Smooth & Sweet Coconut Almond Butter: Better than roasted nuts
Nut butters. Slathered on fruits or celery, spread across a toasted slice of organic coconut bread or savored guiltily right from the spoon, there is something about the slightly sweet aroma and satisfyingly smooth texture of nut butters that is so alluring. I love opening a fresh jar of the stuff- dipping the knife into the the beautiful golden oil pooled at the top and churning the smoothly ground bits of nuts into a savory spread. Love it, that is, until I look at the label. In all of their perceived deliciousness, most store bought nut butters are made with processed nuts and are l-o-a-d-e-d with junky oils, addictive sugars and questionable additives that are far from healthy. Learn how to make your own soaked almond butter at home or find a quality brand to enjoy the full breadth of nutritional benefits and flavors these lip-smackingly good spreads have to offer.
Notes on Nuts
Amidst all of the ferocious and often unforgiving debates about “healthy” food going on out there, most people would give a copacetic nod to almonds, agreeing that these powerful little tidbits are a valuable source of nutrition. Proteins, essential fatty acids, fiber, trace minerals, phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants- all packed in to small slivers of versatile, satisfactory goodness. Almonds are among the most popular nuts with the highest protein content (20% of total calories) and many phytonutrients including catechin, protocatechuic acid, methylquercetin, p-hydroybenzoic acid, flavonoids, vanillic acid, resveratrol and kaempferol. What better way to snack than flipping almonds into your mouth or eating a scoop of almond butter? What most people fail to realize however, is that among the plethora of boxed, jarred and bagged almond-y flavored products out there, few are the real thing.
Not Just Nut Butter
Next time you are in the store, go to the nut butter aisle and take a look at the ingredients in the neatly stacked jars. You may be shocked to find that nut butters are blended with a slew of undesirable additives: evaporated cane juice, cheap vegetable oils, and refined salts to name a few. Not to mention most of the almond butters that you find are made from roasted or dry roasted almonds. Although their warm, smoky flavor may seem appealing, commercially roasted nuts are flash-fried in cheap, rancid oils, while dry roasted nuts are exposed to exceedingly high temperatures that denature the nutrients and cause the breakdown of fats, increasing free radical capacity.
Troubles with Raw Nuts
If you are lucky enough to find a jar that is made simply from “raw nuts” this is better, but it skips out on the crucial step of soaking nuts to increase digestibility. Raw nuts have high levels of phytic acid, a form of bound phosphorous, which serves as a physiological protectant and antioxidant for the plant. While phytic acid is useful to safeguard the seeds until germination, when eaten by humans it binds to minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, causing irritation and contributing to the potential for nutrient deficiencies. While some animals naturally produce adequate amounts of the enzyme phytase to breakdown this vexing anti-nutrient, humans do not, causing phytate-heavy diets to be troublesome. Raw nuts also contain a significant amount of enzyme inhibitors- substances that are important in preventing the nut or seed from sprouting prematurely in nature. Yet these enzymes are not tolerated well when consumed and cause digestive strain for us nut-munching humans. The good news is that both phytates and enzyme inhibitors can be neutralized by soaking nuts, just as our ancestors intuitively practiced. What’s more, the practice of soaking nuts has been found to increase the bioavailability of important nutrients in the nuts, notably the treasured B vitamins, and activate helpful enzymes that increase nutrient absorption.
Organic vs. Non-Organic
As with most things, organic nuts are preferable to minimize pesticide risk and to support a sustainable agricultural framework. Yet unfortunately less than 1% of U.S. tree nut farmland is certified organic, so hunting down organic nuts can be both difficult and expensive. There is largely inconsistent published data on the amount of pesticide residue present in the nuts after being hulled. Because the nuts are shelled and have a small surface area, some experts believe that they are at least partially protected from the dangers of pesticides and not of dire concern. However, others argue that almonds are apt to absorb pesticides readily due to their high oil content, and that the amount of nasty pesticides used in almond growing has been consistently on the rise in recent years. What's more, non-organic nuts are often treated with fumigants (gases to kill bugs) after they are picked. So the decision on sourcing your nuts is largely personal- the best we can do is to know the facts, know our sources and make informed choices. One thing is generally agreed upon however: packed with nutrients and a great source of fuel, nuts are just too good to give up totally.
Finding A Trusted Source
If you don’t want to spend time hunting down organic nuts or soaking and drying them yourself, we recommend Better Than Roasted Nuts, Seeds and Nut Butters. These exquisite products begin with premium nuts and seeds that are raw, whole, and certified organic. They are then hand sorted, soaked, rinsed, and dried at a low temperature, not exceeding 108° F, to preserve the temperature-sensitive enzymes and nutrients. It is rare to find such a delectable and tremendously healthy product on the market today.
Italian almonds are grown on the sunny slopes of Sicily and come from highly prized hard shell almond trees. Hard-shelled almonds are more intensely flavored, have a higher concentration of almond oil and are much more rare and difficult to harvest. We think they are definitely worth the effort because that hard shell protects the seed and allows it to fully develop its essential almond-ness. These come completely unpasteurized from Italy!
How to Soak and Dry Almonds
If you want to soak and dry your own nuts, this is largely effective and entirely possible. Although cultures in Central America used to practice this method by soaking seeds in sea water and sun drying them, we now have the modern advantage of ovens and dehydrators to expedite the process in our bustling lives. The process of soaking nuts is generally the same for all types of nuts, however the soaking times vary depending on the variety. I will share the recipe for almonds here, but you can find the full collection in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This recipe is easily scalable to match whatever quantity of almonds you have on hand.
4 cups raw organic almonds
1 tablespoon sea salt or himalyan salt
Place almonds in a large glass bowl. Dissolve salt in filtered water, and pour enough water over nuts to completely cover. Allow to soak for at least 7 hours, or overnight. Drain water and spread nuts on a tray of your dehydrator, and let dry for 12-24 hours or until slighlty crisp. If you do not have a dehydrator, you can also place soaked nuts on a cooking sheet and place in the oven at a temperature no warmer than 150 degrees F (you may have to get out your oven manual and adjust the lowest temperature setting down- most ovens come preset at 170-200 degrees F).
Smooth & Sweet Coconut Almond Butter
Now that you have either made or purchased your gloriously soaked and dried nuts, on to the fun part: making your own nut butter. Here is a recipe for one of my personal favorites that blends the warm flavor of almonds with the subtle sweetness of coconut and a hint of vanilla. But be creative with your own recipes! Don't be afraid to try a dash of this and a sprinkle of that...and you may come up with the next best thing!
2 cups soaked and dried almonds
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp-1/2 tbsp alcohol-free vanilla extract
*Note: if you prefer a creamier nut butter, add in about 1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor
Blend on high setting for about 10 minutes. This time will vary depending on the strength of your kitchen equipment. After the first few minutes, you will notice that the contents take on mealy texture and then oh-so-slowly starts to churn into almond butter. Although it may seem like it is taking forever, never fear- just keep on processing and eventually the pieces will blend into a creamy spread.
Once blended to desired consistency, stop processor and scoop nut butter into an airtight glass container for storage in the refrigerator. Because of the fats in the coconut, the butter will be semi-solid when taken out of the refrigerator, so I like to let mine sit on counter for a few minute before using so that it is more easy to spread. Enjoy!
What's your favorite nut butter?