Peanut butter has long held a monopoly on the nut butter market. But the rising tide of peanut allergies—and last January’s salmonella outbreak in peanut products that left more than 500 sick and eight dead—have made the former lunchtime staple a lot less appetizing. Not to mention that conventional peanuts are one of the most pesticide-laden crops. Thankfully, nutty food manufactures are grinding up all sorts of tasty, nutritious and environmentally friendly alternatives.
Sweeter than peanut butter, almond butter has more cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat, bone-strengthening magnesium, calcium and phosphorus and antioxidant vitamin E than its peanut brethren. Plus, it’s often spared the unflattering sugar and hydrogenated oils added to many name-brand peanut butters.
To liven up plain-Jane salads, Carol Fenster, Ph.D., author of 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley) suggests mixing a teaspoon of almond butter with three tablespoons sherry vinegar and 1⁄4 cup each of olive oil and orange juice. Drizzle on top of your favorite greens.
E Recommends: Once Again Raw Almond Butter ($11.23 for 16 oz.; www.onceagainnutbutter.com)
Sunflower Seed Butter
With its smooth texture and flavor reminiscent of slightly sweet peanut butter, sunflower seed butter is chock-full of the antioxidants selenium and vitamin E, which wage war against cell-damaging, disease-provoking free radicals. Several states include this butter in their school lunch programs because it’s safe for peanut allergy sufferers. And for frugal foodies, sunflower butter is reasonably inexpensive.
Chef Todd Gray of Equinox Restau-rant in Washington, D.C., tickles his patron’s palates by blending together in a food processor é cup sunflower butter, one can garbanzo beans, one cup olive oil, two garlic cloves, 1⁄4 cup lemon juice and one teaspoon cumin seeds to make a party-pleasing hummus.
E Recommends: Sunbutter Organic Roasted Sunflower Seed Butter ($5.50 for 1 lb.; www.sunbutter.com
Hemp Seed Butter
Earthy, verdant hemp butter is packed with more protein and the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid than peanut butter. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study suggests a diet rich in alpha-linolenic acid can reduce the risk of heart attack. And because it’s such a hardy weed, hemp grown for seed production doesn’t need to be bathed in chemicals to prosper.
It’s tasty by the spoonful, and hemp butter marries well with pure maple syrup. Smooth the mixture onto bread, muffins, waffles and fresh fruit.
E Recommends: Manitoba Harvest Organic Hemp Seed Butter ($9.99 for 10 oz.; www.manitobaharvest.com)
Hazelnut butter contains an excellent ratio of good to unhealthy fat, and is jammed with copper, vitamin E, B vitamins like folate and magnesium, an underappreciated mineral that participates in hundreds of biochemical reactions like those involved in immunity, blood-sugar regulation and nerve function. Almost hazardously runny, hazelnut butter needs a good mixing and should be stored in the fridge.
Turn hazelnut butter into an am-brosial dip for strawberries and bananas by mixing it well with equal parts cane sugar and cocoa powder, plus a pinch of cayenne.
E Recommends: Kettle Unsalted Hazelnut Butter ($7.25 for 11.5 oz.; www.kettlefoods.com)
Soy Nut Butter
Soy nut butter is a great peanut butter alternative for tree nut allergy sufferers, since it’s made from beans, not nuts. It’s also a stellar source of protein, phytoestrogens and folate, the B vitamin that protects against birth defects, depression and strokes. Plus, a 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine study found that eight weeks of increased soy nut protein intake improved blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels in subjects. Go organic on this one to avoid slathering genetically modified soy on your bagel.
For a protein-rich smoothie, Fenster suggests adding a dollop of soy nut butter to a blender along with 1⁄2 cup each soy milk and soy yogurt, half of a banana, a generous handful of frozen berries and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
E Recommends: Simple Foods Organic Sea Salted Soynut Butter ($7.99 for 16 oz.; www.simplefood.com)
Cocoa butter (also called cacao butter) is the cream-hued fat extracted from cocoa beans that’s most often used to add flavor, scent and smoothness to the chocolate we adore (technically, to call a product chocolate it must contain cocoa butter.) While this Mayan butter is loaded with saturated fat—eight grams in one tablespoon—don’t fret, as most of it is in the form of stearic acid, which research shows has no detrimental impact on cholesterol levels and heart health. It melts at body temperature, and cocoa butter pulls double duty as a wonderful skin moisturizer.
To add chocolate undertones to muffins, brownies and cakes, use cocoa butter as a direct sub for some or all of the shortening or cow’s butter in recipes. One caveat: It has to be melted first.
E Recommends: Navitas 100% Raw, Cold-Pressed Organic Cacao Butter ($24.99 for 16 oz.; www.navitasnaturals.com)