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 world of refined food today and applies to all foods. As part of this guide, I will help you understand the quality, health benefits, and risk considerations that relate to 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 nuts and seed butter varieties 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 avoid 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.

Almond Nutrition

Each of these reasons has spurred consumer interest in other nut and seed butter varieties, 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 and health benefits:

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

Therefore, almond butter has become a welcome choice in many homes today. However, not all almond butter is 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.

Almond Sustainability Concerns

Before we go any further, we need to be aware of the fact that as wonderful as almonds and almond butter are for many health, enjoyment, and practicality reasons, almonds are NOT a very environmentally-friendly food option. Almonds require incredibly high amounts of water during their growing cycle, and their production can be destructive to the environment for other reasons as the demand for them grows. The worst part is that over 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California, which has been in severe drought for many years now. To learn more and understand the severity of these concerns, please read the article Your Almond Habit is Sucking California Dry by Tom Philpott.

The solution here is to have almonds play a conservative role in your diet. Rather than trying to maximize on this food source or having it on a regular basis, aim to diversify your diet and base it on more eco-friendly food options like hemp seeds, oats, and legumes, which are some of the most sustainable food options. If you are looking for healthy high-fat food, aside from hemp seeds, the coconut may be a good option if it is a locally-growing food crop for you.

How to Choose the Best Almond Butter

1. Organic versus Conventional

One of the most important first attributes of high-quality almond butter is for it to be organic. Even though almonds have hard shells protecting them, there are 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 will be explained below, non-organic almonds will most commonly be fumigated with PPO (propylene oxide), so it is wise to choose organic only if we are interested in having almonds in our diet for optimal health. 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 #1: Choose ORGANIC almond butter.

1. Raw versus Roasted

All almond butter on the market today originates 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 butter, which typically uses 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 butter varieties are usually runnier, have less pronounced oil separation, and a different flavor compared to their raw counterparts.

Almond butter that is labelled as raw may or may not be truly raw depending on the origin of the almonds used. All US-based almonds are pasteurized in some way, and are subject to some level of processing, as talked about above. 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 and almond butter from sources you can trust. Typically, organic almonds undergo steam pasteurization, whereas 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 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 butter for greater nutritional integrity. The best solution would be to source out almonds or almond butter 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 #2: Choose RAW almond butter.

3. Pure versus With Additives

For optimal health, we want our foods as wholesome and pure as possible. While high-quality, raw, organic almond butter will typically be pure, without any additives, many others will not. Common additives in almond butter 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 a PURE almond butter 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 an almond butter that is packaged in GLASS jars.

Using Almond Butter

Characteristics: Almond butter is typically brown in color, though the color may not be perfectly uniform. Raw almond butter has 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 an optimally healthy bread 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. High-quality, raw, organic almond butter typically costs $15 to $25 for a 12 to 16oz (340 to 454g) jar. On the other end of the spectrum, roasted, conventional almond butter typically costs $7 to $12 for the same amount. Unfortunately, this price difference is what steers most people to stick with the lower quality options. However, my advice for optimal health is to always 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.

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

What if you have to choose? Choosing between ORGANIC or RAW, 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. Generally, organic should be prioritized.

We will now examine a few common brands found in the US and 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 butter options.

1. Nuts To You Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw Organic, Roasted Raw 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 obvious website or social media presence, yet 25 years of experience as producers of high-quality nut butter. Their organic, raw almond butter, which uses European almonds, is outstanding, and my top choice amongst all almond butters that I have tried to date. I also value the company, which provides a local option for me, given that they are Ontario-based. They specialize in nut and seed butter varieties and have a wide selection 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 Amazon.ca and Well.ca

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 enjoyed trying many of their products over the years, including their nut butter varieties and coconut butter. The quality is consistently superior, and another bonus is that their prices are better than some of the other producers with lower quality products. To learn more, visit the Artisana Organics website.

Availability:

  • US — widely available at some grocery, health food, and online stores, like Amazon.com and Vitacost.com

  • Canada — available at some grocery, health food, and online stores, like Amazon.ca

3. Rejuvenative Foods Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw
Characteristics: smooth and chunky varieties, no added salt
Origin of almonds: California
Origin of company: Santa Cruz, CA, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Rejuvenative Foods is a company started by founder and owner Evan Richards, who has been on a health food journey for over 30 years. Like Artisana, this company is committed to high-quality, living foods, and only feature an organic, raw almond butter. I have not had the chance of trying this almond butter myself, but I have no reason to believe that it will not be an excellent choice where top almond butter choices are concerned. To learn more, visit the Rejuvenative website.

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

4. Jiva Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw
Characteristics: creamy, unsalted
Origin of almonds: India
Origin of company: Houston, TX, United States
Packaging: Glass jars

Comments: Jiva Organics was founded in 2014, and was created by Spicy World of USA, Inc., which has been in business for over 30 years. The company is focused on offering high-quality South Asian food products that are organic, pure, natural, chemical-free, and nutritious. They only offer one type of almond butter, and it has the best features that an almond butter could have, featuring both truly raw (unpasteurized) and organic almonds, but also ones that have been sprouted. While I have not yet tried their almond butter, I have greatly enjoyed using a variety of their organic spices over the years. The quality and freshness have always been consistent. To learn more, read about the almond butter on the Jiva Organics website.

Availability: United States — select grocery, health food, and online stores, like Amazon.com and Vitacost.com

5. MaraNatha Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw Organic, Roasted Raw Roasted Roasted with additives &
no stir varieties
Characteristics: smooth and crunchy varieties, some with salt, sugar, and/or oil
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 true health, ethical, and integrity standards, this one is not it. While the company does offer an organic, raw almond butter, I would recommend considering the same from another brand if possible. MaraNatha’s roasted almond butter was actually the very first almond butter I ever tried many 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 butter options, MaraNatha openly shares that during processing their raw butter does exceed temperatures needed to maintain the nutritionally integral of a truly raw product. They also share that all of their organic and natural almond butter varieties use almonds that were steam pasteurized. This is a very positive thing to hear, as otherwise the almonds could have been treated via the toxic PPO fumigation process. To learn more, visit MaraNatha Foods website.

Availability:

6. Woodstock Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Organic, Raw (n/a) Raw (n/a) Lightly Toasted Roasted
Characteristics: smooth 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. I have tried their organic, lightly toasted almond butter, and it was excellent, exactly as such an almond butter would be expected—thick, creamy, and delicious. NOTE: They used to have truly raw and organic varieties, and the company shared that their raw almonds were steam pasteurized, but these varieties now appear to be discontinued. Therefore, with no organic and raw varieties available, this almond butter ranks below average. To learn more, visit Woodstock-Foods.com

Availability: United States — various grocery, health food and online stores, like Amazon.com and LuckyVitamin.com and Vitacost.com

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, lightly toasted variety is made of 90% California and 10% Italy almonds. **To learn more, visit the Once Again website.

Availability:

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 butter 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. On the other hand, their products do not come close to being optimally healthy, like Barney Butter, which I will share about below. Simply put, they are attracting people to their products via the natural tendency, and weakness, humans have to crave sugar and fat. You can add those two ingredients to pretty much anything and have it taste great while getting people addicted to your product at the same time. And when it comes to the amazing, natural, rich fats, and delicately sweet tones of pure almonds, neither added sugar nor added oil are needed. Their 4 kinds of almond butter 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 whatsoever, as it features the very opposite of what an optimal almond butter would be all about. To learn more, visit Justin’s Website.

Availability:

9. Barney Almond Butter

Best Satisfactory Worst
Raw + Chia variety
(added oil)
Roasted with additives
(all varieties)
Characteristics: smooth and crunchy, with additives like sugar, salt, and/or oil
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 butter, and therefore, only focuses on the almond butter. While this sounds like a nice intention, the products are not ones that reflect optimal health. They distinctly share Justin’s characteristics (above). The entire line of almond butter contains added sugar, salt, and/or oil. 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, makes this one of the worst almond butter choices out there. To learn more, visit the Barney Butter website.

Availability:

  • Canada — widely available at grocery, health food, and online stores, like Amazon.ca and Well.ca

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. That is to make your own almond or another nut butter at home, which can be done so quickly and easily. Having tasted many of the above, and made my own at home, I can tell you that nothing beats homemade almond butter where you can use the highest quality ingredients, namely organic raw almonds from Europe, or a similar country, which does not require them to be pasteurized.

To make homemade almond butter, all one needs is a high-powered blender, like a Vitamix or a high-quality food processor.

  • If you have a Vitamix, add 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 need to sweeten it, you can add in some organic Medjool dates. You can also use soaked/sprouted almonds without drying them, which will produce a completely different type of almond butter, one that is very moist and non-oily / non-fatty. (Note: soaked almond butter should be made in smaller batches and used within a week.)

  • If you have a food processor, add in the desired amount of almonds into the unit. Use the highest setting and let the almonds process until they start to release their oils. Soaked almonds are much easier to process in food processors, and you can also thin the mixture by adding minimal amounts of water so that a paste forms.

The best part is that you can easily and naturally flavor the above homemade almond butter with wholesome, optimal health ingredients if you’d like to. These can include whole-food sweeter choices like dates or raisins, as mentioned above, and raw cacao or carob powder for a chocolate flavor. Be sure to store your nut butter 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 kinds of nut butter, peanut butter included, in that we should choose organic, raw nut and peanut butter options, 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 butter 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.

Don’t Recommend: Avoid cheap, bulk almonds, and any 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. These include brands like President’s Choice Almond Butter in Canada and Trader Joe’s Almond Butter in the US, which both use roasted, conventional almonds and come in plastic jars.

Where can I get truly raw almonds, not pasteurized or irradiated, or from California?

Today, most big health food stores will have at least one, if not more, choices of such almonds either in their bulk or superfoods sections.

1. Organic Traditions: One of the natural health food companies that I trust for optimal, raw, and organic foods is Organic Traditions. They offer an organic 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. They are available on Amazon in US and Canada.

2. Food to Live: This company offers a wide assortment of nuts, seeds, and other whole plant foods, and this includes an organic, raw almond from Europe. Food to Live Raw Organic Shelled Almonds are certified organic, non-GMO, raw, non-pasteurized, kosher, and unsalted.* They are available on Amazon in US and Canada.

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