May. 22. 2015
Nutrition Articles
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

Learn about the different types of nut and seed butter, their nutrition profiles, and tips on enjoying them.

To put it in a nutshell (ha), nuts and seeds are healthy; but I think the real question is, what types of nuts and seeds make the best butters and spreads, and why? Today is a total smackdown and guide to nut and seed butters, from their flavor profile, uses, nutrition, and special tips. Also, learn how to make your own nut butter in a few simple steps that take less than 10 minutes to make! You might want to bookmark this one…

Most of us already know that eating fat and having ample amounts of healthy fats in our diet are a great thing for our health not the cause of heart disease, weight gain, or increased cholesterol…and if you’re still into that theory, I’ll let these studies show you otherwise: here, here, and here.. Since we’ve all come to terms that eating healthy fats are great for our health, let’s jump right into one of the most famous healthy fats to eat…peanut butter. Growing up I was never a big fan of peanut butter, it wasn’t until I had one of my mom’s homemade buckeyes that I fell in love with peanut butter- to this day, it’s one of my favorite treats using nut butters. Beyond beloved peanut butter, there are so many amazing varieties of nuts and seeds out there that can easily be made into a butter such as almond butter, cashew butter, even sunflower seed butter.

After you make your first homemade nut or seed butter, I promise you’ll be completely hooked. Bold statement, I know but there’s something about completely transforming a plain ole’ nut or seed into a rich, creamy, and thick spread right before your eyes using less than 2 ingredients. Said nut or seed + a pinch of sea salt if you choose. To be completely honest with you, nowadays when I use nut or seed butters, the majority of the time it’s because I’ve taken a spoon to scoop out a generous dollop and eat it while standing in tree pose in my kitchen- it’s my thing and I totally love it, no shame!

I answered several of your questions in my last “Ask McKel” Q&A series on YouTube about what type of nuts to buy and what about activating them (i.e. soaking and sprouting)? I always recommend purchasing nut and seed butters organic, unsalted, and raw if possible due to the fatty acids change during heating and processing; otherwise, roasted and lightly salted if those are your only options in the store. Ideally though, I want to inspire you to make these all in your own kitchen with only 2 ingredients and 1 piece of equipment! Super easy and affordable.

The Guide

Nut and seed butters can be used as a topping, a thickener in baking or cooking, binding ingredients without using eggs (for example, raw truffles or energy bars), spreading on toasted bread, in smoothies, and so much more! Nutritionally speaking, nut and seed butters as a collective contain 6-9g protein per 2 tablespoon serving, are high in minerals, B vitamins, some contain higher amounts of omega-3’s, and all contain a small amount of fiber.

Nut butters

Peanut butter

  • Flavor: the most famous of all nut butters, nutty, slightly sweet
  • Nutrition: B vitamins, copper, manganese, protein, molybdenum, phosphorus, vitamin E
  • Special tip: Peanuts are also on the list of the top food allergens. Peanuts are more susceptible to molds and fungus, one in particular to note is aflatoxin, produced by a fungus that can potentially grow on peanuts and is considered a carcinogen by the FDA. Some studies show aflatoxin can cause serious health issues including liver cancer. Peanuts are the only nut I recommend roasting and not consuming raw because of the potential for aflatoxin. Good news, with time our agriculture and practices growing peanuts has become exponentially better making toxicity of aflatoxin less likely. So should you abandon peanuts? No, just purchase quality sources.
  • Use: any and everything!

Almond butter

  • Flavor: the second most famous nut butter due to the access of almonds. Slightly sweet, nutty, even when blended in the “creamy” version, is still a little gritty due to the almond skins
  • Nutrition: B vitamins, vitamin E, manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, molybdenum, monounsaturated fats, fiber, and protein
  • Special tip: purchase almonds raw to give you more variety with culinary use and decrease the chances of the fatty acids going rancid. As with other nuts and seeds, almonds can help combat heart disease in multiple ways, and the skins in almonds contain a natural prebiotic, the food that feeds the good bacteria in our gut, win win!
  • Use: any and everything!

Cashew butter

  • Flavor: the creamiest and possibly most expensive of all nut butters. Creamy, sweet, versatile, and can be transformed into a sweet or savory butter or spread. Try my Classic Cashew Cheese, Sweet Cashew Cream Cheese, and Pink Cashew Cream for ideas.
  • Nutrition: copper, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, zinc, protein, mono and polyunsaturated fats
  • Special tip: if you soak cashews before making into a nut butter using the guideline above, you’ll create a smooth cream like the Classic Cashew Cream and Sweet Cream, both of which taste amazing, but it’s a different texture.
  • Use: best mixed with other ingredients such as cashew creams or added to any soups and smoothies to thicken

Walnut butter

  • Flavor: dense, earthy, slightly bitter and nutty
  • Nutrition: contains the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids out of the nut butter family, also copper, manganese, molybdenum, biotin, B vitamins, protein, and monounsaturated fats.
  • Special tip: Walnuts have been shown to help with heart disease, may increase brain health and function, lowered risk of diabetes, fights inflammation and oxidative stress especially from antioxidants found in walnuts, and more. I typically by these raw and unsalted to toast on my own when needed.
  • Use: best mixed with other ingredients such as raw desserts, smoothies, etc.

Seed butters

Sunflower seed butter

  • Flavor: nutty, rich, earthy, not as sweet as cashews or almonds
  • Nutrition: B vitamins, vitamin E, copper, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, healthy fats, fiber and protein
  • Special tip: sunflower seeds make an amazing flour to use in baking, light in texture, affordable, with a strong flavor. Try my Sunny Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins!
  • Use: as a dip for carrots or other crunchy veggies and fruits

Pumpkin seed butter

  • Flavor: Depending on if you use raw, lightly toasted, or roasted, the pumpkin seed flavor will change. It’s slightly sweet, bitter, and earthy (especially when toasted)
  • Nutrition: highest in zinc than most other nut and seed butters, also contains manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, healthy fats, protein and fiber
  • Special tip: most likely you won’t find this seed butter in stores, but you can easily make it at home and I highly suggest you try it! It’s best mixed with almonds or walnuts, both of which are creamy when mixed with the pumpkin seeds which tend to blend a little “dry”.
  • Use: great for a boost of zinc, I love it with gluten free crackers and sprouts

Sesame seed butter, a.k.a. tahini

  • Flavor: my favorite of all seed butters, it’s slightly bitter, creamy, nutty, and bold in flavor.
  • Nutrition: highest in calcium than most other nut and seed butters, contains copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, fiber and protein
  • Special tip: Use tahini with some apple cider vinegar and lemon juice to create a delicious Tahini Drizzle or dollop on top of warm grains, roasted vegetables, etc.; the possibilities are endless.
  • Use: best mixed with hummus, smoothies, or eaten solo on toast!

Make it!

1 cup nuts or seeds of your choice + a pinch of sea salt. Blend in a high speed blender with nut grinder attachment and blend until smooth. Takes less than 5 minutes. If your blender needs a little help, you can add a touch of coconut oil to thin, but the oils will natural release once it’s been blended.

I hope this was helpful for you so the next time you’re making a nut butter sandwich with jam, trying one for a recipe, or wondering what flavors will go with what- you’ll know! Share below your favorite combinations of nut and seed butters and your favorite ways to use them in cooking!

xx McKel