As someone who writes about food, it’s a little embarrassing for me to admit this, but there are many days when my family lives almost solely on peanut butter. Peanut butter toast, peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter crackers – we love it all. This humble condiment is just so darn easy to use, appeals to almost
everyone and tastes comfortingly, sweetly bland. My mom likes to remind me that I took peanut butter every day for lunch as a child, and I still eat it many days for a midmorning snack. So I find myself a bit flummoxed when it comes to planning peanut-free lunches for my 5-year old to take to school. The conversation often goes like this:
Me: “What do you want to take for lunch tomorrow?”
Maddy: “Peanut butter crackers.”
Me: “You can’t take peanut butter.”
Maddy: “Then maybe a peanut butter sandwich? Oh, never mind, no peanut butter”
And so we go around in circles. As a preschooler, my daughter only occasionally stays for her school’s “Lunch Bunch” program, but I’m getting a bit panicky thinking about next year when she will need to take a nutritious, nut-free lunch to school 5 days a week. I should also mention that my daughter doesn’t like meat much and particularly detests cold deli meat. So what to do about protein? Although I’ve figured out a few lunches she likes pretty well, I decided this week to try out an option I’ve long been skeptical of – Sunbutter. Since many fewer people are allergic to seeds than nuts, most schools allow this sunflower-seed-based butter in lunches and snacks. I’ve often seen Sunbutter on the shelf near the peanut butter, but it looked a bit gray and unappealing and cost almost twice the price of a jar of peanut butter. And I wasn’t sure my picky child would even consider tasting a peanut butter alternative, let alone eating a whole sandwich made with it. I recently bought a new food processor and decided to try making sunflower seed butter at home. Even though sunflower butter is expensive, sunflower seeds are surprisingly cheap; I can buy an 18 ounce bag of them for just a couple dollars in the produce section. I decided to buy pre-roasted and salted seeds, to make the flavor more appealing, and I sweetened the butter a bit with some pure maple syrup. Here’s my homemade maple sunflower seed butter recipe:
- 2 cups roasted, salted sunflower seeds (or unsalted, if you prefer)
- 1 Tablespoon canola oil, or other non-flavored oil
- 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
- Place the sunflower seeds in the bowl of a food processor and lock the lid in place. Pulse for a minute or two until sunflower seeds turn into a fine powder. Pour the oil down the chute of the processor and then run the processor continuously until seeds turn into a smooth butter; this will take several minutes, about 10 minutes for my processor. It takes a while because you have to wait for the seeds to release their oil and warm up before they really turn into a smooth paste. After seeds turn into a smooth paste, add the syrup and run processor just until syrup is incorporated.
- Store in a clean, airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
The homemade sunbutter was so fast and simple to make, but I do have one caveat: You must have a good, newer food processor to make this recipe. I’m almost certain that my older model would not have been up to this job and probably would have overheated if I tried to run it for 10 minutes straight. My new Cuisinart, however, did the job beautifully with no problems. It does take several minutes for a smooth butter to form, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t seem to be coming together at first.
As far as taste goes, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I like the taste of sunflower seed butter. As a committed peanut butter addict, I was kind of assuming that sunflower seed butter would be a lackluster alternative, but I ended up loving it. It definitely has a milder, distinct flavor, but my kids both loved the sunflower seed butter and barely noticed that it was different from peanut butter. The store bought and homemade sunbutter were pretty close in texture and flavor, although some of us preferred the fresher, nuttier flavor of the homemade. Also, the homemade sunbutter does contain more ingredients, including a preservative. Perhaps due to this preservative, the color of the store bought sunbutter was richer and more appealing than the homemade and it looked much more like peanut butter. However, the difference was not too noticeable once the butter was spread on toast or crackers.
Where the homemade sunbutter really won out was on cost. While a 2-cup jar of sunbutter costs $8.50 (!) my homemade version came in at only $2.25 for the same amount. Also, I was not able to find an organic brand of sunbutter at any of the supermarkets nearby, while organic sunflower seeds were readily available.
Bottom Line: Sunflower seed butter is a better alternative to peanut butter than I had expected. It has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor that both adults and kids found appealing. With the help of a good food processor the homemade sunbutter was fast and easy to make, tasted fresher than the store bought and cost almost 1/4 of the price. It’s definitely going on our lunch menus in the future!