Best Organic Nut Butters – A Backpacker’s Nut Butter Guide
Nut butters are a great choice of foods for backpackers because they have a very high caloric density, or amount of calories/oz. This is a good thing if you’re trying to cut weight from your pack because it means you can carry less food and still get the needed amount of calories. There are lots of different ways hikers store and carry nut butters including in the jar, in a squeeze tube such as Coghlan’s, in individual foil pouches, and in a doubled Ziploc bag. I like Coghlan’s becasue they are convenient, don’t make a mess, weigh only an ounce, and are BPA free. So, what are some of the best organic nut butters? Let’s first look at what makes a nut butter great.
How to Decide on a Nut Butter
There are so many great choices of nut butters these days, probably spurred by the increase in peanut allergies in recent years. We’ve come a long way since Jiff Peanut Butter, so how do you decide which nut butters are the best health-wise?
Raw Vs. Roasted
Nut butters come in either raw or roasted form. Both offer health benefits and also health drawbacks so I don’t recommend one over the other. Raw food products have not been exposed to high temperatures and therefore any beneficial living enzymes will still be in tact. Temperatures beyond 120°F can destroy enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and some vitamins. There is currently no industry certification for truly raw foods. Some companies claim their nuts are raw when they have actually been pasteurized or heated to a temperature that exceeds what is considered safe to maintain raw nutritional integrity. There are claims that roasted nut butters might actually be better for you than raw because the roasting process potentially removes some of the phytic acid. Phytic acid is considered an “antinutrient” which attaches to minerals in our digestive tracts, making them less available for our bodies to use. However, I found some raw, sprouted nut butters which means the nuts have been soaked and the phytic acid should not be a problem. Many roasted nut butters are made from nuts that have been fumigated with toxic Propylene Oxide (PPO) so that’s a negative. I personally like the way roasted butters taste so I usually buy those. Seems like the raw, sprouted butters might be the healthiest way to go though.
Choose organic nut butters
We all know by now that non organic crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides so the ideal nut butter should be organic. Even nuts or legumes with a shell can leach pesticides into the nut meat.
Stay away from no stir nut butters
You may have noticed that organic nut butters have a layer of oil that has separated out at the top. This is a good quality because it means you butter has been minimally processed. Cheap non organic nut butters contain hydrogenated vegetable oil which makes the butter more solid and shelf stable. Hydrogenated oil is a trans fat and trans fats are the ones that are really bad for your health. They are linked to obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, and inflammatory conditions. There are organic no stir nut butters and you should also stay away from those also because they likely contain palm oil which is a preservative. Palm oil is not as bad as hydrogenated vegetable oil, but the FDA and the WHO have both come to the conclusion that palm oil is not a healthy substitute for trans fats. Just say no to no stir.
Choose a nut butter with no additives or preservatives
Even some organic nut butters contain added additives and preservatives like cane sugar or palm oil. The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Preferably it should only contain the nut or seed and maybe salt. That’s all you need, and it still tastes quite delicious.
Choose a nut butter in a glass jar
I always try to opt for glass packaging rather than plastic because plastic can leach chemicals into your food. Glass is always your safer bet when it comes to food storage, both for the environment and for yourself.
Nut Butter Top Picks
This almond butter contains only one ingredient, organic raw sprouted almonds. Sprouting reduces enzyme inhibitors and increases healthy enzyme content. After the almonds have been soaked and germinated (sprouted), they are then dried at temperatures around 108°F. Then they are ground into an enzyme rich and easily digested butter. The sprouting process does make for a thinner, runnier almond butter.
Origin of almonds – Sourced from outside the US where pasteurization is not required
Origin of company – Texas
Packaging – Glass jar
Characteristics – sweet tasting, thin, and unsalted
Caloric density – 187 cal/oz
Other Varieties – Raw Sprouted Pumpkin Seed Butter, Raw Cashew Butter
This macadamia butter is made in small batches and processed at low temperatures to preserve the living enzymes. Its only ingredient is raw macadamia nuts. You could add macadamia butter to a tortilla, crackers, or fruit. It is often mixed with cashew butter.
Origin of macadamia nuts – Australia
Origin of company – Ashland, OR
Packaging – Glass jar
Characteristics – creamy, light crunchiness, unsalted
Caloric density – 195 cal/oz
Other Varieties – Raw Pumpkin Seed Butter, Raw Cashew Butter, Raw Pecan Butter with Cashews, Raw Walnut Butter, Raw Pistachio Butter, Raw Almond Butter, Raw Hempspread
This is a really delicious mixed butter with pecans and cashews being the only ingredients. Pecan butter is another good substitute for peanut butter and while backpacking I use it on crackers, tortillas, in oatmeal, and by the spoonful. This company hand crafts their butters in small batches and the factory does not process peanuts, dairy, gluten, or soy. Artisana also packages their nut butters in handy individual foil packets which are great for backpackers.
Origin of Pecans and cashews – unknown
Origin of company – Oakland, CA
Packaging – Glass jar
Characteristics – rich flavor
Caloric density – 210 cal/oz
Other Varieties – Raw Walnut Butter with Cashews, Raw Almond Butter, Raw Cashew Butter
You might wonder why this one is on my list because it comes in a plastic jar, which I don’t like. What I do like is that Trader Joe’s uses Valencia peanuts in their peanut butter because they are less prone to aflatoxin. This peanut butter contains only two ingredients, peanut butter and sea salt, and has no added sweeteners or preservatives.
Origin of peanuts – Valencia peanuts are only grown in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma
Origin of company – Monrovia, CA
Packaging – Plastic jar
Characteristics – creamy, salted, naturally sweet
Caloric density – 190 cal/oz
Once Again is a 100% employee owned company and they’ve been around since 1976. They support organic and sustainable farming practices. This sunflower seed butter is unsweetened and unsalted but tastes great. Sunflower butter can be used as a replacement for peanut butter and tastes great on celery, with crackers, or on a sandwich.
Origin of Sunflower Seeds – Oregon
Origin of Company – Upstate western New York
Packaging – Glass jar
Characteristics – smooth, unsalted
Caloric density – 180 cal/oz
Other Varieties – Almond Butter, Cashew Butter, Peanut Butter
Make Your Own Nut Butter
Making your own nut butter at home is a fairly simple process. You can use either raw or roasted nuts and get creative with how you combine them. If you want to use raw nuts, I recommend soaking and dehydrating them to remove the phytic acid. After that you simply blend the nuts in a high powered blender or food processor. You can play around with adding your own extras such as salt, spices, maple syrup, honey, cacao, herbs, vanilla, etc. My personal favorite homemade nut butter is pecan with a little maple syrup and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
So, what is your go to nut butter brand? Feel free to comment below if you have a brand you’d like to add to the list or if you have a nut butter recipe you’d like to share!