Toast spread, oatmeal topping or salad dressing – nut butter can be used in various ways. Although in a culinary sense classified as such, peanuts, almonds, cashews and pecans, the popular choices for nut butter are, botanically speaking, not nuts. They are processed in a series of nut butter processing equipment to get the creamy, rich product ready for consumption.
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From nut to butter – steps, ingredients and processing equipment
Nuts make up to 90% of nut butter, accompanied by salt, vegetable oil, dextrose and corn syrup to improve taste and texture. Nut butter production starts with harvest, which is helped by portable mechanical pickers. Harvested nuts undergo a process called shelling, passing through a series of rollers to crack them, followed by screens, blowers, magnets, and destoners to remove the shells.
Once they reach the factory, nuts are dry-roasted. Nuts are then quickly passed to the next piece of nut butter processing equipment – coolers, where they are cooled down to 30°C. Passing the cooled nuts through a gravity separator removes foreign materials before blanching them, in case the chosen nuts have skin. In contrast, the remains are removed by passing them further through the blancher in a continuous stream. Finally, the nuts are processed in a grinder, from where it goes to a stainless steel hopper, which is both a mixing and storage point.
Same but different - Nut Butter vs. Nut Paste
Although almost identical, the ingredients are the characteristic difference between nut butter and nut pastes. While, naturally, nuts are the predominant component of nut butter, other ingredients are added that help to develop taste, smoothness and consistency, such as sugar, emulsifiers and oils. On the other hand, nut pastes are purely nut products without any additions to modify their characteristics. Therefore, it is suitable as an ingredient in products such as ice creams, cookies or chocolates. However, it is essential to highlight that no actual regulations define the difference between a nut butter and a nut paste.
All the butters to go nuts for
Smooth or crunchy, sweetened or natural, added to savory or sweet meals, nut butter and nut pastes offer a wide range of products. The most popular choices are peanut, almond, cashew, walnut and pecan butter or pastes. Some of these products are rich in fiber, protein, and fatty acids as well as vitamins and minerals, which makes them an ideal addition to any meal.
Going nuts for peanut butter
Peanut butter was invented in 1890 by an American doctor as a protein substitute for patients unable to chew meat. It is made by grinding roasted peanuts with added ingredients to enhance its characteristics. One of the key steps in peanut butter processing is blanching – removing the skin. There are two different methods. A heat blanching process exposes peanuts to high temperatures which cause the skin to crack. The second method, water blanching, removes the skin by quickly soaking peanuts in a scalding water bath. The bleaching step is widely used, as blanched peanuts result in a smoother texture, but it is not necessary. Namely, the skin contains extra nutrients and a rich, nutty flavor.
Going nuts for almond, cashew and hazelnut butter
Although peanut butter is the most popular choice, other types of nut butter and pastes have been on the rise. Almond butter might be the second most popular choice as the consistency and production process are almost identical to peanut butter. Cashew butter also follows the production steps closely, but it skips the blanching step as it does not have skin. In contrast to the purely healthy options, hazelnut butter can be mixed with cocoa to make chocolate spreads. However, pure hazelnut butter is rich in Vitamins E and B.
The environmental impact of nut butter production
Although especially popular among the plant-based population, nut butter production yields some adverse environmental impacts. For instance, almonds, known as the least sustainable nut, require large amounts of water. It takes 819 gallons of water to grow one pound of shelled almonds. However, almond farmers have managed to cut down water use by 33% in the past two decades with the help of research-based farming improvements and water-saving technologies. Peanuts, on the other hand, are more sustainable nuts, as they grow in rainy areas requiring less water, similar to pistachio. Like others, the nut butter industry is moving towards more sustainable production methods by improving crop and yield, along with reducing waste.