Peanut butter is one of America's great culinary contributions to the world (in our opinion). And America agrees: In the United States, we consume over 1.5 billion pounds of peanut butter and peanut products every year. That comes out to nearly $800 million in sales annually. Mr. Peanut is making it rain!
But the staple PB&J sandwiches so many of us grew up with are becoming almost retro. Rising rates of peanut allergies and salmonella scares have challenged peanut butter's dominance, making way for a slew of alternative nut butters. Leading the charge is almond butter, but also jockeying for position are cashew, sunflower seed, walnut, soy nut, and sesame seed butter, to name a few.
Picking the Right Nut Butter for You
Despite its seriousness and the rising rates of peanut allergies, only about one percent of Americans suffer from one, and the chance of catching salmonella from a jar of Skippy is miniscule. There was some concern that peanuts were a host for aflatoxins, a certain type of carcinogen mold. But crops are tested regularly for aflatoxins, so those concerns were inflated.
Then why stray from tried-and-true peanut butter? There are plenty of reasons to branch out and explore the varied world of nut butters. To start, consider the nutritional benefits of the alternatives. Almond butter packs three more grams of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat per serving than peanut butter. And walnuts are one of the most omega-3 fatty-acid-rich foods that don't swim in the ocean. (Vegans and vegetarian, holla!) But another compelling reason is that all of these nut butters are delicious in their own right. Sure, they lack the nostalgia of good ol' peanut butter, but each brings something new to the table.
Now, before you decide to go cartwheeling down the nut butter aisle, keep a couple of things in mind. For starters, nut butters are just that: butters. They should be treated as such. No one would eat five or six pats of dairy butter as a "snack." Yet it's tempting to toss the lid off the nut butter jar like an old college Frisbee and idly nom down spoonful after spoonful. Yes, it's good fat, but there's a limit to how much your body needs before it turns into, well, body fat.
Another thing to remember: Always keep it pure. Look for nut butters with as few ingredients as possible. Ideally, the ingredient list on your almond butter reads, "Almonds." End of story. Maybe, "Almonds, salt." But if you see something more along the lines of "Almonds, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt, mono and diglycerides, multisyllable-chemical-oil-slick," then put down the jar and look for a product that didn't require people in lab coats to produce it.
Ready to sample the full spectrum of nut butters? Let's take a look at some of the alternatives popping up in markets around the country.