Step down, peanut. There are lots of beautiful nut and seed butters out there, so spread the love around

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Image: Nut butters: your need-to-know

Photo: Homemade

So long, peanut butter. There are some new nuts in town …

There was a time when the peanut was the uncontested champion of the spreadable-nut world. If you wanted to put nuts on your toast (without them promptly falling off again), it was the peanut you called.

 

But now the food world has woken up and realised that if you can smoosh peanuts into a heavenly paste, you can do it with pretty much every other nut and seed under the sun, too. As well as being delicious, the likes of cashews, almonds and pumpkin seeds all claim different benefits and can boost everything from breakfast smoothies to salad dressings and vegan-friendly cake.

 

So we've selflessly eaten our way through seven exciting nut and seed butters to find out which are delicious, which are mouth adhesive and which are just Sun-Pat imposters. Grab a spoon.

 

We mean, knife.

 

Cashew butter

 

What does it look like?

Almost like peanut butter, but not quite. This is the peanut butter tribute act that sometimes manages to be better than the real thing. Seriously, have you ever seen these two in the same room at the same time?

 

What does it taste like?

Be still, our beating hearts. Cashews are so well suited to being turned into a creamy spread that it’s a wonder they didn’t usurp the peanut ages ago.

 

What do I do with it?

The Homemade team are especially partial to spreading it on an oatcake (add a drizzle of honey and thank us later), but you can use cashew spread for anything you would normally do with peanut butter. Show it a good time!

 

It also works well anywhere you would normally put whole cashews, such as Asian stir-fries and creamy chicken curries. And your mouth. 

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Cashew butter on oatcakes

Photo: Homemade

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Almond butter on tiffin

Photo: Homemade

Almond butter

 

What does it looks like?

The less convincing of the peanut tribute acts, it might still prompt a double take.

 

Almond butter comes in crunchy and smooth, roasted and raw, blanched and skin-on varieties; dark, viscous and oily, it will sit pretty on a spoon but might run away from your knife.

 

What does it taste like?

The nuts. It’s a close relative to our old pal peanut butter, but with a deeper, roasted flavour.

 

The Homemade team are big fans, though slightly disappointed that it doesn’t taste “traditionally almondy”. If it’s marzipan you’re craving, just go and buy a Battenberg.

 

What do I do with it?

Almond butter is currently the darling of the vegan health-food scene, popping up in everything from smoothies and sauces to raw chocolate cheesecake bars. But if you happen to have run out of spirulina and cacao nibs, just spread it on the nearest rice cake, cracker or other flat receptacle and enjoy. 

 

Coconut butter

 

What does it look like?

Pretty much like solidified coconut oil, which is confusing, but with the magical words ‘for spreading’ on the jar. The difference is that coconut butter includes the flesh of the fruit too, milled to make it smooth and creamy.

 

What does it taste like?

A holiday on a cracker. Surprisingly buttery for something that’s never been near a cow, coconut butter spreads like a dream and smells like something you would rub on yourself at a Caribbean couples’ retreat.

 

What do I do with it?

If you’re nuts about the flavour, go ahead and spread it on your toast or put it in your sandwich – it works nicely with spicy fillings like jerk chicken.

 

Unlike coconut oil, coconut butter isn’t suitable for frying, but that’s about the only thing it can’t do. Use it as a dairy-free and nut-free alternative to butter in your baking, stir it into curries and soups to add richness, or whizz it up in smoothies to pretend they’re basically piña coladas. 

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Coconut butter

Photo: Homemade

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Tahini veg

Photo: Homemade

Tahini

 

What does it look like?

Smooth, pale and creamy, sesame seed paste (tahini) is beloved in Greece and Middle Eastern countries, and is best known in the rest of the world as one of the main ingredients in hummus.

 

It’s available as ‘light’ tahini, where the sesame seeds have been hulled, and a darker, unhulled variety that’s more likely to be bitter, but with the bonus of added nutrients from the sesame seed skins. It tends to be thinner at the top of the jar and sludgy at the bottom, so give it a vigorous stir.

 

What does it taste like?

Super-gluey, slightly bitter and with a very distinctive sesame flavour (as you’d hope), it's delicious in small quantities but only the most devoted tahini fan is going to be eating this one off a spoon.

 

What do I do with it?

Tahini has the power to turn vegetables from a tired side dish to ‘gracious, what did you do to that broccoli?’ – so get drizzling. It’s a natural ally of garlic and lemon, whizzed up in dips (like this one by Anna Hansen) or spread on burgers and kebabs.

 

You can use it in traditional nutty halva, or even mix it with cocoa powder and honey to create a Nutella alternative. Open, sesame.

Pumpkin seed butter

 

What does it look like?

Oily, viscous and very, very green. It’s a shade somewhere between pesto, Kermit the Frog and a pair of khaki cargo pants.

 

What does it taste like?

Slightly bitter and intensely wholesome. “It tastes healthy,” “It tastes like farmyard,” and “yuck” were the most enthusiastic responses from Team Homemade. Hey, it’s not easy being green.

 

What do I do with it?

Dollop it on crispbreads, bake it in homemade energy bars, use it to turn your hummus a curious colour or dilute with oil and vinegar for a punchy salad dressing. Being made from seeds means this should be fine for nut allergy sufferers, the lucky things. 

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Pumpkin seed butter on crackers

Photo: Homemade

Hazelnut butter

What does it look like?

Super oily and seriously chunky. Smoother versions are available too, but we liked the way the little shards of hazelnut stopped it from being too claggy. The rustic texture also makes it easier to pass off as something you just casually whizzed up yourself for lunch. 

 

What does it taste like?

Total heaven. Like Nutella without the chocolate but all of the bliss, and minus the telltale brown ring round your mouth when you've been going at it with a spoon.

 

"It tastes too nice to be healthy," said our testers solemnly, and abandoned the rice cakes in favour of heaping it on chocolate tiffin squares instead.

 

What do I do with it?

It's so reminiscent of everyone's favourite breakfast spread that hazelnut butter more or less demands to be paired with chocolate, or used in something so rich it would make a nun blush.

 

Try dolloping it on ice-cream, baking it into a gooey-centred cookie or putting a sexy new spin on a peanut, butter and jelly sandwich.

 

 

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Hazelnut butter

Photo: Homemade

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Walnut butter

Photo: Homemade

Walnut butter

 

What does it look like?

Thick, fluffy and more grainy than your gran’s TV reception. This is the least oily of the nut butters, and so also the least likely to ruin your t-shirt.

 

What does it taste like?

Walnuts, shockingly. Definitely not at risk of being mistaken for peanut butter, it has the unmistakable, slightly bitter tang of the walnut – dependable stalwart of the Christmas nibble selection, but so often overlooked during the rest of the year.

 

What do I do with it?

The kind of treat only real savoury-heads will understand, spread your walnut butter on a slice of sourdough and marvel at how grown-up you are, or stir it into a bowl of miso for really superior ramen.

 

It’s delicious as the star of this roast beetroot with walnut butter and watercress recipe, or if you must sweeten things up a little, try it in This Rawsome Vegan Life’s frozen chocolate cream cups.