In these modern times, it’s important to remember all that there is to be grateful for. I’m starting with the bountiful collection of spreads we, unlike our foremothers, have the privilege of smearing, dipping, and spooning to our heart’s desire.
While we’re over here dabbling in seeds and dates and oats, they were stuck with just one: peanut butter, probably invented in ancient South America but claimed in 1895 by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, of cereal aisle fame). And while Americans still eat enough peanut butter each year to coat the entire floor of the Grand Canyon (700 million pounds!), this is decidedly not a story about peanuts. It’s not even a story about nuts.
Because no one could have prepared Dr. K for the aughties anaphylactic epidemic—nor our very millennial desire for choice—and the subsequent cascading of alternatives we see in the market today. “Nuts are a top allergen, and there are definitely a lot of people shopping for other options,” says Jess Young, founder and CEO of Bubble, an online snack marketplace. “Plus, everyone has seen peanut and almond butters; we’re really looking to stock more innovative products.”
All of the no-nut butters you’ll find at Bubble are also free of refined or artificial sugars; preservatives, fillers, or gums; artificial dyes; and trans fats or hydrogenated oils. Virtues aside, the question we’re all thinking is: But are they as delicious as the old faithfuls? According to Young: “Oh, yeah, for sure.” Enter the below five critiques—all ‘awarded’ based on flavor, ingredients, and ease of use.
Excellence in Creativity
What it tastes like: The best of two worlds. In this case, the flavor of toasted granola with the texture of creamy nut butter. This salty-sweet alternative is just like cinnamon-laced porridge, or “gingerbread in a spread,” says Young. It’s made mainly from gluten-free oats, flax, maple syrup, and spices.
Best for: DIY truffles—“I would freeze little balls of this and then roll them in melted dark chocolate,” says Young. Granola butter is also ideal for smothering on half a roasted sweet potato, layering on sourdough with toasted coconut, swirling into yogurt, or eating straight out of the jar.
What it tastes like: “A chocolate-covered date, but superthick and fudgy,” says Young. “It’s naturally sweet, but without the added sugars.” To my less-refined palette, a scoop from the jar was like chocolate pudding but cleaner. Again, you’ll have to skip this if you’re allergic to coconut.
Best for: You could add a dollop to a smoothie, whip it into frosting, swirl it into brownie batter before baking, or melt it down for a quick strawberry fondue. “It’s so good spread on something warm, because it’s pretty thick and needs to melt a little,” says Young. So…pancakes?
Best Team Player
What it tastes like: Earthy and, dare I say…nutty. Seed + Mill roasts its Ethiopian sesame seeds (the only ingredient on the list) before grinding them, in small batches, into a silky paste. It’s “pure creaminess, without the nut and dairy,” says Young, making tahini the ideal collaborator in both sweet and savory dishes.
Best for: “Drizzling on literally everything,” says Young. “I’m talking about salads, vegetables, cold Chinese noodles, and meats.” Also consider: mixed in homemade hummus, whipped into cauliflower soup, and piled onto toast with a slick of honey.
What it tastes like: A stickier, more savory version of peanut butter—almost as if hummus and PB had a love child. While it’s just four ingredients, this chickpea-based spread loses points for added sugar and ever-controversial palm oil. Otherwise, it’s a delicious alternative for fussy kids and millennials alike.
Best for: Making faux PB&J, spreading on banana bread, and stirring into hot oatmeal. Or blend a dollop with soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil for a peanut-like dressing.
What it tastes like: A hybrid between naturally sweet cashew butter and nutty tahini. “Texturally, this is pretty buttery,” says Young. “I love that it’s mild enough for a variety of things.” Dastony uses only raw and organic watermelon seeds in its butter—which are gently stone-ground to preserve nutrients. Bonus points for taking watermelons’ trash and turning it into treasure.
Best for: Drizzling on “fruit, salads, and vegetables,” says Young. Blend it with water for an instant alt-milk, or with white beans and roasted garlic for a creamy dip.