These alternatives to nut butter are sure to be your next healthy food obsession.
Confession: I currently have five different kinds of seed butter in my fridge (from sunflower to watermelon!). Seed butters are a new white-hot trend in natural foods—and for good reason. They're rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fat, and fiber. Plus, unlike nuts, seeds aren't common allergens.
Seed butters are just as versatile as nut butters, and come in a variety of delicious flavors and texture. Here are a few of my personal favorites, plus yummy ways to enjoy them.
In my opinion, sunflower butter is a perfect stand-in for peanut butter. It’s silky smooth, easily spreadable, free from grittiness, and mild in flavor. If you like the taste of sunflower seeds, you’ll be smitten with this variety, which you can buy sweetened or unsweetened, and in creamy or crunchy form.
Nutrition wise, sunflower butter is a powerhouse, supplying generous amounts of vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and B vitamins, as well as iron and zinc. A two tablespoon serving also packs 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.
I love it straight off the spoon, but I also whip sunflower butter into smoothies and swirl it into oatmeal. For a healthy fruit dip, I fold in cinnamon, ginger, or chopped dark chocolate. Then I scoop it up with apple or pear wedges. I also use sunflower butter as the base of a savory peanut-free sauce by thinning it with low-sodium organic veggie broth, and adding fresh grated ginger root, minced garlic, and chopped chili pepper or crushed red pepper. This sauce is delicious tossed with steamed broccoli, cooked shrimp, and buckwheat soba noodles.
RELATED: 5 Awesome Food Trends Worth Trying
Sesame butter (often labeled as tahini) is a staple in my household. I advise my clients to look for jars that contain only ground toasted sesame seeds and salt; and season the butter themselves. My go-to combo is fresh squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic, and cayenne pepper. It’s fantastic as a dip for raw veggies, a sauce for grilled or oven-roasted veggies, a topping for oven-roasted chickpeas, an ingredient in homemade hummus, or a salad dressing (when thinned with a bit of water).
It’s also chock-full of nutrients like copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, and thiamin. A two-tablespoon serving provides 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, and it’s generally low in sodium. You’ll often find it with the nut butters in your market, but it may also be in the condiment aisle, near mustard, ketchup, and the like.
Hemp butter packs 9 grams of protein per two tablespoon serving, and is rich in vitamin E and minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, and zinc. It also provides essential fatty acids, which have been shown to help curb heart disease risk.
But I have to admit that I can’t stomach hemp butter by itself. It’s a bit grassy and gritty for my liking, so instead I use it as an ingredient. I like to mix hemp butter with strong-flavored foods that tone down its taste. For example, I'll add it to a smoothie with frozen cherries, raw cocoa powder, honey, and fresh ginger. It can also be mixed with other butters, including coconut butter, which is made from both the oil and meaty flesh of coconuts. Try this duo mixed with dark chocolate and cinnamon scooped up with fresh celery sticks.
Pumpkin seed butter
I love pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas), and I find pumpkin seed butter to be just as enticing. It's packed with manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron. Plus, a two tablespoon serving can provide up to 10 grams of protein along with a few grams of fiber. I love blending it into smoothies, and using it as an ingredient to thicken savory plant-based soups, like butternut squash or lentil. I've also folded maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice into pumpkin seed butter, and tossed it with spaghetti squash for a healthy snack.
Watermelon seed butter
I only recently discovered packaged watermelon seeds, which I’ve munched on as a snack, and sprinkled onto salads, cooked veggies, and beans. Then when I found out about watermelon seed butter, made simply from raw watermelon seeds, I was over the moon.
In two tablespoons, you’ll find 8 grams of protein, and more than 10% of your daily iron needs. Watermelon seeds also provide B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, potassium, sodium, copper, manganese, and zinc.
I still have a lot of experimenting to do with this new seed butter, but so far it has worked great in energy balls and smoothies. The butter has a yellowish color (it's made without the seeds' black shells), so it blends well with bold-colored berries, green veggies and fruit, or with other pale plants, like pineapple, mango, banana, and ginger. (The packaged seeds are sold without the shells too.)
If, like me, you’re a fan of chia seeds, you may be wondering about chia seed butter. I have yet to see pure chia seed butter (I'm not sure is feasible given its texture.) But I have seen both nut and seed butters that include chia seeds. To make your own DIY version, stir some into your butter of choice. And while you’re at it, experiment with various concoctions. One of the hottest trends in natural foods is combining nut and seed butters. I've also seen a number that include herbs, spices, and other unexpected add-ins, from dark chocolate to turmeric, rosemary, toasted quinoa, oats, dried fruit or freeze-dried fruit powder, chopped or shredded veggies, and balsamic or apple cider vinegar. Get creative, express your inner (culinary) artist, and savor your healthy creations!
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.