You need not look far to find the numerous health benefits of nuts and seeds. This high profile item has gained a lot of media attention in recent times. Gone are the taboos of being a fattening food in a fat-reducing society – rather, nuts are now being praised for their high proportion of healthy fats, their convenience, and their satiating qualities – making them an excellent dietary staple.
With all of this publicity, it’s natural to assume that if nuts are so good for us, then derivatives such as nut butters, must tout those same benefits. One must be careful though - this is not often the case. In fact, a quick ingredient scan of your beloved jar of peanut butter may surprise you.
Commercial peanut/tree nut/seed butters (like other commercial products) are notorious for adding sugar, salt, hydrogenated oil, and other chemicals to extend shelf life. The processing of these products not only severely diminish, negate, or counteract the health benefits, but the taste and quality of the product are also compromised. The actually nutty flavour becomes secondary to sweetness or saltiness or worse – chemical aftertaste.
Fortunately, natural peanut/tree nut/seed butters (whose sole ingredient is peanuts/tree nuts/seeds) have made their way into the mainstream. By contrast, these products offer a rich and pure flavour and texture. Often times, a few tastes can win over even the staunchest of commercial PB addicts.
As convenient as buying natural peanut/tree nut/seed butters can be, it’s not often available everywhere, and sometimes can be a bit pricey. Making your own homemade peanut/tree nut butter is a great way to stock a delicious, simple and nutritious snack – one you can feel good about serving to your loved ones.
What you will need: A baking sheet A food processor A spatula A quantity of peanuts/tree nuts/seeds – shelled, unsalted, and raw preferably. Complementary oil (optional) Additional garnishes/flavours (optional)
Step 1: Toasting My favourite way to prepare raw nuts/seeds is to toast them. Toasting brings out a deeper, earthier flavour (and aroma) and makes for delicious butters. Toasting nuts/seeds using the oven is best done through lower temperature, and frequent stirring. The low temperatures keep the nuts from toasting too quickly (and developing a bitter, ‘overdone’ taste), and stirring them around insures evenness.
As far as quantity goes, it’s a personal preference. In my experience, I prefer not to toast any more than can be handled in one batch through the food processor. One to two (1-2) cups is generally quite a bit - these butters contain no additives, and thus have a limited ‘shelf life’. If you go through peanut/tree nut butter really quickly, you may consider making larger quantities.
Take your peanuts/tree nuts/seeds and spread them out in a single layer on your baking sheet. Place in an oven that has been preheated to ~275F/135C. You will want to keep your eyes on them – peanuts begin by ‘sweating’ oil a bit, while other nuts do lend much visual indication. Stir and flip the nuts regularly to prevent overcooking one side. Once you begin to smell a delightful nutty scent, they are well on their way to being done and must be checked frequently. It can be hard to determine doneness visually, particularly with almonds and other darker nuts, but 20-30 minutes is the limit of what you need.
If you have nuts like hazelnuts in which removing the skin is important – you can rub the roasted nuts between a tea towel to remove the skins.
Step 2: Processing Using an oven mitt and spatula, gently guide the toasted nuts from the baking sheet into your food processor (equipped with a rugged chopping blade). The heat from the toasted nuts/seeds will aid in the processing. Once the processor has been secured with a lid (as per manufacturer’s instructions), put the processor on high continuous speed. The nuts/seeds will first grind up into chopped nuts. You may want to stop and reserve some of these nuts to create a ‘crunchy’ butter. Continue processing – a dry powder will develop. From here, there is a minute or two lapse in which very little appears to be happening, but eventually a huge ball will form and begin rolling around the processor. If the ball looks extremely dry, or does not hold together, you may wish to add a small amount of canola, peanut, sesame or other complimentary oil to dampen – though I rarely find that I need to do this. Continue processing, and watch as the ball breaks down into a smooth, thick consistency. You’ve made it!
Step 3: Additional Garnishes/Flavours Now that you have your delicious nut butter, you may wish to add in nice compliments such as reserved chopped nuts, a swirl of homemade jam – or in the case of hazelnut butter, some melted chocolate to produce a Nutella-style treat!
Step 4: Refrigerate As mentioned above, the shelf-life of homemade peanut/tree nut/seed butters is extremely limited because there are no additives so you will want to keep your homemade treat in the refrigerator, and use it up within a few weeks.
Extra Points Another point is that homemade and natural nut/seed butters have the tendency for the oil to separate – if you’ve bought it before, you’ve seen this. I find that storing the container upside-down helps keep the oil layer from developing on the surface that you are sinking your knife into – as well as preserving the even oil to solids ratio of the butter.
One more thought – due to the increasing severity of peanut/tree nut allergies among the general population, you may need to be diligent about sending treats like this to school with youngsters, or in your own lunch at your workplace.
There you have it – fresh, delicious, homemade peanut/tree nut/seed butter.
As always, I wish you health, happiness and balance!
Gilly’s Tiffin (Thursday)
Leftover green bean and mushroom stirfry with sliced almonds and sesame seeds
Baby carrots and a sliced Royal Gala apple with homemade peanut butter to dip
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