What started as a salty spread available in either a “crunchy” or “creamy” variety has exploded into a diverse category of spreads made from all types of nuts and seeds. Most would consider some kind of nut or seed butter a pantry staple, though with the multitude of options it can be tough to pick just one at the grocery store. Jars of nut and seed spreads range in flavor, texture and nutrition. If you’re curious about what sets popular nut and seed butters apart, read on!
Peanut butter is the spread that started it all. Where would we be as Americans without the explosion of PB&J sandwiches, the crowd-pleasing and sanity-saving standby for parents and babysitters across the country?
Peanut butter rose to popularity as a savory complement to fruit, chocolate, and other sweet treats. Peanut butter is full of beneficial unsaturated fat and provides a balance of protein and a bit of fiber. Some of the most popular brands have become famous for their signature creamy textures with the addition of palm or hydrogenated vegetable oils, and other stabilizers that prevent natural oil separation. Palm oil, in particular, has a controversial link to deforestation in the Pacific regions where it is grown and is often difficult to obtain from a responsible source. Kid-friendly peanut butters also often contain added sugar.
While certainly ubiquitous, peanut butter isn’t for everyone. Peanuts (a legume, not actually a nut) are at the root of one of the most common, and dangerous, food allergies for Americans. The number of allergic individuals has increased so much in recent years that many schools, workplaces, and even airlines are now “peanut-free,” to prevent cross-contamination with peanut and unwanted, life-threatening reactions when least expected.
Peanuts provide farmers a natural nitrogen-fixing process, which is important for ensuring the health of their soil and reduces the total water needed for their cultivation. Peanut crops grow deep roots that make it efficient at soaking up and using primarily rainwater for growth. Because of this, peanuts require far less water than other nuts.
Nutrition & Health Benefits of Peanut Butter
For those who can enjoy peanut butter, you will benefit from a good dose of magnesium, vitamin B6 and niacin, which help keep our bodies burning energy efficiently, keep our bones strong and muscles and nerves functioning properly.
Almond butter is a sweet answer to peanut butter’s savory tilt. You can find salted and unsalted, raw and roasted, chunky and creamy varieties.
American almonds are exclusively grown in California and have been criticized for using a large share of the limited water in the agricultural state. Almonds are a crop that requires year-round watering and consume roughly 10% of California’s water supply. Americans’ increased demand for almond and almond products like almond butter has meant an increased strain on farmers’ water requirements during California’s now-famous drought, as land use shifts away from more efficient crops. Almond production depends on honeybee pollination and requires that almond growers foster safe habitats for the bees.
Almond butter is technically safe for people with peanut allergies to consume, but it is often produced in facilities that cross-process with peanuts, so most folks with peanut allergies need to be very careful about including it in their diets. As a tree nut, almonds are one of the top 8 allergens in the United States.
Nutrition & Health Benefits of Almond Butter
Almost identical on a calorie and macronutrient (fat, protein, and carbohydrate) level to peanut butter, almond butter provides more Vitamin E and magnesium, iron, calcium and riboflavin. However, almond butter doesn’t contain as much B6 and niacin as peanut butter. Per serving, you’ll benefit from a larger share of monounsaturated fats than peanut butter, which is believed to be important in reducing the risk of heart disease.
Sunflower Seed Butter
Sunflower Seed Butter was born out of a market need for a peanut butter replacement that is safe for people with nut allergies and nut-free classrooms. Sunflower seeds are less of a common allergen than tree nuts and peanuts, so most people with allergies to either nuts or peanuts can eat sunflower seed butter any time they want a savory spread with their meal or snack (just make sure it’s not processed in a facility with other nuts). Delicious in its own right, sunflower seed butter is ripe with an array of micronutrients.
Sunflower seeds come from the flower of the sunflower plant. According to the US Agricultural Research Service, 10% of the sunflower crop grown in the united states is grown for consumption as a seed (the rest is generally diverted to oil production). Sunflowers are grown mainly in the Midwest region of the country, where they are able to thrive during dry and windy seasons thanks to a deep root structure. Sunflowers also support healthy habitats for pollinators.
Nutrition & Health Benefits
Like sunflower seeds themselves, Sunflower Seed Butter is bursting with Vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that keeps our skin and organ membranes healthy and strong; one 2-tablespoon serving of sunflower seed butter provides 40% of the average adult’s Daily Value of Vitamin E. Two servings a day and you’re almost set! Sunflower seeds are also a particularly good source of magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus, niacin, and thiamin - all micronutrients that help keep us from getting sick and help us power through our days with energy.
Pumpkin Seed Butter
Those green seeds inside our favorite orange squash may not be what you think of when you think of a “seed butter,” but they certainly make a delicious one. Slightly sweet and bright green in color, pumpkin seed butter makes an unexpected but balanced topping on toast, fruit, and oatmeal.
Pumpkin seeds make efficient use of the whole pumpkin crop, from seed to skin! Pumpkins are a warm-season crop, and grow best in warm and moist conditions. Cutting open a pumpkin, you find a treasure trove of white seeds. Inside each of the fibrous white shells are green pepitas that are a rich source of iron, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin E. Like sunflower seed butter, Pumpkin Seed Butter is a tasty option for individuals and families that cannot have nut butters. Using pumpkin seeds is a more environmentally-friendly option that provides a new use for a product already cultivated for consumption, compared to nuts grown solely for one purpose.
Nutrition & Health Benefits
Nutritionally, Pumpkin Seed Butter is an all-star. Pumpkin seed butter provides a whopping 8g of protein per 2 tablespoons entirely from the seeds themselves. Forget adding protein powders or isolates to your nut or seed butter for added protein - get it straight from the source with all the micronutrients that come along with it. Pumpkin seed butter is a great source of zinc and magnesium, two nutrients that are important for countless functions throughout the body, not the least of which is maintaining strong and healthy bones and muscles.
Read more about the water footprint of seeds versus nuts here.
More often than not, nut and seed butters provide a comparable amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates and calories. Some contain additional ingredients to provide specific flavors and textures - such as palm oil or whey protein (dairy) - so scan the ingredient list to know what you’re buying. 88 Acres Sunflower and Pumpkin Seed Butters are for anyone who wants a sweet-tasting spread with less sugar than other brands, or avoids palm oil, dairy, soy, peanuts or tree nuts for environmental or health reasons.