Alternative Nut Butters Are Spreading Far and Wide

From watermelon seeds to macadamia nuts to chickpeas, the variety of nut and seed butters is spreading. Nelli Syrotynska/Shutterstock

It looks like the reign of peanut butter might be coming to an end. At least, according to Whole Foods Market's just-released list of the top 10 food trends for 2020. While a few of the trends might seem a bit niche (looking at you, Organic Soy-Free Vegan Fish Sauce!), an ever-growing variety of butters and spreads is certainly something you can expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

Alternative nut butters are certainly having a moment, what with the rise of nut allergies in children, and many schools and airlines going nut-free to avoid any potential health risks or public relations headaches.

People's palates are also getting more adventurous, and with the convenience of almost any exotic food available through the touch of a screen, it makes sense that our butters are branching out beyond just peanut.

Beyond peanut butter

jar of peanut butter with spoon
Rest assured, peanut butter isn't going anywhere. But for those with allergies, there's many new options. NIAID [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Butters these days go beyond the standard peanut, almond or cashew. Take a gander around a certain high-end, gourmet grocery store and you're likely to stumble upon watermelon seed butter, macadamia nut butter, roasted pumpkin seed butter or chickpea butter (no, it's not hummus). Rest assured, the PB&J; sandwich is going nowhere, but it certainly has some competitors now.

Nuts are consistent favorites of doctors, dietitians and wellness gurus because they are naturally gluten- and grain-free. One serving of nuts a day has been linked to a longer life and a lower risk of long-term weight gain.

Another bonus to these alt-butters is that they are paleo- and keto-friendly. With so many people jumping on the trend of cutting out carbs while upping their "good" fat intake, nutty butters are also a healthier alternative to meat.

Indeed, many of these spreads tout their nutritional content as part of the package. Watermelon seed butter is exceptionally high in magnesium and zinc, while chickpea butter is packed with protein and fiber. If you're looking for a spread that veers more sweet, consider a coconut butter or cookie butter. Admittedly, that last one isn't exactly healthy, but its holiday spice flavor goes a long way when smeared on a piece of whole-grain toast.

The problem with palm oil

open palm fruit
The peach-colored fleshy part under the skin of the palm fruit is where palm oil comes from. Palm kernel oil comes from the white center. (Photo: dolphfyn/Shutterstock)

Another tactic that these nut butters are using to get new customers? Transparency. Many of the new butters on the block promote their small-batch production and sustainable, eco-conscious ingredients.

Palm oil is ubiquitous in processed foods, beauty products and the nut butter business. It's a low-cost way to keep the butter and oil from separating in a jar, it keeps its structure under high heat, and it has a neutral taste. And since the FDA called for a complete ban of trans fats in food in 2018, palm oil has only gotten more popular.

The problem with palm oil, though, is that its production devastates forests, animals and people. With most of its production occurring in Southeast Asia, precious biodiverse forests are being cleared for the lucrative palm oil plantations — putting many endangered animals and native peoples at risk.

While it's near-impossible to give up all products with palm oil, you can look for butters and spreads that have been responsibly sourced. Look for items that advocate no processed oils, or have the “RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” label. You'll also want to avoid butters made with partially hydrogenated oils, excessive sodium or added sugars.

If you don't want to spend hours in the grocery aisle scanning nutrition labels, consider making your own. Nuts have enough natural fat that you can usually leave out the oil, and you'll be able to control just how much salt and sugar (if any) you'll want to add. Whether you're phasing out peanuts or simply looking to shake up your snacks, alt-butters are a trend that continues to spread.