 75% of US homes, and America consumes 700 million pounds of peanut butter a year.
Another variety with a dedicated following is hazelnut butter. The French eat around 100 million jars of Nutella a year. In January 2018, French supermarket Intermarché cut prices by 70%. In one store alone, 600 jars were sold within 5 minutes. People got hurt. Police were called.
Yes, nut butter is a serious business, and not just in our household.
So the question is not why eat nut butter? – the average person needs no convincing – the question is why make your own? If you have a closer look at the ingredients of commercial products, you’ll find a few answers. Nutella contains only 13% hazelnuts – more than 50% of its content is made up of sugar and palm oil. Even in a standard jar of peanut butter you’ll almost certainly find sugar and oils of dubious background. If you look at low-fat versions, it starts getting quite scary.
But there are good quality nut butters on the market. Meridian, for example, is a widely available brand. They do organic peanut butter just made from peanuts (with or without additional salt), almond butter (just almonds and salt), and cashew (cashews with a little sunflower oil, as it can be a bit hard to handle).
So isn’t that fine? Well, yes and no. Eating vast quantities of nut butter admittedly isn’t good for anyone, even if it’s of the finest quality. If you’re just eating a small amount now and then, there’s no problem. But if you’re relying on nuts for protein as part of a varied vegan diet, you need to be aware of antinutrients and how they might affect your health.
You won’t be able to eliminate antinutrients, but reducing them means you can eat nuts more safely. Increasingly you’ll notice ‘activated‘ products on the market, such as raw nuts, seeds and ready-made nut butters. British brand Raw Ecstasy do a huge range of activated organic produce, which is great to see.
Sourcing and preparing food to this standard is not easy though, so understandably the effort is reflected in the price. If you’re just starting out on a vegan diet, you’re not up to processing nuts yourself, or if you just fancy a treat, this is a brilliant option. If you’re ready to have a go at making nut butter at home, read on…
Step 1: soaking
You’ll find countless opinions on how to soak nuts, with varying times or soaking mediums. We soak all our nuts at 42°C (108°F) in a yoghurt maker, using filtered water and a generous pinch of salt. The temperature helps encourage the process, but it’s not essential – soaking at room temperature is absolutely fine. The skins certainly come off almonds more easily when soaked at this temperature (see below).
We give hard nuts like peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts 12 hours. As they’re softer, we find 4 hours is good for walnuts, cashews, pine nuts and pecans – or 6 hours at room temperature. They start to go mushy beyond that point.
Hygiene is especially important when soaking, especially at a warmer temperature, as microbes will love it. Ideally soak in a glass jar with a good seal, and make sure it’s carefully washed before use – either in a dishwasher or in very hot water (not boiling, or it’ll probably crack).
Step 2: peeling
Generally antinutrients are more concentrated in the skin or hull of an ingredient. In the case of nuts, almonds are the only ones we bother peeling thoroughly, as the skins are quite thick. The skins of peanuts and hazelnuts are papery once they’re roasted, so you can try brushing them off with a towel if you want to be super careful, but we’re not that fussy.
Step 3: dehydrating
After a final rinse, we lightly towel the nuts dry, then spread them out in single layers in a dehydrator, where we leave them for 19 hours at 35°C. Again, different people have different methods for drying nuts, with a variety of times and temperatures.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use an oven on the lowest temperature. That’s usually around 65°C or 70°, so you’re likely to need a shorter time. You’re looking for a texture known as ‘crispy nuts’, which is slightly drier than raw nuts.
Whichever method you use, it’s worth being extra patient with this step. If you don’t remove all the moisture from soaking, you won’t get as smooth or flavoursome a result.
Step 4: roasting
We usually roast the nuts at 180°C for 5-10 minutes (peanuts take a little longer). Do experiment with your own oven to find out what works for you. Once again, different people use different times and temperatures for roasting.
Here you’re looking for a golden colour on white nuts like peanuts, almonds or cashews, and a darker than usual brown on walnuts, pecans or hazels. Generally when the toasty aroma starts to drive you nuts, they’re ready 🙂 It doesn’t matter if the colour is not perfectly even. If you want to aim for that, good for you! Just stir them up every few minutes, and allow a little more roasting time.
Step 5: grinding
If you have a Vitamix or something similar, this is the fun part. Once the nuts have cooled, add 400g at a time with 1/2 tsp of salt. Crank up the speed to about 4 and use a tamper to get into the corners. After about a minute you should see the oil being released from the nuts, and it should all start to bind together. Let it do the job for another couple of minutes for a smooth butter, or leave it crunchier if you prefer.
If you don’t have any fancy gear, don’t worry – you can just use a standard mixer with an S-blade. It’ll take about half an hour to get a smooth butter, and you’ll need to keep stopping to scrape down the sides, but with a bit of patience, it’s worth the effort.
Step 6: storing
A 400g batch of nuts will give you roughly 400ml of nut butter. We usually make up a 1200g batch, which fills 6 x 200ml mason jars. It’ll keep in the fridge for a week, or you can freeze what you don’t need. Just make sure you let it cool down completely, and leave a bit of space at the top of the jar to help prevent the glass cracking.
Step 7: enjoy to your heart’s content
We hope you enjoy your home-made nut butters as much as we do! Found a favourite flavour combination? Got a tip of your own? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.