Nut butter is a quintessential high-low food. Its humble origins date back to childhood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and college struggle food, but one can also spend upwards of $15 for a glass jar of silky smooth, gourmet cashew butter. Whether it’s swirled into smoothies or spooned directly into our mouths, we’ll take nut butter in any iteration. But is all nut butter vegan, and if so, is it good for you? And is that $15 artisan jar worth it? Here are all of your curiosities surrounding nut butter, answered.
Is nut butter vegan?
In its pure form, nut butter is vegan. It’s made simply by blitzing nuts into a smooth paste. That’s it, no other ingredients required. Following this unadulterated method, every kind of nut butter is strictly plant-based. However, most commercially available nut butters will have at least one or two additional ingredients. Salt and some form of oil are the most common. Those are still perfectly fine within the vegan realm. However, when the ingredient list surpasses three items, animal ingredients tend to work their way in. Honey is sometimes used as a sweetener, particularly in high-quality nut butters. It’s often a marketing point and clearly labeled as Honey Almond Butter or “with a touch of honey,” but brands may also opt to not slap this on the front of their packaging and only include it in the ingredient list. Dairy products and even egg whites may also be mixed into some nut butters—particularly those targeted at paleo and keto consumers. Ghee, milk powder, whey-based protein powder, egg whites, and collagen are ingredients to watch out for when skimming product labels.
Is nut butter healthy?
Nut butter can be a healthy part of any diet, but it is possible to go overboard. The nutrient benefits range depending on the type of nut. For example, peanut butter contains the most protein—eight grams per two-tablespoon serving—whereas walnut butter contains omega-3s. All nut butters also provide a healthy dose of satiating fiber and an assortment of vitamins and minerals including calcium, selenium, magnesium, and more. In regards to their macronutrient breakdown, about 70 percent of nut butter calories come from healthy fats whereas protein and carbohydrates contribute about 15 percent of total calories each. Again, this ratio varies depending on the nut butter and can range even further for sweetened varieties, but overall this spread is high in fat and moderate in protein and carbohydrates. Calorically speaking, a two-tablespoon serving ranges between 170-200 calories. For the most optimum health benefits, it’s best to choose a minimal ingredient nut butter and adhere to the serving size. If it contains sugar or maple syrup, you’ll still get the nutritional benefits, but limiting added sugar is often recommended by health professionals.
Types of nut butter
Peanuts are eaten in many forms, but there’s none more popular than the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Though its name implies otherwise, peanuts are not actually nuts—they’re legumes. Full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, peanut butter is also a great source of antioxidants, vitamin E, folate, and protein. Turn your favorite sandwich into a hearty breakfast with our Vegan Superfood PB+J Açaí Smoothie Bowl.
A close runner-up in popularity to peanut butter, almond butter is a nutritional powerhouse. Often considered the healthiest nut, almonds may lower cholesterol and reduce diabetes risk when consumed regularly and in moderation. First introduced to the US when Spanish missionaries brought the nut to California in the 1700s, almonds are best enjoyed in AB&J (almond butter and jelly) sandwiches or as a key ingredient in Detox Almond Butter Cups.
With an incredibly indulgent flavor, hazelnut butter is most commonly paired with chocolate (think vegan Nutella). Even when dessertified, hazelnut butter still contains high levels of fiber, vitamin B, and magnesium. Amongst all nuts, hazelnuts contain one of the lowest amounts of saturated fat. So go ahead and pair some chocolate with it!
The gourmet nut butter category all started with this decadent and naturally sweet nut. While particularly high in fat, cashew butter also provides five grams of protein per ounce and essential minerals such as phosphorus, zinc, and copper. Treat yourself to rich, chewy fudge with Sweet & Salty Vanilla Bean & Cashew Butter Fudge.
Definitely more expensive and rare, macadamia butter is excellent as a dipping sauce or a creamy binder in raw desserts. It’s often mixed with coconut butter to turn up the dial on its tropical flavor profile and indulgent mouthfeel. On the health side, studies have shown that macadamias may significantly reduce unhealthy cholesterol. Instead of springing for the pricey jar, have a go at Homemade Coconut Macadamia Nut Butter to slather atop your morning toast.
This omega-3-packed nut butter is becoming increasingly popular on supermarket shelves and e-commerce sites. While lower in protein and fiber than other nuts, walnuts have been studied to reduce inflammation and LDL cholesterol. Like walnuts, walnut butter can taste a bit tannic. It’s best enjoyed when paired with something sweet or blended into baked goods such as vegan muffins.
Most nut butters are easily made at home, but when it comes to the labor involved with shelling pistachios, we say go ahead and splurge on this green-tinted spread. This particular nut butter is higher in price point but also extremely high in antioxidants which help to fight off free radicals in the body. Enjoy by the spoonful or blitzed with vegan vanilla ice cream for a thick pistachio milkshake.
Rich and earthy, pecan butter is often found sweetened to mimic fun flavors such as pecan pie and maple pecan. Like walnuts butter, pecan butter also contains a moderate amount of antioxidants and omega-3s in addition to some calcium, magnesium, and zinc. We particularly love using pecan butter in baked goods!
8 best vegan nut butter brands
Justin’s is a brand that does include honey in some of its spreads, but these products are clearly labeled and easily avoidable. Vegans can certainly get their nut butter fill by opting for Justin’s pure peanut and almond butters or indulging in one of the flavored options such as Maple Almond, Cinnamon Almond, and Chocolate Hazelnut.
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2 Trader Joe’s
Accessible, affordable, and reliable, the vast majority of our nut butter purchases come from TJ’s. The brand carries an assortment of no-frills peanut and almond butter both with and without salt. If you’re going for a single-ingredient butter, this is it.
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3 Artisana Organics
This is high-quality stuff. Artisana prides itself on natural and raw spreads, and its nut butters are simply divine. Favorites include Raw Organic Cashew Butter, Mac-Coconut (macadamia nuts and coconut), and Cashew-Cacao Spread.
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4 Wilderness Poets
Made in micro-batches with organic and raw ingredients, these luxury nut butters are truly gift-worthy. The line includes cashew, almond, macadamia, hazelnut, pistachio, and even pine nut butter, among others.
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5 Picky Bars
Originally a sports bar company made for endurance junkies, this pro-athlete-founded brand has expanded its range to include a completely addictive sweetened almond-and-maca spread it calls Drizzle. You’ll certainly be tempted to consume the whole jar in one sitting.
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6 Wild Friends
Fans of this nut butter brand can always count on it to provide the classics as well as inventive twists and seasonal flavors. Come fall and winter, the brand brings back options like Sugar Cookie Peanut Butter and Gingerbread Peanut Butter. Year-round, the company makes an assortment of pure and mixed nut butters from almond to peanut cashew.
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For those who like it crunchy, this nut-and-seed butter company brings the bold texture. Each jar contains a blend of seven different nuts and seeds including cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds. This variety lends for a robust nutritional profile and a boost of vitamins and minerals. Textures range from buttery smooth to seriously crunchy with flavor profiles such as Chocolate Power Fuel and Peanut Pro.
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8 Big Spoon Roasters
More than just a name, you’re going to want a big spoon every time you tap into one of these artisan nut butters. The flavors are unique and irresistible, so be warned before you click below, as every jar will tempt you to “add to cart.” Options that immediately caught our eye include the Hot Mamba Peanut Butter, Chocolate Sea Salt Almond Butter, Espresso Almond Butter, and Carrot Cake Almond & Walnut Butter. With tastes so inventive, the only proper way to consume these nut butters is straight from the jar.
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For even more nut butters, read:
Nut Butter Brand Debuts Pumpkin Spice Pecan Butter
10 Creative Ways to Use Nut Butters
10 Easy, Packable, Vegan School Lunches