Article By: Janet Rausa Fuller
Is there a jar of peanut butter in your kitchen? I bet there is. 9 out of 10 households keep peanut butter around, according to the National Peanut Board. But we don’t just keep it. We eat it — about 4 pounds per person annually, the USDA says. Or maybe almond butter is more your jam. It takes up almost as much shelf space at the store these days, right next to the cashew butter & below the Nutella.
No matter where your nut butter allegiance lies, the culinary possibilities in 1 spoonful abound. Stir it into a sauce or soup, whisk into salad dressing, swirl into ice cream. Go, you know, nuts.
Here’s what to look for when buying this spreadable staple (yes, a peanut is technically a legume, but we’re including it here anyway) & how to keep it fresh & tasting its best:
READ THE LABEL
The purest nut butters contain nuts — that’s it. Although the “natural” label isn’t regulated & thus doesn’t mean much, nut butters that are marked natural are more likely to contain fewer ingredients, says Robin Robertson, author of The Nut Butter Cookbook & Nut Butter Universe.
Still, commercial brands that offer a “natural” version of their original nut butter, as well as reduced-fat & reduced-sodium varieties, often include palm or hydrogenated oils, sugar, salt, corn syrup & other ingredients. So, check the label if you want to avoid additives that extend shelf life & keep what’s in the jar spreadable. Not surprisingly, you’ll pay more for nut butters made w/nuts & little else.
“Nuts are expensive,” says Robertson. Fortunately, she adds, nut butters are so rich & intensely flavored that a little goes a long way.
HOW TO MAKE NUT BUTTER LAST EVEN LONGER
Nut butter will keep for a long time in your pantry — up to 2 years, if for some reason you don’t crack open that jar. But after opening, should you refrigerate it? That depends on the type of nut butter & how voracious a nut butter eater you are.
A commercial nut butter, once opened, will keep in your pantry for 2 to 3 months, according to the USDA, & most big brands encourage room-temperature storage. Plus, it stays spreadable that way. But it’ll last at least twice as long if kept in the fridge, writes Dana Gunders in The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.
A natural nut butter made w/nuts & little else, on the other hand, will go rancid more quickly & should be refrigerated after opening. It’ll keep for between 3 & 6 months in the fridge — plus you won’t get the oil separation inside the jar that occurs at room temperature (not a big deal; just stir until smooth). No matter what, make sure the lid is on tight. If in doubt — if a nut butter smells off — don’t eat it.
You can easily swap 1 nut butter for another. Almond & cashew tend to be the most neutral-flavored of the group. Here’s a rundown:
* Peanut butter. This perennial favorite tops other nut butters when it comes to protein & folate (great for the brain!). It’s hard to beat its versatility too, not only for baking but also as a thickener & flavoring in stews, sauces, marinades & more. Most peanut butter is made from 1 particular variety called the runner peanut.
* Almond butter. A good sub for peanut butter & its mild nuttiness lends well to both sweet ^ savory uses. Plus, it’s high in calcium & vitamin E.
“I would use almonds to make pesto if I didn’t want nuts to be the star & I didn’t want to spend the money on pine nuts,” says Robertson.
* Cashew butter. This creamy nut butter, rich in magnesium & iron, is also on the pleasantly mild end of the flavor spectrum, so you can slip it as easily into a range of dishes as you would almond butter.
* Hazelnut butter. Make that, chocolate hazelnut butter, the most prevalent iteration of this product. It shouldn’t be a surprise that sugar, not hazelnuts, is the 1st ingredient listed on most brands. Then again, you’re probably not buying it for health reasons (again: brownies).
* Macadamia nut butter. This sweet, soft & super expensive nut produces a super expensive nut butter that’s mildly sweet (& high in calories, if that’s a concern). Find it online & in specialty & health food stores, not the supermarket.
* Sunflower seed butter. Not a nut butter, obviously, but an ideal alternative if you’re allergic to nuts & peanuts. It’s creamy & light, not to mention a good source of Vitamin E.
* Soynut butter. Another quasi-nut butter made from roasted soybeans. It’s a good substantial replacement for peanut butter & it’s high in protein & fiber to boot.