Nut butters – a bit of an obsession

I’m avoiding the cliché ‘nuts about’ but must admit to having a great space in my heart (and stomach) for nuts and the products made with them. Particularly nut butters.

Rye toast with cashewnut butter, home-made and bought chocolate spread and pistachio nut butter.

Rye toast with cashewnut butter, home-made and bought chocolate spread and pistachio nut butter.

I didn’t grow up with nut butters. Mum abhors peanut butter, the only available variety in northern Sweden in the 70s, so we didn’t have it. I can see why she didn’t like it. Back then it was smooth and sticky, stuck to your palate and was probably sweetened too.

When I moved to Scotland I found that everyone – yes, everyone! – ate peanut butter, some smooth, some crunchy. Crunchy was a bit of a revelation. As was the fact that peanut butter on toast under your baked beans make the beans edible. And that peanut butter adds crunch and richness to lentil soup. I was a convert even if I was more likely to take a spoon of Marmite as a midnight snack than a big glob of peanut butter. (Mum was right: it does stick to your palate.)

Peanuts are not the only nuts*

For a while I worked just off Broughton Street and took to shopping in Real Foods. This is when my nut butter habit was formed. There were so many different types! I experimented with pumpkinseed butter (the colour of duck poo but wonderfully different in flavour), cashewnut butter and many others.

Recently, my favourite nut butter producer, Meridian, have reached my local supermarket. They’ve introduced a couple of cocoa-flavoured butters that made me very happy. I think we have a number of eating fads and trends to thank for the rise in nut butters and I for one am grateful.

Oats made mediterranean.

Oats made mediterranean.

Not all nut butters drizzle prettily onto your Instagram breakfast bowl, but some do. Recent newcomer in the nut butter market Pip & Nut are nice and runny. Meridian tends to be stiffer: they don’t add oil (palm or other kinds). It makes their gorgeous cocoa and hazelnut butter a little hard to spread but it also makes it taste delish.

Cupboard exposé

Here’s what’s in my cupbard at the moment:

  • Pip & Nut hazelnut butter – perfect for drizzling so this will go on fruit salads this spring.
  • Meridian cashewnut butter – creamy and delicious, this is good on toast.
  • Meridian peanut, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed butter – an experiment. I prefer it to normal peanuut butter.
  • Meridian cocoa and hazelnut – I love, love, love this. It goes on toast and makes a great teaspoon treat.
  • Meridian pistachionut butter – best ever nut butter but a very special treat at £7 per jar. Love it in my porridge with orange blossom water and a crushed cardamom.
  • Whole Earth crunchy peanut butter – is what Christopher eats on toast. It’s also my go-to for cooking.

I eat most of my nut butter on bread but have recently started mixing it into my porridge too. I like satay sauce made with almost any nut butter and think cashew nut butter works well as a tahini substitute.

Tried to make a lovely oats bowl - but my portion's too small to look very exciting.

Tried to make a lovely oats bowl – but my portion’s too small to look very exciting.

Making your own

Making nut butter is easy and fun. I had a go at making my own hazelnut and cocoa butter because I wanted a more easily spreadable one. It’s something to experiment but here are a couple of pointers:

  1. Roast the nuts, but don’t burn them. Roasting brings out the flavour. Burning makes everything bitter. You’re looking for golde-brown patches, not black ones.
  2. Let the nuts rest after roasting and before milling them. I made a batch where I whizzed hot nuts. It seemed really dry so I added almond oil (see below) but after it had stood for a while, the nuts released their natural oil. The result was runnier than I had hoped.
  3. Take it easy on the oil. Use a neutral or complementary oil to achieve the consistency you want. Almond oil is a great neautral. I wish I’d used hazelnut oil in my chocolate spread: it would have punched up the flavour. Depending on how oily the nuts are, you might not need to add any extra lubricant.
  4. Think about texture. I think a grinder would give brilliant results but I don’t have one so I use a blender. I blend most of the ingredients until the butter is as smooth as possible then I add a bunch of extra nuts and whizz them just a little to add texture.
  5. It’s up to you how healthy you make it. You can add cocoa to make chocolate spread, or sugar to sweeten your butter a little, or you can pipe a bunch of set honey into the middle of a jar of home-made pistachio butter for the ultimate toast-spread.

Do you make your own nut butter? Would you like to? Tell me about it.

* They’re a legume. I know.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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