This is the first in a series of posts about some changes to help you incorporate more healthful eating into your life – without a mutiny from your kids!
Peanut butter is a great go-to food, and a staple in most homes, especially those with children. It should be a great source of healthy protein, but like so many things, the kind you buy in the grocery store is not. Here are the two biggest reasons:
1) Ingredients. Peanut butter is basically ground peanuts. But peanuts that are not grown in dry-weather climates are dangerous carriers of aflatoxin, a carcinogen. Further, although peanuts are an oily nut, additional oil is usually added to achieve a more spreadable consistency. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except that the oils that food manufacturers choose are the cheapest available, and the most unhealthy. Jif, for example, uses “fully hydrogenated rapeseed and soybean oils.” Most of us know to avoid hydrogenated oils, but rapeseed and soybean oils themselves pose grave health risks (and are almost exclusive made from GMOs). Most brands will also include texture stabilizers (like mono- and diglycerides), sugar (quite often HFCS), added salt, and possibly preservatives.
2) Digestibility. Peanuts – along with other legumes, nuts, and grains – contain a number of naturally occurring anti-nutrients. To neutralize these, and make peanuts more digestible, they need to be properly prepared by soaking and drying. There are no grocery store peanut butters that add in this step. In fact, many peanut butters are made from peanuts that are roasted, which actually turns the peanut oils rancid (which is a carcinogen).
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious, healthy peanut butter! Peanut butter is easy to make, and you can tailor it to your own tastes with wonderful, nutritious ingredients.
Step One: Choose your nuts. Ideally, you would start with raw organic peanuts. I, however, love the taste of valencia peanuts, which are a bit sweeter than other kinds. I haven’t found an organic source (*see update below), but valencias are primarily grown in New Mexico, where the soil is very dry and aflatoxin has not been found to be a problem. This seems like a good time to mention that you can substitute other raw nuts, or a mix of nuts, to make other wonderful nut butters. My daughter and I love cashew butter. Just remember that all nuts need to be soaked and dried.
Step Two: Prepare your nuts. The soaking process for nuts is very easy. Simply pour a few cups of nuts into a glass mixing bowl, cover with filtered water, and stir in one tablespoon of sea salt. Nuts need to soak for at least seven hours. To dry them, spread them on a cookie sheet. Using a dehydrator is ideal, but if you are like me and don’t yet have one, your oven can be used. If you can, set your oven to 150 degrees. However, many ovens, like mine, do not go lower than 170. This unfortunately does kill some of the beneficial enzymes in the nuts. But you are still unlocking the nutrition in the nuts and making them more digestible, and it’s OK to not do things perfectly!
Step Three: Create your delicious peanut butter! If necessary, remove the red skins from your peanuts as best you can. (This is a great job to share with the kids. See my picture below!) Throw your nuts into the food processor, and let ‘er rip! At first it will look very grainy and pasty, but stick with it (and occasionally stop it and scrape down the sides). If you hang in there you will see it begin to take on a more creamy texture. I have gotten used to a more spreadable consistency and sweeter taste (see below), so I add some coconut oil. (Click here for some information on the health benefits of coconut oil.) Because this is stable at room temperature, you may need to heat it on the stove and then let cool before adding. I also add a pinch or two of sea salt, and a squeeze of local, raw honey. Process to desired consistency.
Homemade peanut butter needs to be stored in the refrigerator. For ease of spreading, you should remove it from the fridge about 10 minutes before you plan to use it.
And there you have it! Delicious, nutritious peanut butter. You’re ready to have a good ol’ PB&J. In fact, sometimes, when our peanut butter is very sweet, we skip the “J” and just have peanut butter sandwiches, sometimes even open-faced so we can taste that delicious peanut butter. Here are some of our family’s other favorite uses:
*Apple or pear wedges dipped in peanut butter
*Apple rings (core an apple and slice it into thin Os) spread with peanut butter and topped with raisins
*Bumps on a Log (celery ribs filled with peanut butter and topped with raisins)
*Spread on bread, topped with sliced banana (or a cute variation I read about, a Monkey Sandwich: homemade or sprouted grain hot-dog style buns, spread with peanut butter and filled with a banana)
*Peanut butter and cream cheese sandwiches
*In delicious Thai sauces (Recipe coming soon!)
Or try it in a fantastic recipe like this one!
PS – If you’re not ready to jump in and make your own, I have found an AMAZINGLY delicious product for you. JoshEWEa’s Garden makes the most delicious cashew butter. (They make other nut butters, as well, but this is the one I have tried and it’s remarkable!) You will not be able to stop eating this. In fact, the ingredients in their delicious cashew butter inspired my peanut butter recipe above. They prepare their nuts properly, and use only nutritious, organic ingredients. Buying (and shipping) can be expensive, but your health (and the unbelievable taste!) is worth it!
*Update: One of my great readers pointed me toward Azure Standard, where you can purchase organic valencia peanuts (just under $10 for 5 lbs.). Thanks for the tip!
Coming the Week of 11.8.10: A review of Kate Tietje’s e-book In the Kitchen: Real Food Basics, including a sneak peek at some of her recipes and a chance to win it for free! You don’t want to miss it!