In today's health food scene, nuts are king. Long gone are the fears of nourishing fats—nuts have stepped into their rightful place as the source of creative milk and cheese alternatives, creamy salad dressings, and the ubiquitous nut crusts of gluten-free tarts and raw "cheesecakes." As more and more people avoid peanut butter—due to wide-spread allergies and suspected aflatoxins—nuts and seeds like cashews, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds are stepping in to grab some of the spotlight. It's no wonder plenty of local entrepreneurs have jumped on the nut butter train!
With so many local brands and flavors to choose from in the market's nut butter aisle, we wanted to give you a primer on the best options before you buy. Behold, the great nut butter taste test of 2015.
Founded in the dorm room of two University of Oregon students, Wild Friends nut butters include decadent, dessert-like flavors sweetened with agave in jars or convenient mini pouches for on-the-go snacking.
- Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter: Thick and balanced—and spiked with real espresso—one taster remarked, "this tastes like the baked-goods counter of the coffee shop." Offering a balanced sweetness mellowed out by the smooth vanilla creaminess, this pick had us coming back for more.
- Chocolate Almond Butter with Sunflower Seeds: Our tasters described this as "very sweet" and "tongue-coating" and were a bit stymied by the addition of sunflower seeds, which didn’t provide crunch and added a distracting flavor to the chocolately goodness.
Bliss Nut Butter
For those who don't eschew peanut butter, the addition of chia seeds and a hefty dose of honey and sea salt allowed these West Linn-crafted jars to sneak into the lineup. Chia seeds are "alternative," right?
- Cinnamon Chia Seed Peanut Butter: Want to get in the Passover spirit? One taster said this tastes "just like charoset," one of the symbolic foods on the seder plate. While we liked its bold flavor on the spoon, the course-grind and strong spice didn't seem as appealing on toast.
- Chia Seed Peanut Butter Biss: With a "sandy, grainy" texture, this one is for lovers of crunchy nut butters and salt. Boasting course-ground peanuts, crunchy chia seeds, local honey, and big flakes of sea salt, this was another spoon favorite that fell short when used as a dip or spread.
The superfood specialists out of Amboy, Washington aren't trying to craft dessert-ready butters—they're in it for the health aspect. Looking for an alternative to overly sweet options? These simple raw butters are as close to the lone nut as you can get—which, depending on the nut used, is either a great thing or a turn-off.
- Pecan and cashew: This delicious, creamy, no-frills nut butter garnered tasting notes like "it's cookie dough!" and "I want to drizzle this over ice cream or a baked apple or both". The only ingredients are organic raw pecans and organic raw cashews, but the mixture creates an alchemical miracle of sweet decadence.
- Pistachio: If you like pistachios, this one is for you. Capitalizing on the nut's natural bitterness, this one "tastes healthy…but maybe that’s just because it’s green." Tooth warning—we ran into a few shell shards in the jar.
- Pumpkin seed: Another one for lovers of the source nut only, our pepita-inclined tasters were dreaming of blending this bright green butter into pesto and salad dressing, while those who aren't fans of the seed noted this was "not delicious."
- Almond: As close to the raw thing as you can get! Tasters noted they could "definitely taste the raw almonds" which, given that the only ingredient is raw organic almonds, makes a lot of sense. Love the flavor of the unpasteurized almonds Wilderness Poets uses? You can buy the nuts in bulk.
These sprouted, organic nut spreads are handcrafted in Bend, and have a well-earned following of rabid fans. You can count us among their ranks, because these nut butters rose above the rest. Sure, they're not exactly conventional, everyday toast fodder, but the ambrosial concoctions rank among the best things we've eaten in years. Sweetened with lucuma and coconut palm sugar, even the sugar substitutes are nutrient-rich. We loved the full line, but especially the Cinnamon Red Maca, which one taster exclaimed was "maybe the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten." Sweet and creamy, like hot fudge with a halo of superfood status, this one is a keeper. The Superberry Maqui Camu is a bit sweeter than our #1 pick, with a pleasing tartness and bitter aftertaste from the Patagonian purple berry that gives the almond butter its name. The chai-like Coconut Cardamom is for fans of the nearly savory spice, and the Chocolate Hazelnut is the best alternative to Nutella around, with a flowing consistency that's begging to be drizzled on a bowl of ice cream. Try a jar—you won't regret it. We promise.
Eliot's Adult Nut Butter Harissa Cashew Butter
The latest in the line of bold, savory nut butters—joining Spicy Thai, Garam Masala, Honey Chipotle, and Spicy Sunflower—this Harissa Cashew Butter already has us party planning. Described as "salty and smoky" and "spicy crack," one taster declared "I’d serve this alone as an appetizer at a dinner party—it's that good." Look for this new butter launching at New Seasons in April!
Sure, this line isn't technically from the Northwest, but the Fresno-based almond butters are the best alternative to peanut butter for shoppers looking for that classic, no-stir smooth PB texture (a la Jif or Skippy). If you’re really craving a nostalgia-satisfying spoonful of nut butter but can’t eat peanuts, this is what you want—it's made in a peanut-free facility and is begging to become a AB&J on white bread. We loved the smooth variety best, but the full line includes gems like Cocoa and Coconut, Honey and Flax, Vanilla Bean and Espresso, and "Bare" with no added oil or sugar.
Our favorites: Jem Raw & Organic's Cinnamon Red Maca sprouted almond butter, Wilderness Poets raw pecan butter with cashews, Eliot's Adult Nut Butters harissa cashew butter, Wild Friends vanilla espresso almond butter, and (honorable mention) Barney Butter smooth almond butter.
Now it's your turn—which nut butter do you stock in your kitchen? Do you make your own? Tell us in the comments!