The Great Nut Butter Debate

Nuts are good. All the nuts are full of great healthy goodness. We need more nuts. Unless you are allergic, then you must make do with your own internal nuttiness.

The lovely and curious Kristin @ Taming Insanity has sent in a question about nut butters, asking which kind is the best choice- regular, organic or natural.  And before I begin may I just say what a lovely name she has.

How Peanut Butter came to be

As I research different foods for posts it is becoming very clear that no one person is credited for inventing a food. One guy has an idea, the next guy improves on it. Another totally unrelated guy has an idea…

That’s the case with peanut butter- several folks have patents for machines that grind up peanuts. John Harvey Kellogg has his nose in the invention of peanut butter, of course.  I, however, am going to give a Dr. Straub the credit for inventing peanut butter. In 1903 he created an a machine to make a paste of peanuts and he used it to feed toothless elderly. He was using his peanut sense for good. The other folks in this history lesson were using peanut paste to make candy.

Let this be a lesson to you, if you invent something use it for good and not candy because one day down the road a kindly but oh-so-witty food blogger will dismiss you from the story if you made candy.

All about hydrogenated oil

To talk nut butter we have to start with hydrogenated oils. At room temperature vegetable oils are viscous, runny. They also go rancid pretty quickly. To create a more shelf stable oil the food science/processor folks invented hydrogenated oil. Vegetable oil gets put in a fancy machine and there’s heat and catalysts and stuff, then they force hydrogen gas at the oil. Chemistry happens.  When it’s all over the essential fatty acids in the vegetable oil have been turned to trans fats.

But the story doesn’t end there. Everyone knows that trans fats are bad. The big bad evil smelly of the world. Team let’s-make-more-money-than-everyone-else-by-getting-rid-of-trans-fats-and-get-our-trans-fat-free-product-to-market-faster got on the partially hydrogenated bandwagon. Partially hydrogenated oils make everyone happy. The trans fat level is below the specified amount to require labelling and the oil is still pretty shelf stable.

Wait. What was that? That part about trans fats below labelling levels?

Yeah, so it turns out that we just thought that folks took all the trans fats out of our foods. They really didn’t. They just took out enough so foods didn’t have enough trans fat in them to require labelling.

Where to spend your Peanut Butter dollars

Team Kraft is very sneaky about their nutritional information and ingredients, it is near impossible to find it on their website. So I had to stalk into the grocery store with my notebook and microfilm camera to get to the bottom of this.

Kraft Peanut Butter contains- peanuts, soybean oil, corn dextrin, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil and salt.

Skippy Peanut Butter contains- peanuts, soybean oil, maltodextrin, icing sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil and salt.

My store’s no name Peanut Butter- same as above but before icing sugar it listed corn syrup.

That’s a whole lot of stuff in your peanuts. You know where I stand on soy. Processed corn parts aren’t high on my list either. And the hydrogenated part…

When you look at the natural Peanut Butters, even Kraft’s version, ingredients get simpler- peanuts. This is true of all the nut butters. Natural and/or organic nut butters have simpler and few ingredients. Nuts and sometimes a little salt.

The catch with natural nut butters is that they separate, which is a bit of a nuisance. So the nut butter industry invented no stir natural nut butter. Don’t be fooled by no stir. It’s a rouse. They use cane sugar instead of icing sugar and palm oil instead of soybean oil but it’s still not your best choice.

The best nut butter choices

The healthiest #1 choice is natural and/or organic. Only nuts on the ingredient list. It is more expensive than the conventional varieties because it is all nut and no filler. Stock up when it’s on sale.

 As for which nut is the best choice- that’s really up to you.  There are no bad nuts. My only recommendation is to change it up. Don’t over peanut. Almonds, hazelnuts and cashews need some love too.

Make your own nut butter

Making homemade nut butter requires a food processor and a fair bit of time. I made almond.

Threw them in to the processor. I read that you can toast the nuts in the oven to add flavour. I already had something in the oven and skipped that step.

Turn it on and let it go. For a long time.

It will look like this for a while. You may start to doubt that it will ever become butter-like. Keep going.

Then finally. It will all come together in a ball and you will have homemade almond butter.

A little recipe I invented today

I took out only about half the finished but butter from my food processor. To the rest I added- 1 tbsp of cocoa powder, 1 tbsp of coconut oil and 1 tbsp cane sugar. (roughly, I didn’t measure or anything)  Gave that a quick whiz. Next time I will sweeten with honey.

I’ll tell you this. 2 apples and 2 pears were dipped and quickly consumed. I was the after school snack hero that day.

What’s your favorite nut butter? And how do you like to eat it?


  1. Okay, now I just feel stupid, because it wasn’t until you clarified that I figured out what “nut butter” is!

    • The butter of nuts. And really you would have only been stupid if you hadn’t figured it out. You know, learning something new everyday and all that.

  2. That’s almost the recipe we use on our oatmeal, you have to try it on the oats too, it’s just way too yummy to be healthy…but it is ;)

    • I realized after I wrote it up that is was the same as your recipe. So I guess I didn’t really invent it. We were going to put it on oatmeal but the kids wanted eggs. Tomorrow.

  3. Sooo many people don’t know that your average peanut butter is only *mostly* made from peanuts!

    • I know! Icing sugar?!? Is that really the best way to sweeten. And I just realized- icing sugar is a corn based product. It’s not from sugar cane.

  4. I eat almond butter just about every day. Also a huge fan of peanut butter. Almond butter is like my grown up peanut butter :)

  5. My kids are nut butter freaks, but I have never thought to try making it myself. I always buy natural of course. I can’t believe the crap that goes in the other stuff.

    I won a prize pack from another blog giveaway of a small jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter and I didn’t want to waste it. The kids loved it, but no way would I actually buy it. I felt guilty feeding it to them twice.

    • I know if I bought the ‘regular’ kind it would get eaten. Mostly by me. I stick to the natural too. Sometimes with a little honey to sweeten.

  6. I bought skippy natural at the store because the ingredients sounded ok. Now, I’m sending them to you for review.

    Thanks for doing this. Great name, btw.

  7. We’ve been on seed butters for a while, as my son’s daycare doesn’t allow nuts. He’s loving pumpinseed butter and sunflower seed butter – which is close enough in appearance and smell that twice the daycare sent home a note specifying no nuts!

    But even before that we’d switched to ‘just peanut’ and ‘just almond’ style butters. There’s no way we need the sugar and oils the other ones use.

    By the way, do you know why the big brands add soybean and other oils? You’d think peanuts would be oily enough. It’s not /just/ for stability … they take out the yummy peanut oil that they can sell for big $$ and replace it with cheap oils.

    • Soybean is super cheap and it keeps the peanut butter from separating. Keeps it all nice and smooth and spreadable. It’s a scam really.
      I’ve tried sunflower seed butter, but my daughter wasn’t that into it. Made good cookies though.

  8. If you figure out how to make your own “Nutella” you will be my hero.

  9. Once you start making your own nut-butters you’ll never go back! I made some with honey-roasted peanuts and now my hubby doesn’t want any other kind (the big kid).

  10. Mmm ! Thanks for reminding me that I need to do that! My first attempt is actually going to be coconut butter. Can’t wait!

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