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.
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, it didn’t used to be. 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. Until recently, many people believed we should soak nuts to reduce antinutrients, which in turn meant dehydrating them again before even starting the rest of the process.
We used to do just that, but recent research has shown there’s no benefit. Whole nuts showed no discernible change in antinutrient levels after soaking. Chopped nuts showed a reduction, but also a reduction in nutrients, cancelling out the benefit of soaking (2).
We still make our own, because we like to rely on whole foods rather than ready-made. The end result is fresher, which should mean it’s more nutritious and will taste better. We also know for sure what’s gone into it, and what hasn’t. Instead of soaking and dehydrating first, instead we now just roast the nuts straight from raw, which still helps to reduce antinutrients.
Want to give it a go? Read on…
Step 1: 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. 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 2: 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 3: 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.