In our local supermarket you get one type of nut butter, the ubiquitous peanut butter. There is a bit of a choice with texture (crunchy or smooth?) and a choice of which additives you would prefer (would you like extra salt with that or a little palm oil or perhaps a bit of both?) but that’s about it. How about selling me just plain ol’ nuts ground up for a change (nothing added) and maybe a choice in the variety of nuts?
The answer I now know is to make your own nut butter. I’m a recent convert to making nut butter so apologies if you’ve heard it all before! I read a post over on Chocolate and Zucchini about Beurre de Cajou last Summer and then was even more tempted when I read about the upgrade to spiced chocolate peanut butter but somehow it has taken me until now to stop dragging my feed and gave it a go. Its one of those kitchen tasks that sounds like it’s going to be rather drawn out and labour intensive, but in fact only takes about twenty minutes, most of which can be spent online/on the phone/in front of the TV. If only everything in life were so easy!
No more label reading, you can choose your favourite nut and can even perpetually re-cycle the same jar. For me this has meant out with the peanuts and in with the almonds – a more delicate flavour and a better balance between monounsaturated fat (the good stuff) and saturated fat (the bad stuff). The only downside I have found so far is that it does work out a bit more expensive than buying manufactured peanut butter, partly because I chose to use organic nuts and partly because almonds are more expensive than peanuts (you can fiddle with both of these variables to suit your taste and budget).
There’s no real recipe needed here. Just warm the nuts on a baking tray in a medium oven for about five minutes and then blitz in a food processor. Making this is one of those real kitchen alchemy moments; a noisy rubble for what seems like forever and then all of a sudden the oil is released from the nuts and you have a glorious creamy paste. Taste it now, so that you know how fantastic this is while it is still scented and slightly warm, but after that if you are anything like me you will have to hide it away somewhere so that you don’t scoff the lot.
The nut import industry has a bit of a poor reputation for making sure that producers and hullers get a good deal. In the UK you can find out who stocks the few ethically traded brands on the Fairtrade website, the US equivalent of which is Transfair (you can find out if there is a fair trade labelling initiative in your country on the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International website). In reality, in the case of almonds the biggest global producer is the US who are much more capable of holding their own when it comes to these kinds of issues and at least have such a thing as a minimum wage. This leaves us with the organic/not organic debate. In the US the FDA has recently ruled that raw almonds can no longer be sold because of the risk of salmonella and so all almonds must be in some way ‘pasteurised’. Most will be treated chemically using propylene oxide (not particularly nice) but organic producers will use steam pasteurisation, which I think is what I would prefer for my almonds and so I chose to buy organic.
Bees are currently a big issue when it comes to almond production. I must admit to never really having thought about how nuts are grown until recently but almonds are grown on trees and those trees need pollinating! Some of you may have read in the news earlier this year about Colony Collapse Disorder and the massive decline in bee populations in many parts of the world. The West Coast of the US grows approximately 80% of the world’s almonds according to this BBC news article and severe problems were forecast for this year’s almond crops after a loss of around 60% of the area’s commercial bee population (bees are kept to be commercially hired out to the almond growers). Happily this year’s almond harvest looks like it is going to turn out to be a bumper crop but I doubt that this is the last we will hear regarding the bees.
My almond butter did not last well because I kept having a sneaky spoonful whenever I went past the fridge (you should really keep this in the fridge) but if you can keep it for a little longer there are plenty of good things to do with it. Here are two quick suggestions for almond butter tartines (excuse my lapse into gratuitous french – a tartine somehow sounds so much more sophisticated than an open sandwich!).
– My old favourite, based on a suggestion by Dietitian and Nutritionist Jane Clarke, is to spread nut butter on toasted granary bread and top with mixed leaves, slivers of carrot, sultanas and torn mint leaves, finished off with a drizzle of lemon juice (this was lunch immediately after making the almond butter – see the photograph at the top of this post).
– Heidi Swanson has just posted a recipe for a delicious sounding Plum and Rosewater compote and recommends serving it on bread with almond butter (I’m looking forward to trying this one when my plum tree is ready!)
Ending this post on a completely unrelated note, I’m off to Barcelona next week, yippee! Any foodie tips for what to try and where to go would be very gratefully received!