Description: Seed and nut butters range from the most common peanut butter to exotic macadamia nut and pumpkin seed butters. Seeds are the spark of life, a perfect blueprint contained in a miniature package. Seeds and nuts are sources of fats, including many essential fatty acids, and are rich in vitamin E. They also contain a wealth of other vitamins, nutrients, minerals, amino acids, and carbohydrates that, when kept intact through careful processing, can be passed on to the consumer.

Peanut butter, the most common nut butter, is actually not nut butter at all. Unlike other nuts and seeds, the peanut is a legume. Most peanuts are heavily sprayed with chemicals and grown on land that is saturated with synthetic fertilizers. Conventional peanut butter also contains hydrogenated oils, sugars, and other refined oils. In addition, peanuts are highly susceptible to a carcinogenic fungus called alflatoxin. Because this fungus does not grow in arid climates, look for organic peanut butter made from Valencia peanuts. In general, it is best to avoid peanut butter that is fresh ground at a local store, as those peanuts are highly susceptible to mold. Peanuts are also a common allergen, and can be eliminated completely in favor of other healthful nuts. In moderation, peanut butter is a healthy source of monosaturated oils and protein.

Other nut and seed butters include almond, cashew, macadamia, pumpkin seed, sesame seed (tahini), sunflower seed, hazelnut, walnut, pistachio, and blends. In particular, almond butter and cashew butter contain healthy ratios of omega 6:3 fatty acids (omega 3 is the “good” one), and walnut butter is high in omega 3 fatty acids.

For a real treat, consider grinding your own nut butters with fresh almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, or some mixture. Buy nuts that are vacuum sealed or still in their shells to preserve freshness; nuts and seeds become rancid very quickly after being hulled or shelled. It is better not to eat nuts and seeds at all than to eat rancid ones. Nuts in the shell will keep for up to a year. Store shelled nuts and seeds in a cool, dark place, in non-plastic containers.

What to look for: Look for raw, organic nut butters produced by small independent companies. The smaller the company the higher the quality control. Nut butters ground in small batches are also more likely to be ground in slower moving grinders, which do not get as hot as grinders used by larger companies for mass production. The slower the nut butter is ground, the lower the temperature. Low-heat processing preserves valuable enzymes and nutrients and, most importantly, protects the volatile oils contained in all nuts and seeds.

The same holds true for seed butters. Special tahini (sesame seed butter) that you may not find in your local natural food store can be found in specialty stores and online. Raw is generally best, though exceptions do exist, especially in the case of toasted tahini imported from Turkey, and produced by small tribes according to the phases of the moon. Made with heirloom seeds, this is a fine and rare treat. Check Armenian and Greek markets if you have access to them for other wonderful imported tahinis. You may find yourself collecting them like fine wine. Other unusual seed butters include black sesame seed butter and raw pumpkin coconut crème, which is more a butter than raw virgin coconut oil. Online sources abound.

Uses: Nut and seed butters have a plethora of uses, from the ubiquitous nut butter and jelly sandwich to gourmet blended sauces. Throw some in your next smoothie, cream with avocado and spices for a simple spread, use as a dip for broccoli or carrots, or enjoy on crackers.

Where to find: Online, natural food stores, specialty stores.

Avoid: Inorganic nut and seed butters, especially inorganic peanut butter. Avoid peanut butter that is freshly ground locally, as it is often made with moldy peanuts.