There’s a reason you’re paying more for nut butters that aren’t peanut butter, and it isn’t just marketing.
While peanut butter remains an enduring staple in the realm of nut butters, there’s a wealth of other options to choose from these days. Alternative nut butters like almond, cashew and hazelnut bring different flavors and nutritional benefits to the table, but what consumers probably notice first is their higher prices.
A 16-ounce jar of peanut butter typically costs less than $5, while the same amount of almond butter can go for more than $10. Of course, you can pick up more affordable jars of almond butter — Trader Joe’s almond butter costs $5.99 for a 16-ounce jar, half the cost of a jar from Barney Butter.
This raises a few questions: Why is peanut butter the cheapest of the nut butters? Why do some brands of almond butter cost so much more than others, and do higher prices mean you’re consuming a healthier product?
Here’s what you should know.
Peanuts are cheaper to grow.
The key reason peanut butter is cheaper than almond and other types of nut butter is that peanut butter is made from a cheaper raw material.
“The cost comes down to what specific nut or legume is in the jar,” Dawn Kelley, president and CEO of Barney Butter, told HuffPost. “Peanuts are cheap relative to almonds and cashews. Processing is very similar, as are margins, so basically it is just input stock.”
There are a number of factors that make almonds more expensive than peanuts. Bill Brinkop, an almond farmer at B&G Farms in Chowchilla, California, explained that peanuts are legumes that grow underground in many regions around the world, with relatively low property costs for peanut farms.
“Almonds, on the other hand, are a tree nut, and depend on a particular climate and soil, limiting them to primarily the Central Valley of California and a handful of other countries such as Spain, Italy, Iran and Morocco,” Brinkop told HuffPost. “This results in high property costs for viable almond land.”
In addition to the cost of land, Brinkop explained that once an almond tree is planted, it takes three years for it to produce and four to five years to grow enough almonds to make a profit. Peanuts, in comparison, are a row crop that can be planted annually (they are the seeds of an annual legume) and are routinely rotated with other crops like corn or cotton because of crop cost and to reduce disease.
“The average [annual] production costs for almonds in California other than land are approximately $2,900 per acre,” Brinkop said. This figure is significantly higher than the estimated cost for dryland peanut production, which is $802.87 per acre, according to the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Almond butter production processes and almond type can drive up price.
At Barney Butter, according to company CEO Kelley, almonds are blanched before being roasted, an additional process that costs time and money — about 40-50 cents per pound.
“The taste and texture of the almond butter is greatly improved by removing the gritty, bitter skins, which results in a naturally sweeter tasting almond butter with a super smooth texture,” Kelley said.
By removing the skin of the almonds, Barney Butter eliminates this “filler” ingredient that can take up approximately 7% of a jar, “which can result in higher margins for those companies or a cheap price on the shelf,” Kelley said.
When asked why skin, a natural part of the almond, is considered to be filler, Kelley said it doesn’t add value to the resulting almond butter.
“They are not the ‘pulp’ of the almond,” Kelley said. “They take away from the taste and texture of the almond itself.” She recommended tasting Marcona almonds (which are always blanched) next to roasted, skin-on almonds to taste the difference.
Of the many almond varieties grown around the world (around 30 types in California, the world’s largest producer of almonds), Barney Butter only uses premium-grade almonds purchased locally from California growers, which also drives up the price, Kelley said.
More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean healthier.
As far as nutrition is concerned, you need to look past prices, marketing and pretty packaging and focus on the nutrition facts and ingredients list.
“Sometimes the quality of a nut butter will track with its price, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule,” Ali Webster, associate director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation, told HuffPost. “Two different brands can differ in price but not in their contents or nutrition.”
“Creamy and chunky nut butters usually have nearly identical nutrition attributes. They don’t differ in amounts of calories, fat, fiber or any other nutrient.”
When shopping for nut butter, Webster recommends looking for one that contains just nuts and some salt (which will help it taste better and only contribute a small amount to your recommended daily sodium intake). “Some nut butters will include additional oils, sugars and other food additives that can add to the calorie and added sugar content of the product,” Webster said.
If you’re choosing between a crunchy or creamy nut butter, go for the one you prefer. “The texture of a nut butter doesn’t affect its healthfulness,” Webster said. “Creamy and chunky nut butters usually have nearly identical nutrition attributes. They don’t differ in amounts of calories, fat, fiber or any other nutrient.”
The same advice goes for roasted versus raw nut butters; choose the one you like. “Roasted nuts have a very similar nutritional composition to raw nuts,” Webster said. “Since roasting removes some of the water content of nuts, roasted nuts will have marginally higher calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates per gram. These differences are negligible unless you eat a large amount of nuts or nut butters. Some nutrients, like vitamin E, are degraded in high heat, but it’s difficult to predict the extent of nutrient loss since it depends on the temperature and amount of time they were roasted.”
Finally, when choosing which type of nut butter to stock up on, know that there isn’t one kind that’s healthier than the others — so feel free to mix it up.
“Different types of nuts have different fatty acid compositions,” Webster said. “For example, hazelnuts are higher in monounsaturated fatty acids, and walnuts have a high polyunsaturated fatty acid content compared to other kinds. This doesn’t make one type of nut or nut butter healthier, though. It’s important to get a variety of fats in the diet.”