Friday, August 19, 2011

Better butter Part I

Poor peanut butter. Once found in lunch boxes everywhere, increases in food allergies and concerns about fat have made this childhood favorite practically taboo.  But there’s a silver lining to our old friend’s fall from grace. Grocery stores have started stocking a plethora of goober surrogates.  Whether you’re hunting for a nut-free substitute for your favorite cookie recipe or just a new twist on your midnight snack, there’s a spread out there.  To help navigate the plethora of choices, we put these alternative treats through the paces, testing them in cookies and smoothies, pairing them with preserves, and, of course, tasting them straight off the spoon. The results might just inspire you to find a new companion for jelly and bread.

Better Butter? (Overall results)
Nature’s Promise Organic Almond Butter (16 oz, $5.99, Stop & Shop)
Long the favorite of dieters, this may be the best overall contender, with a sophisticated, truly nutty flavor. With just over half the saturated fat and twice the fiber of natural peanut butter, this is the nutritionists’ darling. Extra points for the good dose of magnesium. (180 calories, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 4 grams fiber, 10% DV magnesium)

Organic Once Again Sunflower Seed Nut Butter (16 oz., $5.99, Whole Foods)
The sleeper of the bunch; earthy, rich flavor and texture is the closest match to natural PB. Loaded with magnesium and folate.  (180 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams fiber, 30% DV magnesium, 20% DV folate)

Nature’s Promise Natural Cashew Butter (16 oz, $9.99, Stop & Shop)
Extremely creamy, but with very mild flavor that might disappoint cashew fans.  A whopping 14 grams of saturated fat explains the unctuous mouth-feel.  At least it’s a good source of zinc and magnesium.  (188 calories, 14 grams saturated fat, <1 gram fiber, 21% DV magnesium, 11% DV zinc)

Artisana Organic Raw Pecan Butter ( 8 oz.,$11.99, Whole Foods)
Gritty and thick, pecan paste is blended with cashew to make it spreadable, but the final product still has a home-ground texture. Unlike other butters, this one tastes strongly of its raw material. While others are widely available in supermarkets, finding this pricey specialty item might require a trip to a natural foods store. The highest calorie choice, pecans are also the nut that provides the highest level of antioxidants. (213 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, 3 grams fiber)

I M Healthy SoyNut Butter (15 oz, $5.29, Stop & Shop)
Has the whipped, plaster-of-Paris texture of highly processed brands of peanut butter. Certainly a welcome product for parents of kids with allergies, other will likely find its blandness and unpleasant aftertaste off-putting. Only slighter lower than PB in saturated fat, but three times the fiber. Contains added sugar.
(190 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, 6 grams fiber)

PB&J Redux (How well do they play with preserves and bread?)

Nature’s Promise Organic Almond Butter
Take a page from the traditional pastry chef playbook and pair with “fruits of the woods” - raspberry or blueberry preserves make an elegant match.

Organic Once Again Sunflower Seed Nut Butter
True to its hippie roots, this spread is best graced with a drizzle of pure honey. Or, go full-Berkeley and partner it with avocado and sprouts.

Nature’s Promise Natural Cashew Butter
Its lushness serves as the ideal foil for the bitter edge of orange marmalade – or the spicy ginger version, for a more exotic combination.

Artisana Organic Raw Pecan Butter
Try with sweet, chunky apricot jam or crack open a jar of maple cream
I M Healthy SoyNut Butter
Stick with the old stand-by, Concord grape jelly, which is strong enough to carry the sandwich.

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