Monday, January 10, 2011

Making Your Own Nut Butter

By Benjamin Skipper

[Paleo-Police's Notes: 1) Use nut butters in moderation as most nuts except Macadamias are high in omega 6. 2) Soak to minimize phytic acid and lectins, but I suppose it's better to just not eat a ton. 3) A good reason to indulge in brazil nuts from time to time is their ultra high selenium content. 4) Famous strength coach Charles Poliquin recommends a meat-and-nut breakfast as a way to get some action-oriented neurotransmitters going in the morning. /Christian]

When you think about it, people on the Standard American diet tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to butters. What else do you hear of in the popular media except of peanut butter? Paleo people have almond butter, cashew butter, macadamia butter, and endless more! Sure, people on the SAD could allow themselves to eat these foods, but for people like me they're likely not to know they even exist until they venture outside of their dietary universe. Almond butter has practically always existed, but I never knew it existed until I was 19 years old (now 22).

There is a huge problem with nuts butters however: buying them is a huge rip-off. In stores you have to deal with marked up prices, and online you have to deal with the additional hassle of horrible shipping rates. The prices are so downright unjustifiable that it makes nut butters look like some sort of luxurious indulgence when they really should be more obtainable. Think I'm exaggerating? Let's do some math.

Here's a list that compares some of the best prices I could find for pre-made nut butters against what it would cost to make it yourself with whole nuts or nut pieces. Except for some, I went to Amazon and picked them according to their lowest price organization, and the whole nuts I just picked out casually, so it might be possible to get the whole nuts for even cheaper:

Almond butter:
Pre-made: $6.59 for 12 oz = 55 cents per oz
Homemade: $5.24 for 16 oz = 33 cents per oz = $3.96 for 12 oz

Cashew butter:
Pre-made: $6.59 for 12 oz = 55 cents per oz
Homemade: $5.42 for 12 oz = 45 cents per oz

Pecan butter:
Pre-made: $9.95 for 16 oz = 62 cents per oz
Homemade: $6.67 for 12 oz= 56 cents per oz = $8.96 for 16 oz

Macadamia butter:
Pre-made: $12.95 for 16 oz = 81 cents per oz
Homemade: $7.51 for 12 oz = 63 cents per oz = $10.08 for 16 oz

Macadamia-cashew butter:
Pre-made: $12.95 for 16 oz = 81 cents per oz
Homemade (combines previous figures assuming equal macadamia:cashew ratio): (63 cents per oz * 8) + (45 cents per oz * 8) = $8.64 for 16 oz = 54 cents per oz

Pistachio butter:
Pre-made: $14.95 for 16 oz = 93 cents per oz
Homemade: $6.46 for 12 oz = 54 cents per oz = $8.64 for 16 oz

Walnut butter:
Pre-made: $8.99 for 16 oz = 56 cents per oz
Homemade: $7.26 for 12 oz = 60 cents per oz = $9.60 for 16 oz

Brazil nut butter:
Pre-made: $9.95 for 16 oz = 62 cents per oz
Homemade: $5.26 for 12 oz = 44 cents per oz = $7.04 for 16 oz

Hazelnut butter:
Pre-made: $11.99 for 16 oz = 75 cents per oz
Homemade: $7.95 for 16 oz = 50 cents per oz

I'll give you that making one's own walnut butter may not be cheaper, but all the other prices point overwhelmingly in the other direction. Beyond that, you don't have total control over what goes into a pre-made butter, which may make them less than optimal for your health needs. I could get almond butter very cheaply at my discount store, but it has sugar added and there's no other choice; some choice.

Even better, making your own makes for a whole world of possibility to open up. I doubt they sell such a thing as cinnamon vanilla macadamia-cashew-almond butter, but you could create a batch easily. There are so many variables you could juggle and mix around, far more easily than a company would be able to.

Now you might ask: Is making nut butter hard? Far from it: It's incredibly easy. All you need is a food processor and some jars, maybe some liquid fat, but salt, a frying pan, and a stove would be nice additions too. With a few exceptions, what you're essentially doing is separating the fat from the nut flesh via the processor blade and causing it to integrate back in in such a way that it makes for a creamy texture. With some minor alterations a crunchy texture could easily be achieved as well.

While it is possible to come up with specific recipes for nut butter -- the spices and seasonings need to be portioned and balanced after all -- they all share a basic process. First, before you commit them to the processor, is there something you'd like to do to the nuts to alter their taste? Toasting is a very popular option. To accomplish that, all you need to do is take your shelled nuts and put them in an ungreased frying pan set on medium high heat, stir them every ten seconds or so, and evacuate them once the aroma of the nuts starts to surround the stove. I might be missing some other procedures you could do beforehand, but unless I'm mistaken everything else can be saved for the processing step.

To make the actual butter, all you generally need to do is fill the food processor to capacity with the nuts and allow it to process for about 2-5 minutes until the butter is formed, but there are some exceptions. Since nut butters are dependence on their fat for their texture, some nuts might be inadequate for the job. Cashews, for instance, will only process to the consistency of cashew flour and will not become butter on their own, but nuts such as macadamias are so full of fat that they practically transform into syrup and need to be refrigerated in order to increase its viscosity. For the former nuts, a fatty helper is needed. Option-wise, the sky is the limit, though be careful to give thought as to how the oil might affect the final product. Almond oil in macadamia butter might throw off the flavor of the end product, though whether or not this is favorable is left to each individual. I use light olive oil for my nut butters, as it has absolutely no flavor impact. To incorporate the oil, just drizzle it in very slowly, with intermittent pausing, once the processed nuts have reached the consistency they can achieve to their own extent. There is a slight delay for when you'll know what effect the amount of oil you added will have on the nut butter, so I add extra emphasis on the fact that you must drizzle slowly (about 2 tsp. per pour) and pause for about 5-10 seconds between pours. If you add too much, there's no going back!

Controlling the consistency takes some thought and timing. If you want your butter to be absolutely smooth, then all you have to do is allow the nuts to fully process and add oil if their innate viscosity is unsatisfying. To make a crunchy nut butter, you could do one of two things: 1.) Only add in part of the nuts you want to process and then throw in the leftovers after the butter has been formed, processing until the nuts break up to your desired consistency, or you could 2.) process the nuts for a few seconds until they break up into your desired consistency, withdraw the amount you want in the final butter, process the butter, and then incorporate the leftover pieces by folding or stirring. The first option is intuitive, but the second option could be safer in that you'll know the consistency of the nut pieces you're adding: In the former the nut butter will hide the extent of the processing you're doing.

During processing is also the time to add in spices and seasonings. Unless texture is a concern, such as if you were to add dried berries, just throw them in! With experimentation you'll find out what you like in what portions. Salt is, of course, a popular and intuitive choice, so to give a start in your endeavors I would say that a tsp for every 12 ounce portion is a good point to start for simple flavor intensification, not outright saltiness. You might do well to look up other nut butter recipes to see how others have portioned their spices and seasonings, because, as with the oil above, once you've put it in you're not going to get it back out, and that would be a terrible mistake to make if you made a huge bulk batch of butter.

Now how about a recipe to kindle your endeavor? One of my favorite nuts is the cashew, and I especially like it with some cinnamon.

Smooth Cinnamon Cashew Butter

Prep + cook: 10 -15 minutes
Servings: -
Ingredients:
12 ounces of whole cashews
2 tsp cinnamon (I used one, but think it needs more)
1 tsp of salt
Light olive oil to control viscosity

1.) Set an ungreased frying pan on medium-high heat and toast the cashews, stirring frequently, until they're golden brown and their aroma escapes into the air. Evacuate into cooling area, like a baking sheet.

2.) Pour all the cashews into the food processor, add the salt and cinnamon, and process it until it reaches the consistency of cashew flour, the farthest it will go without additional fat.

3.) Incorporate the olive oil at a rate of 2 tsps per pour and pause for ten seconds to see what affect it has on the consistency. Continue until the desired consistency is reached. At some point the cashews will form a ball that will bounce around the food processor: Don't be alarmed; it'll go away once the fats are more evenly distributed.

4.) Scoop the cashew butter into a storage vessel and refrigerate or enjoy immediately. I enjoy spooning it on 100% cacao baking chocolate.

Nut butter is fantastic and versatile. It's a pity that so many companies charge such unjustifiably high prices, sometimes even over a dollar an ounce. If you make it yourself you can not only save a ton of money, but also give yourself vastly greater options than these companies ever could.


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