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How to Choose the Best Almond Butter: Comparing the Best & Worst Brands

How to Choose the Best Almond Butter: Comparing the Best & Worst Brands

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:

  • Peanut allergies continue to be on the rise.
  • Peanuts are being increasingly grown as a GMO crop.
  • Tainted peanut butter scares have made us more wary of peanut products.
  • Peanuts have common fungal and toxin problems, 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. The majority of almonds today 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. 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. Here is a quick summary of their nutrition:

  • Almond butter is rich in protein, providing around 6 to 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.) 
  • Almonds are rich in healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fats.
  • They are an excellent source of fiber.
  • They are rich in vitamins, like vitamin E and B vitamins, and minerals, like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron, and calcium.
  • Almonds are a source of various phytonutrients and antioxidants.

While almonds, and thus almond butters, are rich in calories, these are typically nutrient-rich calories, as opposed to empty calories. However, we should still be prudent with our use of any high-calorie foods, unless we are extremely active or growing children. For more information about almonds, learn about their health overview or specific nutrition qualities.

Therefore, almond butters have become a welcome choice in many homes today. However, not all almond butters are of equal value or quality. It is important to remember, as wise and conscientious consumers, that as the popularity of something increases, so do derivatives and poor quality versions of that product as well. So let's examine how to pick the best quality almond butter for optimal health, as well as compare several brands and varieties that will illustrate some of the best and some of the worst examples.

How to Choose the Best Almond Butter

1. Raw versus Roasted

All almond butters on the market today originate from either RAW or ROASTED almonds. Ideally, raw should mean that the food was not exposed to a damaging amount of heat. But we need to be aware that there is no industry certification for truly raw food products; companies commonly misuse this word in their labelling practices, where some foods labelled as raw will have been subjected to heat that exceeds what is necessary for truly raw nutritional integrity. However, these are still better choices (as will be explained below) than roasted options.

While many people may not give much thought to the difference between raw and roasted, it is a very important one if we are interested in optimal health. Truly raw food products must not have been exposed to temperatures over 104 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Beyond these temperatures, foods encounter progressive nutritional destruction, as enzymes, as well as most antioxidants, phytonutrients, and some vitamins are heat-sensitive. Heated foods not only, typically, provide us with less nutritional value, but also increase stress on our body as many substances become anti-inflammatory. (I explain this in detail in my book.) 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 increased levels of inflammation that lead to all sorts of degenerative diseases.

In our modern marketplace, it is most common to find roasted almond butters, which 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 to 100 degrees Celsius (149 to 212 Fahrenheit). These almond butters are usually runnier, have less pronounced oil separation, and a different flavor compared to their raw counterparts.

Almond butters labelled as raw may or may not be truly raw depending on the origin of the almonds used, as all US-based almonds are pasteurized in some way, and the level of processing involved. There are four main methods of heat-treating almonds:

  1. Steam pasteurization
  2. Roasting (high heat treatment)
  3. Blanching
  4. Toxic fumigation with propylene oxide (PPO)

The two most common pasteurization methods are steam pasteurizing and PPO fumigation. It is therefore vital to only buy high quality almonds/almond butters from sources you can trust. Typically, organic almonds undergo steam pasteurization, where as conventional almonds undergo the PPO fumigation.

Aside from risks associated with PPO and decreased nutritional integrity, heating almonds at high temperatures creates potentially harmful levels of acrylamide, a harmful compound for many areas of our health. As well, it subjects the nuts to lipid oxidation. Almonds are high in unsaturated fats, which are not very heat-stable. Conclusively, high heat-treated nuts are not a an optimal health option for many reasons.

While steam pasteurized almonds are not truly raw, they are much better than roasted and/or fumigated almonds, and why we want to focus on raw almond butters for greater nutritional integrity. The best solution would be to source out almonds or almond butters that use almonds from other countries like Italy, where truly raw almonds exist, as pasteurization is not mandatory. For ideal digestion and nutrition, nuts should also be soaked/sprouted. However, while this is something that can be easily done at home, it is not a practice that companies may ever be willing to undertake.

Tip #1: Choose RAW almond butters.

2. Organic versus Conventional

Aside from wanting a raw almond butter, it would be ideal for us to consume an organic one as well. Although almonds have hard shells protecting them, there are reports of various pesticide and other toxin residues routinely found on them. To read more about pesticide types and amounts in almonds, check out What’s On My Food. Additionally, as we talked about above, non-organic almonds will most likely be fumigated with PPO, so it is smart to always go organic, whenever possible. As we continue to increase our understanding about the benefits of foods grown and produced without pesticides, genetically modified organisms, synthetic fertilizers, preservatives, and toxins, the organic market will continue to increase in choice and accessibility for all.

Tip #2: Choose ORGANIC almond butters.

3. Pure versus With Additives

For optimal health, we want our foods as wholesome and pure as possible. While high quality, raw, organic almond butters will typically be pure, without any additives, many others will not. Common additives in almond butters include: added oils, isolated sugars or sweeteners, salt, and flavors, none of which are ideal for our health or weight. Therefore, always examine the ingredient label of your almond butter.

Tip #3: Choose PURE almond butters without any additives.

4. Glass versus Plastic Jars

For optimal health, it is always ideal for us to choose foods packaged in glass. Plastics, specifically petroleum-based ones, are full of chemicals, many of which can leach out or be disturbed by heat or various reactions. It is never a good idea to heat plastic or pour a hot substance into a plastic container, and additionally, have it sit in it for prolonged periods of time when it comes to our food and health.

Tip #4: Choose almond butters packaged in GLASS jars.

Using Almond Butter

Characteristics: Almond butters are brown in color, though the color may not be perfectly uniform. Raw almond butters have more color variations due to natural almond particles and a thicker, more viscous consistency. 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. Avoid non-stir varieties, which are normally emulsified or have additives, like other oils.

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.

Use in meals: Almond butter can be consumed with many fruits, like apples, or vegetables, like celery. It can be consumed with optimally healthy breads or crackers. It can be added to cooked grain bowls, like oatmeal or quinoa, or to smoothies. It can be added to many healthy raw, vegan desserts, like these superfood granola bars, or simply eaten on its own.

Price of product: The cost of almond butter varies significantly depending on its variety. Raw, organic almond butters typically cost $15 to $20 per 16oz/1lb/454g jar. On the other end of the spectrum, roasted, conventional almond butters typically cost $7 to $12 for the same amount. This is unfortunately what steers most people to stick with the lower quality options. However, my advice for optimal health is always to focus on quality over quantity. It is better to eat less of a high quality product, than more of a low quality product. We can also be smart and savvy consumers and buy almond butter in bulk when a good sale arises. On numerous occasions, I've found raw, organic almond butter on sale for $12 to $14 per 16oz jar.

SUMMARY TIP: A superior almond butter—one for optimal health—should be RAW and ORGANIC, without any additives, and packaged in a glass jar.

What if you have to choose? Choosing between RAW or ORGANIC, if both are not possible within one product, may not be an easy choice because both are important attributes. In such a case, it will come down to your personal priorities and what you may deem as more important for you at that given time.

We will now examine a few common brands found in the US and/or Canada to help you know what is available to make the best choices. In the tables below, you will see the varieties available for each brand, best to worst from left to right, and learn a little about each company and their almond butters.

1. Nuts To You Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw Raw Organic, Roasted Roasted Roasted plus additives
Characteristics: smooth and crunchy varieties, no added salt
Origin of almonds: California (Europe for Organic, Raw variety)
Origin of company: Paris, ON, Canada
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Nuts to You Nut Butter Inc. is a small family-owned Canadian company, with no website or social media presence, yet 25 years of experience as producers of high quality nut butters. Their organic, raw almond butter, which uses European almonds is outstanding and my top choice amongst all almond butters I have tried to date. So is the company as a whole, as they are also a local option for me, being Ontario-based. 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 consistently pleased with the quality.

Availability: Canada — widely available in grocery, health food and online stores like Well.ca has Canada's largest online selection of Green & Natural Products. Free Shipping $29+

To learn more visit: No website available (Call 519-442-1737)

2. Artisana Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw
Characteristics: smooth, unsalted
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Oakland, CA, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Artisana Organics is one of those companies that just feels so good to support, as they have the right vision and mission all around. They only focus on producing pure (without any additives), organic products and they take the raw term seriously, keeping temperatures down during processing to preserve optimal nutritional integrity. This means that they only have one variety of almond butter: an organic, raw almond butter, and it is exceptional! I've tried many of their products over the years from nut butters to coconut oil and have loved each one. The quality is consistently superior and what else is a bonus is that their prices are more competitive than some of the other producers with lower quality products.

Availability:

To learn more visit: ArtisanaFoods.com

3. Essential Living Foods Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw
Characteristics: smooth, unsalted
Origin of almonds: Europe
Origin of company: Culver City, CA, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Essential Living Foods is a company that also stands out for its dedication to fair, ethical, and holistic business practices, as well as optimally health and environmentally conscious products. Like Artisana, they are committed to the highest quality, living foods, thus only feature an organic, raw almond butter. What is even better is that it is one of the few almond butters that is made from truly raw almonds, that come from Europe. It is a pleasure to recommend their almond butter, and company as a whole.

Availability: United States — select grocery, health food and online stores, like:

To learn more visit: Essential Living Foods

4. Woodstock Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw Raw Organic, Roasted Roasted
Characteristics: smooth and crunchy varieties, no added salt
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Providence, RI, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Woodstock Foods is a private label owned by United Natural Foods (UNFI), the largest wholesale distributor of natural and organic foods in the U.S. The company is committed to domestically-sourced, organic, and non-GMO foods, as well as sustainable practices. During a trip to the US, I tried their organic, raw almond butter, and it was excellent, exactly as such an almond butter would be expected—thick, creamy, and delicious. The company shares their their raw almonds are steam pasteurized.

Availability: United States — various grocery, health food and online stores, like:

To learn more visit: Woodstock's Website

5. Tree of Life Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw Raw Organic, Roasted Roasted
Characteristics: creamy and crunchy varieties, no added salt
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Romeoville, IL, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Tree of Life was an independent food distributing company that is now owned by KeHe Food Distributors since 2010. KeHe is an employee-owned company and the largest distributor of specialty foods in the US whose mission is "to be the preferred supply chain partner in the specialty, natural, and organic, and fresh product marketplace in North America." It has facilities throughout the US, and a division in Canada. The Tree of Life almond butters do have the right products available, with respect to organic and raw options (steam pasteurized), but don't expect a personal touch or a consumer-friendly website that will tell you about their specific products. As is done with many products today, they come from the same production facility and are then, simply, privately labelled for various distributors. Therefore, this option ranks as an average choice, along with Woodstock (above) and MaraNatha (below).

Availability: United States and Canada — select grocery, health food or online stores, like:

To learn more visit: KeHe Distributors

6. MaraNatha Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw Raw Organic, Roasted Roasted Roasted with additives &
no stir varieties
Characteristics: smooth and crunchy varieties, some with salt
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Ashland, OR, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: MaraNatha Foods is a company that is under the wing of the corporate giant, The Hain Celestial Group. For those consumers who are interested in and conscious about supporting companies with high health, ethical and integrity standards, this one is not it. While the company does offer an organic, raw almond butter, I'd recommend considering the same from another brand. MaraNatha's roasted almond butter was actually the very first almond butter I tried years ago, and didn't realize what I was missing until I went with raw, organic varieties. That option was extremely runny and poor tasting. With respect to their raw nut butters, MaraNatha shares openly that during processing their raw butters do exceed temperatures needed to maintain a nutritionally integral, raw product. They also share that all of their almonds, not only the organic ones, undergo steam pasteurization, not PPO fumigation, which is a very positive thing to hear for those who wish to consider their conventional raw almond butter.

Availability:

To learn more visit: MaraNatha Foods

7. Once Again Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Toasted Organic, Roasted Roasted & Toasted Roasted, no-stir with oil
Characteristics: creamy and crunchy varieties, no salt added
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Nunda, NY, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Once Again Nut Butter is a company that was started in 1976 by a couple who was interested in organic and sustainable farming and the power of community. It is an employee-owned company that has today grown considerably from its humble beginnings, and is located in a small rural community. A lot of important health and eco-conscious considerations have been applied, unfortunately this company does not have a truly "raw" almond butter. Each one is either lightly toasted via their milling process or dry-roasted. The organic, toasted variety is made of 90% California and 10% Italy almonds.

Availability:

To learn more visit: Once Again

8. Justin's Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Roasted with additives
(all varieties)
Characteristics: smooth, salted and unsalted
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Boulder, CO, United States
Packaging: Plastic jars

Comments: Justin's was started by a young, active man, named Justin, who wanted to provide "great" tasting nut butters and snacks. 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, committed to sustainability, and philanthropy. But on the other hand, their products do not come close to being optimally healthy. Like Barney Butter, which I will share about below, they are attracting people to their products via our natural tendency to favor sugar and fat. You can add those to pretty much anything and have it taste great. But these are so not needed when it comes to the amazing, natural, rich fats and delicately sweet tones of pure almonds. Why mess with Mother Nature's perfection? Their 4 almond butters use roasted, conventional nuts, are packaged in plastic and contain added sugars, oils and salt, among other additives. Justin's uses palm fruit oil, which they state is sustainably harvested, however it is just not needed in these products in the first place, aside from adding the 'no stir' convenience. Therefore, I cannot recommend this company's almond butter as it features the very opposite of what an optimal almond butter would be all about.

Availability:

To learn more visit: Justin's Website

9. Barney Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Raw + Chia variety
(added oil)
Roasted with additives
(all varieties)
Characteristics: smooth and crunchy, salted and unsalted
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Fresno, CA, United States
Packaging: Plastic jars

Comments: Barney Butter was started by a mom who wanted to offer a different kind of almond butter, and healthier alternative to peanut butters, and thus only focuses on almond butter. While that is a wonderful sentiment, the products are not ones that reflect optimal health. They distinctly share Justin's characteristics (above). The entire line of almond butters contain added sugars, oils, and/or salt. There are no organic or raw options, and the almonds are blanched roasted. They too use the controversial palm fruit oil to achieve the 'no stir' trait. All this, along with the plastic packaging, is why I cannot recommend this product in any capacity.

Availability:

To learn more visit: Barney Butter

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 high-powered blender, like a Vitamix or a good food processor.

  • If you have a Vitamix, put in the desired amount of almonds into the unit. Using a lower setting and 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 a little 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 for added nutrition benefits 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 dry-based, raw almond butter.

The best part is that you can easily and naturally flavor the above homemade almond butters with wholesome, optimal health ingredients if you'd like to. These can include whole-food sweeter choices like dates or raisins, and raw cacao or carob powder for a chocolate flavor. Be sure to store your nut butters in the refrigerator or freezer.

Questions & Answers

Do the same guidelines apply to other nut butters, like peanut butter?

Yes. The same guidelines apply to other nut butters, peanut butter included, in that we should choose organic, raw nut/peanut butters, packaged in glass. Peanuts, especially, are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and unlike their “true nut” counterparts, do not have a hard, thick shell to protect them. Also, due to common infections from a toxic fungus and that GMO peanuts are in the works, organic peanuts are the best choice, if choosing to eat any peanuts at all.

Are there other companies or sources of almond butter that you recommend or don't recommend?

Recommend: Another good option is looking around at local farmer's markets or community shops that sell locally made, high quality nut butters with the same characteristics that we talked about above. Get to know who is making them, where they got their almonds and how they were processed. It can be a great way to support local and get a product that is the next best thing to being homemade.

Examples:

  1. Ethical Bounty — Stone ground, raw, organic, glass jar

Don't Recommend: Avoid cheap, bulk almonds and such products of questionable origin or quality. There are also many cheap store-brand or generic brand versions of almond butter that are usually mass produced without care or concern for high quality standards.

Examples:

  1. President's Choice Almond Butter — Roasted, conventional, plastic jar

  2. Trader Joe's Almond Butter — Roasted, conventional, plastic jar. (They used to have glass-packaged and raw options, which I did recommend, but have switched to plastic jars since and the raw variety is currently unavailable.)

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.

1. Organic Traditions: 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-pasteurized, sustainably grown and harvested and fair trade certified.

2. Terrasoul: Another truly raw, unpasteurized almond comes from Terrasoul, whose almonds come from Spain.

You can enjoy these as they are for snacks, or make truly raw, homemade almond butters or almond milks using them.

Published Feb 13th 2012
Updated Jul 31st 2015
Evita Ochel
Author Evita Ochel
Evita is a consciousness expansion teacher. Her diverse passions and expertise include being a writer, speaker, holistic nutritionist, web TV host, and author of the book Healing & Prevention Through Nutrition. Her health oriented teaching focuses on natural, whole, plant-based and organic nutrition for optimal health and longevity. Her spiritually oriented teaching focuses on consciousness expansion and heart-centered living for optimal joy and inner peace. Evita is also the creator of several online publications: Evolving Beings, Evolving Wellness, Evolving Channels and Evolving Scenes, as well as Healthytarian—a lifestyle for the well-being of the mind, body and spirit.

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