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Nut butter is a dense paste made by crushing nuts. The paste is designed to be spreadable, and it can be used in a wide assortment of ways to make everything from sandwiches to savory sauces. One of the most famous types is probably peanut butter; oddly enough, peanut butter isn't technically a nut butter, because peanuts are legumes, not nuts. However, peanut butter is considered a member of this family because the nutritional composition of peanuts is similar to that of true tree nuts.
In addition to being made from tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, and pistachios, nut butter can also be made from oil-rich seeds like sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Each type has a distinct flavor and nutritional profile; most tend to be high in fats and protein, with a very rich, creamy flavor.
The nuts used in nut butter may be roasted or raw. Roasted nuts tend to create a product with a richer, more intense flavor, while raw nuts result in a milder flavor. When the nuts are very finely ground, the result is sometimes referred to as a creamy butter, in contrast with a chunky one, in which chunks of whole nuts are allowed to remain intact. Creamy nut butter is much more spreadable, with an even texture which is akin to that of the butter made from cow's milk.
Most markets carry peanut butter at a minimum, and sometimes an assortment of other butters are available as well. Stores with their own nut grinders may allow customers to grind nut butter on demand, ensuring a fresher flavor. It is also possible to make it at home; nuts can simply be crushed and then ground in a blender or food processor with a small amount of oil for lubrication.
Because nuts are high in fats, nut butters can go rancid easily. If you have a freshly ground one, you should keep it refrigerated, and you should also try to use it within a few months. Sealed products like those found in the store can be kept at room temperature as long as they are sealed, but as soon as you open the jar, you should refrigerate it to ensure that the oils do not go bad.
Nut butter also has a tendency to separate, with the oil rising to the top and the meat of the nuts sinking to the bottom. If it has separated, you can either open the container and gently agitate the contents with a long knife or spoon, or you can invert the container for a few hours to encourage the oil to percolate through the meat of the butter.
While nut butter is classically used as a sandwich spread, the imagination is the limit when using it. It can also be spread on crackers or fresh fruit, made into rich sauces such as Thai peanut sauce, or eaten straight. Some people find it to be an excellent snack if they start flagging during the day, since it provides a quick hit of protein.
The trend toward alternate nut butters has been a blessing for people who are allergic to peanuts. Fortunately, most nut butters act the same in cooking as peanut butter does, so they're pretty much interchangeable.
I think my favorite is almond nut butter. It tends to go with a lot of different foods and is still great with jelly for a sandwich. I'm glad I'm not allergic to nuts, since nut butter is really healthy stuff.
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