The trend towards healthier eating and living is a welcome one in our society given the colossal problems we have when it comes to weight and lifestyle-related diseases. The more wholesome and natural our foods are, the better they are for us. We are expressing more interest and care to learn not only what our foods contain, but also, how they were processed, their quality, and origin. This is essential in our refined-food world today and applies to all foods. In this essay, we will explore the nature of almond butter and how to choose the best one.
According to a 2014 Mintel Global Market Research report, nut-based and sweet spreads grew 34% from 2008 to 2013. Although peanut butter has been the leader in this market for some time, other nut and seed butters are gaining momentum. These are becoming staple foods for many health-conscious citizens, especially the increasing vegan, vegetarian, and raw food communities. Many health-conscious people choose to pass on the peanut butter for several reasons. First, peanut allergies continue to be on the rise. Second, peanuts are being increasingly grown as a GMO crop. Third, in the midst of all this, tainted peanut butter scares have made us more wary of peanut products. Finally, more consumers have learned about the fungal and toxin problems that commonly impact peanuts, namely the carcinogenic aflatoxin.
Each of these reasons have spurred consumer interest in other nut and seed butters, with almond butter being one of the most popular. Almonds are often touted as one of the healthiest nuts, are super versatile and have a delicately sweet and pleasant flavor that agrees with kids and adults alike. However, not all almond butters are of equal value or quality. It is prudent to remember as a wise and conscientious consumer that as the popularity of something increases, poor quality versions of that product do as well. This is also why there has been a growth in the organic almond butter market specifically, as consumers continue to increase their understanding of the health benefits of foods grown without pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or synthetic fertilizers.
So let's examine how to pick the best quality almond butter, and learn more about its benefits, as well as the different varieties available.
How to Choose the Best Almond Butter
As with most foods, there are two main kinds of almond butter: refined and unrefined. In the case of almond butter, unless one makes it at home, there is a level of processing always involved. So we will examine almond butter as either made with RAW or ROASTED nuts.
While many people may not care much about the difference, it is a very important one if we are interested in optimal health. Raw food products have not been exposed to temperatures over 104 – 120 degrees F. Beyond that temperature foods encounter progressive enzyme destruction, as enzymes are very heat sensitive. Many vitamins and other nutritional compounds also end up getting destroyed. For example vitamin C is also very sensitive to heat. In such cases, we not only miss out on the maximum nutritional benefits of our food, but we also hurt our health by making our bodies work harder. When foods don’t come in with their own enzymes (digestion tools), our bodies must use our own, which can lead to cellular enzyme exhaustion as one ages. On a day to day basis, this may cause a sluggish feeling after eating meals and overall poorer health. On a long term basis, this can lead to an increasingly deteriorating digestive system as we age, being unable to digest foods properly, increased aging and poorer health. For further information about this, consider a quick read called Enzymes: The difference between raw and cooked foods.
Almond butters which are not RAW, and instead use ROASTED almonds, typically have almonds that have undergone the dry-roasting process. In this process almond kernels are roasted by hot air at a temperature of 65.5 C – 100 degrees C (149 F – 212 F). Pasteurization laws in the US that have come into effect in the last few years also need to be considered, as the almond quality will vary widely and true "raw" almonds may be impossible to source out in the US. (See the question and answer section for more info about this at the bottom of the article.)
Aside from wanting a RAW almond butter, it would be ideal for us to consume an organic one as well. Although the almond has a hard shell protecting it before we eat them, and almonds do not appear to be some of the most heavily sprayed crops, there are reports of various pesticide and other toxin residues routinely found on them. I personally always recommend to go organic whenever possible. However, whether you opt for organic varieties or not, depends on the state of your overall health, age, efficiency of your detoxification system, overall diet and lifestyle habits, financial situation and amount of other toxin exposure. Eating non-organic almonds (almond butter) may be no big deal to the person who eats a natural whole foods diet, and gets enough water and sleep daily, for example. It may however be very taxing on the body of a person who eats a processed food diet, or has had any chronic toxin exposure. To read more about pesticide types and amounts in almonds, check out What’s On My Food.
The color of the almond butter should not be perfectly uniform. Although the product will be brown in general, the more you see slight color variations and particles of almonds, the less processed the product will most likely be. Most varieties will have some oil that separates out at the top, and this is normally a good thing, indicating the product was not as heavily processed. One simply has to stir it around upon opening the product. Non-stir varieties are normally emulsified or have additives. Today the majority of almonds in the world, are grown in California. To read more about almonds, their varieties and how they are grown and harvested, explore this valuable resource from the California Almond Board.
EVITA’S TIP: To avoid spilling the oil, and properly stirring your almond butter, use a “butter” knife (typical solid steel kitchen knife) instead of a spoon. Hold the jar firmly with one hand, and began stirring with the knife dipped as far as you can into the jar, with the other hand very slowly, eventually working all the oil into a uniform consistency with the nut butter. This avoids spilling and making a mess from the oil.
Be sure to also examine the label of your almond butter. Some almond butters have added oils, sugars and/or salt. Some almond butters may try to get creative in making new flavours, by adding flavouring agents, etc.
Almond Butter Nutritional Benefits
While almond butter is rich in calories, we do not need to worry about this so much, as almonds are a nutrient-rich food (as opposed to an empty calorie food). Of course if your diet is already too high in calories, or full of processed and empty calorie foods, almond butter will not be the wisest addition. Almond butter is rich in protein, providing around 6-8 grams per 2 tablespoons. (A quarter-cup of almonds contains 7.62g of protein, more protein than is provided by the typical egg, which contains 5.54 grams.) It is rich in healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fats. It is rich in vitamins, like vitamin E and vitamin B2. It is rich in minerals, like manganese and magnesium. Finally, it is also rich in various phytonutrients, like antioxidants.
To benefit the most from the above nutritional qualities, we should eat the almonds in their most natural form. This is why a RAW almond butter is superior to a ROASTED one, whose contents have been heat treated at high temperatures.
For more information about the health benefits of almonds (and almond butter), visit the Almond profile on World’s Healthiest Foods.
For a general almond butter nutrition profile, check out Nutrition Data’s info here.
EVITA’S TIP: A superior almond butter—one for optimal health—should be certified RAW, ORGANIC and have no additives. Whenever possible choose one with all those attributes that also comes in a glass jar.*
* Choosing between RAW or ORGANIC if both are not possible within one product will not alway be an easy choice because both are important attributes. Sometimes buying an organic, but non-raw product may be paying a premium for a nutritionally inferior product. Of course it is still better, than buying non-organic, roasted. So it all depends on your choices, finances and personal priorities.
1. MaraNatha Almond Butter
RATING: Very Poor to Very Good
ORGANIC (RAW, no salt, crunchy or creamy) = Very good choice
NATURAL (RAW, no salt, creamy) = Good choice
ORGANIC (Roasted, no salt, crunchy or creamy) = Good choice
NATURAL (Roasted, no salt, crunchy or creamy) = Poor choice
NATURAL (Roasted, honey flavor) = Very poor choice
SALTED (Roasted, with salt, creamy or crunchy) = Very poor choice
NO STIR (Roasted, with additives, creamy or crunchy) = Poorest choice
Company Origin: Oregon, US
Almond Origin: California
Availability: US and Canada (Grocery and online stores)
Comments: This was the very first almond butter I tried back a few years ago when I started eating almond butter. The exact variety I tried was the NATURAL ROASTED CREAMY. Little did I know then of the difference in the quality of a roasted versus raw product. I thought it tasted and spread fine….that was until a couple years later when I tried my first raw almond butter. There was then no going back. I recently tried the roasted product again being at someone’s house and couldn’t believe how processed it felt, not to mention how artificially it tasted and smelled. This variety is so runny, it makes you wonder what else is in it to water it down so much. It also has an unnaturally uniform texture and color, with no visible hint of having any almond particles or skins, signifying a heavily processed product. Having gone to raw or homemade varieties, this product is now unpalatable for me.
If you are going to go with a choice from MaraNatha, my only recommendation is number 1 above, their ORGANIC, RAW variety. I haven’t tried it personally as I got turned off of MaraNatha’s products somewhat, given my other experience. Plus, having them be bought out by The Hain Celestial Group giant, whose main motif appears to be trying to monopolize being a natural food provider, but whose product quality leaves much to be desired, didn’t help things.) The lower down the list above you go, the worse the choices get in terms of their nutritional degradation. It appears some of the varieties come in plastic and some in glass jars.
To learn more visit: Maranatha Foods
2. Artisana Almond Butter
RATING: Very Good
Varieties Available: Organic, Raw Almond Butter
Company Origin: California, United States
Almond Origin: California
Availability: US and Canada—health food and online stores—you can find Artisana Almond Butter on Amazon.com in the US.
Comments: Although I have not specifically tried the Artisana Organic Raw Almond butter, I do recommend it for several reasons. First, I really like what the company stands for and how much pride it takes in making nutritionally superior products. Second, I have personal experience with some of their other products, the coconut oil and coconut butter, and loved them both. Third, the product is both RAW and ORGANIC and comes in a GLASS jar, fulfilling the best of all worlds for a nutritionally superior product. I would give it an excellent rating if it wasn't for the fact that the almonds come from California, which means that they will be treated in some way according to California's almond laws.
To learn more visit: ArtisanaFoods.com
3. President’s Choice Blue Menu Just Almonds Almond Butter
RATING: Very Poor
Varieties Available: Just Almonds Smooth, or Crunchy
Company Origin: Toronto, ON, Canada
Almond Origin: California
Availability: Canada (Grocery stores where PC items are carried)
Comments: I actually purchased this product for the purpose of this review/article, as for many people it has become a popular choice. Otherwise, this is not an almond butter I would purchase as it is neither raw, nor organic. The good part is that it has no additives of sugar or salt, and when compared to the MaraNatha Natural Roasted Creamy, which is of the same caliber, I found this one to be much better. What makes it better, is it has a much better texture (not as runny), and slightly better taste, as well as actually having some visible sign of coming from almonds (tiny almond nut and skin particles). Overall though, both do not compare to a raw (unroasted) variety. Like the MaraNatha variety I tried, this one comes in a plastic jar, which I find always has some downside for the product’s scent and taste. In the end, I do not recommend this almond butter for optimal health.
To learn more visit: PC Blue Menu Just Almonds
4. Trader Joe’s Almond Butter
RATING: Poor to Good
RAW ( creamy or crunchy, unsalted) = Good choice
Roasted (creamy or crunchy, unsalted) = Poor choice
Roasted (creamy, with sea salt) = Poorer choice
Company Origin: California, United States
Almond Origin: California (Ground & Bottled in Oregon)
Availability: United States (Trader Joe’s stores, and online Amazon.com)
Comments: I had the pleasure of trying the Trader Joe’s RAW creamy almond butter on a trip to the US in 2010. It was then that I instantly realized what I had been missing up to this time where almond butter was concerned. The taste was incredible! A naturally sweet and delightful almond flavor, as well as scent was present. The texture has some tiny almond particles, and the consistency was much thicker than any almond butter I tried before. The color was lighter and non-uniform. All wonderful signs of a minimally processed product. I do not recommend their roasted varieties, but do recommend their raw option, especially for anyone who cannot get one that is also organic or needs a lower price point. Trader Joe’s food products and philosophy stand for: The finest quality, natural ingredients, with NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; NO genetically modified ingredients; NO MSG; NO added Trans Fats. The bonus of this product is that it also comes in glass jars.
To learn more visit: Trader Joe’s
5. Nuts To You Almond Butter
RATING: Poor to Excellent
ORGANIC, RAW (smooth) = Excellent choice
RAW (smooth) = Good choice
ORGANIC, roasted (smooth) = Good choice
Roasted (smooth or crunchy) = Poor choice
Roasted with other nut mix (Almond-Hazelnut, Almond-Cashew) = Poor choice
Roasted with fruit and/or other nut mix + added sugar and oils (Almond-Fruit & Nut, Almond-Hazelnut-Fruit & Nut) = Poorest choice
Company Origin: Paris, ON, Canada
Almond Origin: California + (Europe, for the organic, raw variety)
Availability: Canada (Grocery, Health Food and online stores like Well.ca)
Comments: Nuts to You Inc. is a small family-owned Canadian company. Most of my past (and present) almond butters are from them. They specialize in nut and seed butters, and have an incredible variety of options. I have tried a good number of them, and have been pleased. When it comes to almond butter, I have tried what I will consider their worst—Roasted, and their best—Organic and Raw kinds. I was pleased with both, but nothing compares to the raw variety. The roasted one was typical, with more fluid and less distinctive in the rich, natural almond taste. The raw one was excellent, and what made it different from most others is that there was very little effort required to stir, plus it didn’t have a thick layer of separated oil. If you are in Canada, I definitely recommend their products, and love also that they come in glass jars.
To learn more visit: no website available (Call 519-442-1737)
5. Justin's Almond Butter
RATING: Very Poor to Poor
Classic Almond, Roasted = Poor choice
Maple Almond, Roasted = Very poor choice
Honey Almond, Roasted = Very poor choice
Chocolate Almond, Roasted = Very poor choice
Company Origin: Boulder, CO
Almond Origin: unknown (probably California)
Availability: United States - widely available at retailers like Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Kroger, Wegmans, etc.
Canada - limited availability, only in Starbucks Protein Packs
Comments: I found Justin's to be an interesting company. On the one hand their overall image is excellent and they are involved in valuable work and philanthropy all over the world. But on the other hand, their products do not come close to being optimally healthy. I have not personally tried Justin's nut butters—and am not interested to, but I have no doubt that their nut butters are delicious. How can they not with the added sugars, oils and salt, among other things?! That is part of the root problem with their products. All of their products, even their plain almond butter has some sort of additive. Aside from that, they use roasted almonds. Yes, some of the additives are organic, but organic cane sugar is sugar, and not something desired by those who are interested in optimal health. Likewise, although Justin's states that they sustainably harvest their source of palm fruit oil which they add to their products, today we have too much environmental destruction and problems related to palm oil products for me to feel comfortable recommending any product that uses any kind of palm oil to others. And when it comes to the packaging, the butters are packaged in plastic jars. Aside from nut butters, Justin's other product line is as they call it "candy". These include various candy bars and cups that are not very different from commercial candy bars, aside from using some organic ingredients. So in conclusion, their products are definitely a step up from something like Nutella or common processed nut butters, but in no way suitable for optimal health.
To learn more visit: Justin's Website
Homemade Almond Butter
As good, as the best of the above products may be, there is another option that many people do not consider, which is the most optimally healthy choice. This being, making your own almond (or other nut) butter at home. I think the biggest reason why most of us do not consider this is that we do not realize how easy it is. Having tasted many of the above, and made my own at home, I can tell you that nothing beats homemade almond butter.
To make homemade almond butter all one needs is a decent food processor. Ideally a Vitamix blender would be the best, but I realize this is not in some people’s budget. Either way the steps are very simple.
If you have a Vitamix, put in the desired amount of almonds into the unit, on a lower setting and using your tamper slowly work all the almonds through, until a paste forms.
If you have a food processor, put in the desired amount of almonds into the unit. You may also need some water. On the highest setting, let the almonds get processed adding minimal amounts of water so that a paste forms.
Some people also like to soak their almonds and make nut butters from soaked almonds. This makes a different taste and texture, but still very delicious. Note, it will not store as long as plain, raw almond butter.
The best part is that you can easily and naturally flavor the above homemade almond butters. I have added anything from raisins to raw cacao, or carob powder, to make a delicious spread. Because these days I eat very minimal bread products, I also don’t eat much almond butter, so I don’t make these on a regular basis. But when I do, I make an amount that will usually last 3 – 5 days. Be sure to store it in the refrigerator. The pure almond butter will store longer than the one with water or other additions.
Questions & Answers
Do the same guidelines apply to peanut butter?
Yes. The same goes for peanut butter, in that it is best to make it oneself from fresh, raw nuts. With peanut butter it is a little tricker too, as peanuts are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and unlike their “true nut” counterparts, do not have a hard, thick shell to protect them. On top of that, and common infections from a toxic fungus, and that GMO peanuts are in the works, organic peanuts would be the best choice if choosing to eat peanuts at all.
Aren't all almonds originating from, or sold in the US pasteurized by law? How can any almond butter therefore be truly raw?
Yes, all almonds in the US are indeed pasteurized in one way or another. There are four main methods of pasteurizing almonds. These are:
- Steam processing/pasteurization
- High heat treatment (roasting)
- Toxic fumigation with propylene oxide (PPO)
The two most common methods used are steam pasteurizing and PPO fumigation. It is therefore vital to only buy high quality almonds and try to always find out how that particular company processes their almonds.
However, steam pasteurized almonds are still better than roasted almonds, hence raw almond butters are still much preferred as they have more nutritional integrity. Heating almonds at high temperatures creates potentially harmful levels of acrylamide. Learn more about the dangers of almond pasteurization.
Another solution is also to source out almonds from other countries like Italy, where truly raw almonds exist, as pasteurization is not mandatory.
Are there other companies or sources of almond butter that you recommend?
Yes. Another good option is looking around at local farmer's markets or community shops that sell locally made, high quality nut butters. Get to know who is making them, where they got their almonds and what quality they are. It can be a great way to support local and get a product that is the next best thing to being homemade.
Companies that provide truly raw, organic and pure almond butters will be added here as they come to my attention.
- Ethical Bounty - Stone Ground, Raw, Organic Nut Butters
Where can I get truly raw almonds, not pasteurized or irradiated, or from California?
Chances are that your local health food store can put in a special order for you, and source out some really high quality, natural almonds.
One of the natural health food companies that I trust for optimal, raw and organic foods is Organic Traditions. They sell a truly raw almond, which is mainly sourced from Italy. Organic Traditions Premium Raw Shelled Almonds are Certified Organic, Kosher, Gluten-Free, non-irradiated, non-pasterized, sustainably grown and harvested and are Fair Trade Certified.
- US customers can find OT Raw Almonds on Amazon.com
- Canadian customers can find OT Raw Almonds on NationalNutrition.ca
You can enjoy these as they are for snacks, or make truly raw, homemade almond butters with them, or almond milks.