Why make your own nut butter?
Among the classic American comfort foods of childhood, a PB&J sandwich ranks pretty high. Sadly, conventional peanut butter is not a health food, but probably not for the reasons you may think. Some folks avoid peanut butter because it is ‘fattening,' and in recent decades there has been an curious increase in peanut allergies in children. Personally, I avoid conventional peanut butter because it usually contains a bunch of toxic ingredients including hydrogenated vegetable oils, refined sugar and salt, and preservatives.
And then there's the aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are a toxin produced by strains of mold that grow on nuts, grains and legumes that are stored in a humid environment. Aflatoxins can be extremely toxic to the liver, and peanuts in particular have gotten a bad rap for being associated with this toxin. Apparently Valencia peanuts are resistant to aflatoxins, so when it comes to choosing your nut butter, go with Valencia peanuts or, better yet, experiment with other nuts.
Growing up on Jif peanut butter, I've never considered almond butter to be a fair substitute–nice in its own right, but nothing like its peanut-y cousin. But cashew butter comes close, especially when it's made from scratch in my kitchen. And smeared onto a chunk of dark chocolate!
Soaking and drying nuts
Nuts contain plenty of good nutrition, but they also contain anti-nutrition in the forms of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which make the nuts difficult to digest and block the absorption of minerals. Phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors can be neutralized by first soaking and then drying nuts before eating them or using them to make butters or flours. Unfortunately even organic nut butters – regardless of whether they are roasted or raw – are typically not soaked and dried before they are made into butter.
If you want to save time, you can find properly prepared nuts to purchase…or you can easily do this all yourself. Luckily, the process is simple, requires only a bit of hands on time, and just takes a bit of planning ahead.
How to properly prepare nuts
- Pour raw nuts into a glass or ceramic bowl.
- Cover the nuts with filtered water.
- Allow to soak overnight – with the exception of cashews (which should only soak for a 2-3 hours, and macadamia nuts which cannot be soaked lest they disintegrate into mush).
- After soaking, drain and rinse nuts well.
- Spread onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets and dry in the oven on the lowest setting overnight or until dried and crunchy. Alternatively, spread onto dehydrator sheets and dry at the setting recommended for nuts for the same amount of time.
- Now your nuts are ready to be made into butter, ground into flour, or eaten by the handful.
Ingredients and supplies for making homemade cashew butter
I know I'm destined for some complaints about this, but I am not including measurements intentionally here, because so much depends on the type of nuts you use, how dry the nuts are, and your preference for texture. The only way you can mess this up is to add oil, honey, or salt too quickly, so simply go slowly. You will need:
- Properly prepared cashews (you can experiment with other nuts too) – buy soaked and dried nuts here
- Refined coconut oil – which will have no coconut flavor – in the proportion of approximately 1 tablespoon for 2 cups of nuts – buy coconut oil here
- Raw honey (preferably local) – buy raw honey here
- Unrefined sea salt – buy high quality sea salt here
- Food Processor – like this one
- Glass jars for storage
Easy steps for making homemade cashew butter
- If solid, melt coconut oil to liquid in a saucepan on the stove. You will need about 1 tablespoon of oil for every two cups of nuts.
- Add a handful or two of cashews to your food processor, turn on, and slowly add melted coconut oil until you have a very smooth and liquid nut butter.
- Add more nuts to thicken the butter, and then alternately add oil and nuts to achieve a uniform, desired consistency.
- Add a drizzle of honey and pinch of sea salt to taste.
- When your butter is the perfect thickness and balance of salt and sweet, scoop into glass jars.
- If refrigerated, the coconut oil will cause the butter to harden, so I usually keep one jar in the cupboard, and back up jars wait in the fridge.