Three Delicious Homemade Nut Butters
Perfectly balanced and delightfully flavored recipes for Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, and hazelnuts
Nuts are a linchpin of vegan cuisine: high in protein, luxurious in flavour, entirely practical in application. A scattering of cashews makes your stir-fry both a complete meal and a good time, almond butter lends instant opulence, and peanut butter on toast is a perpetual lifesaver meal.
As it turns out, not all nuts are created equal. Now, eating plant-based can be as complex or straightforward a journey as you want it to be, but generally the territory comes with a heightened awareness of our food’s origins. Keywords that might previously have flown over my head now ping in my ears — sustainability, water-intensive crops, Fair Trade, deforestation. Knowing that almond trees guzzle water and are mostly grown in drought-troubled places now gives me pause when I reach for the almond butter. Finding out the bulk of the world’s cashews are processed by women in human rights-violating conditions makes me feel uneasy about the inexpensive cashews that I would normally buy as a matter of course. And as for that one chocolate hazelnut spread: I was never a fan anyway. But the thought of how the palm oil in it contributes massively to deforestation and the death of animals leaves a bitter taste in my mouth without even opening a jar.
None of us is ever going to be a “perfect vegan.” Indeed, you might consider the ability to be closely discerning about food to be a huge privilege. That’s valid! Some of us might think we’re already doing plenty and that it’s tiring feeling wrong about everything. If this is your viewpoint I’m not judging, because I don’t know what journey has led any one person to their current meal. But I try to hold myself accountable — as accountable as I can afford to be at any given moment, and right now for me that means a little more scrutiny. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but I remind myself that if being a drop in a bucket with no impact is really true, then why did I become vegan in the first place?
If this is something that’s also on your mind, you might want to consider these three homemade nut butter recipes, each using ingredients that are known to be comparatively easier on the environment and those dwelling within it. With a food processor and a little patience, your shelves can be stacked with such delights as Cumin and Paprika Spiced Pumpkin Seed Butter, Salted Vanilla Brazil Nut Butter, and Coffee Cinnamon Hazelnut Butter. As well as tasting amazing, these also make a sweet homemade edible gift.
Pumpkin seeds take a while to break down in the food processor but result in a rich, grassy-green butter. I know, not actually a nut — but seeds use markedly less water to grow, and are ideal for people with allergies. Try whisking some with apple cider vinegar and wholegrain mustard to make a dressing for chickpea salad; or blend a couple of spoonfuls with basil leaves, lemon juice and olive oil for a pesto-style pasta sauce. And for truly delicious synergy? Spoon it over roasted pumpkin.
Cumin and Paprika Spiced Pumpkin Seed Butter
- One ½ cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Two tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- A pinch of salt, or to taste
Place the pumpkin seeds in a food processor and blend continuously at a low speed, scraping down the sides occasionally with a spatula. Once the pumpkin seeds resemble green sand, pour in the oil and continue to blend until the mixture changes from loose clumps to a thick green paste. At this point, stir in the spices and salt, then spatula into a clean jar. This makes 1–1 ½ cups. Store in the fridge.
Brazil nut trees require a healthy forest to grow, in turn, the viability of Brazil nuts helps to protect from deforestation. This is of course a massive simplification of a large and complex issue — I recommend this article from Mic.com for further reading. Brazil nuts are so good for you — full of fibre, selenium, Vitamin E, and magnesium. They whiz up quickly into a thick, fudgy butter, and here I’ve rounded out their creamy flavour with a touch of vanilla and salt. It’s perfect dolloped into a bowl of granola or blitzed in a banana smoothie for extra protein.
Salted Vanilla Brazil Nut Butter
- One ½ cups raw Brazil nuts
- One tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon sea salt or ¼ teaspoon table salt
- The seeds from half a vanilla bean, or ½ a teaspoon good vanilla extract
Place the Brazil nuts in a food processor and blend continuously over a low speed. They will start off with an alarmingly noisy clatter, but they break down quickly into rubble. Once they’re at this point, add the vegetable oil and continue to blend till it suddenly becomes a thick, smooth paste. Stir in the salt and vanilla, then spatula into a clean jar. This makes around 1 ½ cups. Store in the fridge.
If you can get hold of organic hazelnuts then you’re onto a winner — hazelnut trees are drought-resistant, long-lasting, and can grow on harsh land where other trees can’t. They’re also practically a multivitamin, supplying you generously with Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and a whole host of the B’s, plus calcium, iron, manganese, and zinc. I always thought that hazelnuts tasted like oily rancid Easter eggs, but I suspect this prejudice was borne from my opinion of one particular chocolate hazelnut spread. Homemade hazelnut butter on the other hand tastes incredible —I’ve added coffee, warm cinnamon and just a little sugar to make a spread that’s full of toasty, mellow, buttery depth. I’m sure it has plenty of uses but frankly I — the newly minted hazelnut convert — just want to eat it from the jar with a spoon.
Coffee Cinnamon Hazelnut Butter
- One ½ cups raw hazelnuts
- One tablespoon vegetable oil
- A pinch of salt, to taste
- One teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
- One tablespoon brown sugar
Toast the hazelnuts carefully in a saucepan on medium heat, for about five minutes, stirring often and being careful not to scorch them — you just want to warm them through, basically. Remove from the heat and if you wish, tip them onto a clean tea towel and use a scrunching movement to help rub off the brown outer skins. I’ll be very honest with you: I got tired halfway through doing this and decided I could deal with the added texture from the remaining hazelnuts still in their skins — you do what works for you. If you can find hazelnuts that are already skinned, so much the better, but it doesn’t hurt the end product either way.
Place the cooled hazelnuts in a food processor and blend at a low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides where necessary. Once it resembles damp sand, add the vegetable oil and continue blending until it suddenly becomes a thick paste. Add the salt, cinnamon, coffee granules and sugar, and pulse briefly to combine. Spatula into a clean jar. Makes around 1–1 ½ cups. Store in the fridge.
- Because these are high in oil and have no preservatives other than a little salt, they need to be stored in the fridge. This may have a solidifying effect on the texture — just sit at room temperature for a while before you need it. Some of the oils may separate out slightly, which is standard for nut butter, and can be solved with a quick stir.
- I used a regular no-frills food processor to make these three recipes. The pumpkin seeds took the longest to break down, and as you can see from the photos there’s still a bit of texture in the three butters. If you have a high-speed blender it will be quicker and the texture will be more velvety smooth, but either way it’s all going to taste delicious.
- Making nut butter can be hard-going on your food processor motor — if it starts to overheat don’t worry, just turn it off and let it sit for at least ten minutes or until cooled, then keep going.
- While instantly delicious, the flavours all develop and improve after a day or two. On the other hand, you can always leave out the flavourings, or of course, add your own! I do think they all benefit from a pinch of salt either way, but it’s completely up to you.
- For more further reading, I found this piece about hazelnuts and this article about Brazil nuts to be very useful.