The world of nut and seed butters has expanded greatly over the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. They’re flavorful, great in a meal or snack, and, best of all, most varieties have much of the same health benefits as their respective unprocessed nuts and seeds because they do not contain any added sweeteners, oils, or preservatives.1 From classic peanut butter to allergy-friendly sunflower seed butter, there’s enough variety to please anyone.
MAKING NUT AND SEED BUTTERS
The manufacturing process is similar for nut and seed butters. The nuts or seeds are roasted, then rapidly cooled to prevent oil loss. Blanching then removes the skin, and unacceptable nuts or seeds are removed via sorting. Following that, the nuts or seeds are ground, often via a two-step process. Coarse grinding first processes the nuts or seeds to a medium fineness, after which other flavor-enhancing ingredients can be added. Then, the ingredients are more finely ground. For chunky nut butter, the grinding process can be stopped before all the chunks are processed into a smooth creamy texture or chopped nuts can be mixed into the butter after fine grinding.1
SPREAD VS. BUTTER
A nut butter is defined as containing at least 90-percent nuts,1,2 while a nut spread is defined as containing at least 40-percent nuts, which can be added in various forms, such as a paste or slurry.2 According to United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, commercial peanut butter must be made of at least 90-percent peanuts, with up to 10 percent added seasoning and stabilizing ingredients being allowed; these additional ingredients may include hydrogenated vegetable oil, salt, and sweeteners, though the fat content may not exceed 55 percent. Furthermore, commercial peanut butter may not contain artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives, or color additives.3,4 Commercial natural peanut butter may not contain stabilizers.1
VARIETIES OF NUT AND SEED BUTTERS
Peanut butter. Compared to the other nut and seed butters in this article, peanut butter tends to be the most affordable5 and has the highest protein content, at 7g per two tablespoons.4,6 Peanut butter is an excellent source of nutrients, with two tablespoons providing 20 percent or more of the daily value (DV) of manganese and niacin and 10 to 19 percent of the DV of magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and vitamin E.6 High niacin intake has been associated with lowered risk of glaucoma,7 and niacin and vitamin E have shown protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease.8 Most of the 16g of fat in a serving of peanut butter are unsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. When selecting a peanut butter, avoid reduced-fat alternatives, since not only is peanut butter mostly composed of healthy fats, but to make up for the lower fat content, reduced-fat spreads have a higher carbohydrate content due to added sugars.8
Almond butter. Another popular option is almond butter. Two tablespoons have 6.7g of protein and 18g of fat. It provides 20 percent or more of the DV for vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese, and is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, calcium, copper, and riboflavin.6 Compared to peanut butter, almond butter is an even better source of monounsaturated fat, which helps fight inflammation, improve brain function, reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, and prevent heart disease;6,7,9 almond butter also has significantly less saturated fat than peanut butter.6 Eating almond butter has been associated with improved bone health and reduced cell damage due to its calcium and antioxidant content, respectively.7,9
Cashew butter. If you’re looking a nut butter with a very creamy texture, choose cashew; this variety is so creamy, you can substitute it for milk and cream in some recipes!5 Cashew butter has less protein than other nut butter options, ranging from 4 to 6g in a two tablespoon serving, and more carbohydrates at about 10g per serving. Cashew butter contains about 10 percent of the DV for magnesium, iron, and phosphorus, as well as small amounts of vitamin E, vitamin K, and potassium.10,11 Cashew butter provides over 20 percent of the DV for copper,10 a mineral involved in energy and muscle tissue production and iron metabolism.7 Like other nut butters, the 16g of fat per serving is largely composed of unsaturated fat, which helps lower LDL and total cholesterol and improves heart health.7,11
Walnut butter. The main draw of walnut butter is its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and improve cholesterol. The trade-off is a lower protein content, around 5g in two tablespoons, as well as less fiber than some other options.5,12
Sunflower seed butter. Sunflower seed butter was developed as an option for those with peanut and tree nut allergies through the collaboration of the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and the sunflower seed producer Red River Commodities.13 Sunflower seed butter has less protein than nut butters, with 5.5g in a two-tablespoon serving. However, compared to almond and peanut butters, sunflower seed butter has significantly more phosphorus, zinc, copper, magnesium, and selenium, and is a good source of manganese and vitamin E. It provides 11 percent of the DV of niacin as well. Sunflower seed butter contains about 18g of fat, with more monounsaturated fatty acids than both almond and peanut butters and less saturated fat than peanut butter.6 As with nut butters, the healthy fats in sunflower seed butter have cardioprotective effects, and the antioxidants it contains can reduce cell damage.14,15 Additionally, sunflower seed butter has anti-inflammatory properties.15
Pumpkin seed butter. Pumpkin seed butter has a unique, earthy flavor.14 The protein content in pumpkin seed butter can range from 5 to 9g per two tablespoons.12,16,17 It is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, and vitamin E.12,18 Pumpkin seed butter also provides high amounts of vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood clotting, metabolism, and bone health.14
Aim for one-ingredient nut and seed butters to avoid added sugars, sodium, or oils. Try to avoid “no stir” products as well, as these often contain palm or rapeseed oil, both of which increase the saturated fat content.5
- McHugh T. How nut and seed butters are processed. Food Technology Magazine. 1 Nov 2016. https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2016/november/columns/processing-how-nut-and-seed-butters-are-processed. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Shakerardekani A, Karim R, Ghazali HM, Chin NL. Textural, rheological and sensory properties and oxidative stability of nut spreads—a review. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(2):4223–4241.
- United States Food and Drug Administration. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Updated 28 Mar 2023. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=164.150&SearchTerm=
peanut%20butter. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- National Peanut Board. Mythbusters: natural peanut butter vs. regular peanut butter. https://www.nationalpeanutboard.org/news/mythbusters-natural-peanut-butter-vs-regular-peanut-butter.htm. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Cedars-Sinai Staff. Nut butters: which one is healthiest? Cedars-Sinai. 17 Jan 2020. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/nut-butters.html. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Thomas R, Gebhardt S. Sunflower seed butter and almond butter as nutrient-rich alternatives to peanut butter. https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Articles/ADA10_SunflowerAlmondButter.pdf. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Kadey M. Healthy nut butters to add to your postrun meals. Runner’s World. 18 Oct 2022. https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a41646858/healthy-nut-butters/. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Campbell A. Is peanut butter good for diabetics? Diabetes Self-Management. 23 Sep 2020. https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/nutrition-exercise/is-peanut-butter-good-for-diabetics/. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Lehman S. Almond butter nutrition facts and health benefits. Verywell Fit. Updated 15 Oct 2022. https://www.verywellfit.com/almond-butter-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4115426. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- FoodData Central. Cashew butter. United States Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2343013/nutrients. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Garone S. Cashew butter nutrition facts and health benefits. Verywell Fit. Updated 11 Sep 2020. https://www.verywellfit.com/cashew-butter-nutrition-facts-and-health-benefits-4800934. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Penner E. Your guide to nut and seed butters. Foodsmart. https://www.foodsmart.com/blog/guide-nut-seed-butters. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Sunflower butter. Nov 2010. https://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/sunbutter/sunbutter.pdf. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Kadey M. Here are the nutritional facts on sunflower and other seed butters. Runner’s World. 1 Feb 2021. https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a35362933/seed-butter-vs-nut-butter/. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Frey M. Sunflower seed butter nutrition facts and health benefits. Verywell Fit. Updated 28 Sep 2022. https://www.verywellfit.com/sunflower-seed-butter-nutrition-facts-and-health-benefits-5093491. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- FoodData Central. Organic pumpkin seed butter. United States Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1859379/nutrients. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- FoodData Central. Roasted pumpkin seed butter, roasted pumpkin. United States Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1979362/nutrients. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.
- Amidor T. What are seed butters and are they healthy? 15 Feb 2019. Food Network. https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/news/2019/02/what-is-seed-butter-and-is-it-healthy. Accessed 26 Apr 2023.