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Top Pick Of The Week

January 22, 2008

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Sauteed Mushrooms
Sautéed mushrooms and garlic take on new excitement, accented with a few flakes of coconut butter. You can use cashew butter instead of peanut butter on a sandwich, or make pasta sauce or ice cream. Photography by Joan Vicent Cantó | IST.

WHAT IT IS: Nut butters—almond, cashew, cacao, coconut and more.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: It’s organic, kosher, vegan, peanut-, gluten-, dairy-free...and delicious. If you’ve only known peanut butter as a sandwich spread, it’s time to expand your horizons.
WHY WE LOVE IT: There’s an explosion of flavors and creative cooking options. Nuts (and nut butters) are heart-healthy, and these pure, raw, organic butters are the healthiest. You can eat them from the jar like a confection.
WHERE TO BUY IT: PremierOrganics.org and natural food stores nationwide.
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Artisana Nut Butters:
Raw & Organic Artisan Food

How will NIBBLE readers respond to “raw, organic nut butters,” we mused? They evoke a vision of health food stores, not elite specialty emporia. Trust us, the artisans who make the Artisana line have created something quite wonderful. Cacao Bliss, their chocolaty spread made with raw cacao, cacao butter, coconut butter and coconut oil, was named Best New Vegetarian Product at Expo West 2007, the country’s largest natural and organic products show. There were many competitors, which should tell you how good Cacao Bliss is. But the other butters in the line are equally impressive.

Most people have had nut butter, in the form of peanut butter. But what about almond, cashew, cacao, coconut, pecan, walnut and other nut butters? They’re much more than sandwich spreads: They can be made into sauces, soups, desserts and garnishes for a wide variety of foods. Toss them into smoothies. Bake with them. Think of them as compound butters—a spoonful adds extra flavor to just about anything (with no cholesterol—the “butter” refers to the spreadability of the puréed nuts).

The line is vegan, certified organic and certified kosher; it is peanut-, gluten- and dairy-free. Read the full review; learn a bit about raw food and understand how nut butters open a window to creative cuisine.

     
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

Gourmet Raw Food

The Raw Food Gourmet The Raw Gourmet Raw Food Real World
The Raw Food Gourmet: Going Raw For Total Well-Being, by Gabrielle Chavez. As this combination cookbook and guide to the raw foods lifestyle shows, you can eat raw and glamorously at the same time, with dishes like Stuffed Portabellas with Mushroom Gravy and Thai Hazelnut Pesto. Click here for more information or to purchase.
The Raw Gourmet, by Nomi Shannon. One of the first gourmet raw food cookbooks, here is proof that eating raw food is more than a bleak diet of carrot juice and grated nuts. Prove that your own cooking prowess extends to more than cooked foods (raw cuisine is more challenging). Click here for more information or to purchase.
Raw Food/Real World: 100 Recipes To Get The Glow, by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis. The authors opened the first gourmet raw food restaurant in New York City, Pure Food and Wine. Here they share some of the restaurant’s favorite dishes, and others. Click here for more information or to purchase.

Artisana Nut Butters: Raw & Organic Artisan Food

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

Artisana nut butters are a very special line of products—the kind you’d see in a health food store Almond Butterand pass by, because you don’t know what to do with them. The goal is to make available to everyone the healthiest, freshest, best-tasting, organic, all-natural foods while giving something back to the communities we serve. These are unique, superior, organic products. The nuts, seeds and other ingredients are purchased from small, organic family farms, and the butters are crafted in small batches in Berkeley, California (not far from that artisan food temple, Chez Panisse), using a special low heat process that always preserves the life-essential fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and enzymes. Careful blending produces beautiful, vibrant butters—you could put them on an artist’s palette and serve them that way.

The result may be “health food,” but it is also a gourmet experience: fresh, bright flavors waiting to grace a variety of dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner...waiting to become healthy and creative snacks...at the ready as creative ingredients.

Let’s take a look at what you can do with them...but first, a few words on raw food.

What Is Raw Food & Why Is It Good For You?

The health benefits of raw food—also known as living food—have been touted since the early 1980s, and were abetted by the 1984 publication of a book called The New Raw Energy (though out of print, you can buy used copies on Amazon.com). Raw food sprouted up at health food restaurants, and became best known to mainstream America as sprouts and juicers entered in culinary capitals like New York and San Francisco for decades. We all eat a percentage of raw food, from fruit, crudités, juice and raw nuts to yogurt, salads, salsa, guacamole, hummus, tahini (ground sesame seeds) and sashimi. Raw foodists eat at least 75% of their foods raw (including dehydrated and other processes where the food is not cooked above 118°F, the borderline below which heat does not destroy essential enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients).

Foodies perhaps first became aware of the concept when Roxanne and Michael Klein opened their highly acclaimed “gourmet” raw food restaurant in the Bay Area (Larkspur, California) in Raw, Roxanne Klein, Charlie TrotterDecember, 2001, the first restaurant in the country to elevate raw foods to the highest culinary level (alas, while very successful, it closed in September 2004 when the owners decided to divorce). The restaurant was completely organic and vegan (although these are not requirements of a raw diet), incorporating edible flowers and exotic herbs. In 2003 Roxanne wrote a raw food cookbook, Raw, with celebrity chef Charlie Trotter (which was published in its second edition in 2007). The book, transformed the sprouts and vegetable juices of The New Raw Energy into dishes such as Three Peppercorn-Crusted Cashew Cheese with Honeycomb and Balsamic Vinegar, Salsify with Black Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms, Portobello Mushroom Pavé with White Asparagus Vinaigrette, Indian Red Peaches with Vanilla Ice Cream (made with almond milk) and Banana Chocolate Tart with Caramel and Chocolate Sauces. Other celebrities—model Carol Alt, designer Donna Karan, actors Rue McLanahan and Demi Moore—embraced the diet, although it is not supported by science or the medical profession. Klein, by the way, first learned about raw foods from actor Woody Harrelson.

While raw food has not been endorsed by the scientific community, people who practice raw foodism believe that there are significant health benefits; people with chronic diseases who have switched to raw food diets report healing effects.

Raw food diets can include a broad spectrum of foods—fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds (including sprouted whole grains), eggs, fish, meat and unpasteurized dairy products (such as raw milk, cheese and yogurt). They can be simple preparations or very complex ones, utilizing food processors, juicers and dehydrator to create complex, gourmet fare. Sprouted grains or grated raw vegetables emulate rice to create “sushi” and “ravioli,” since rice and pasta cannot be boiled at 212°F. Take a look at the raw food cookbooks we’ve selected above and you’ll see that raw food can be a feast, even for gourmets and carnivores.

Certainly, you don’t need to pursue a raw food diet to enjoy raw foods. You can appreciate products like the Artisana line of nut butters, which just happen to be raw and require no preparation whatsoever.

Why Are Nuts Good For You?

Nuts are a heart-healthy food. Beginning with the Iowa Women's Health Study in 1996 and continuing with other well-regarded studies, in 2003 the FDA approved the following claim for seven different types of nuts:* “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 oz per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

*The “approved” nuts are almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts as these nuts contain less than 4g of saturated fats per 50g. However, you can have other types of nuts as well—the key is to limit your intake to one to two ounces of unsalted nuts per day. In addition to nuts, seeds such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds may offer the same heart health benefits. Note that walnuts and flax seeds have a significantly higher amount of alpha linolenic acid as compared to other nuts and seeds. This is a type of plant-derived omega 3 fatty acid, similar to that found in salmon, which many studies show lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) levels.

Nuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. Nuts, seeds and their butters are:

Cashew Butter
Cashew butter is versatile in sweet and savory dishes. Product photography by Claire Freierman.
  • Rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium
  • High in plant sterols and “good fats,” mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (they include the omega 3 essential fatty acids which have all been shown to lower LDL cholesterol)
  • Good sources of fiber and nutrients such as copper, folic acid, potassium and zinc
  • A good energy food

For people with digestive issues, nut butters are more digestible than whole nuts.

Yet, many people avoid nuts, seeds and their butters because of concerns of high fat and calories (an ounce of nuts or seeds has between 150 and 200 calories, a tablespoon of nut or seed butter between 80 and 100 calories and 7 to 10 grams of fat). As with olive oil and other heart-healthy fats (avocado oil, grapeseed oil), the key is moderation and using nuts and nut butters as replacements for other foods (butter and margarine, for example), rather than as additions to one’s diet.

About Nut Butter

Nut butter is not a butter in the dairy sense of the word; nuts are finely-ground or puréed, releasing their oils, which provide a spreadable consistency and a “buttery” mouthfeel. Nuts such as peanuts (which is actually not a nut, but a legume) and cashews (which are actually seeds of a pear-shaped fruit) are commonly roasted to provide a toasty flavor, before they are ground into nut butter. But there’s no requirement to do so, just as there’s no requirement to add sugar and salt, as most supermarket brands do. If you’ve purchased raw (unroasted) almonds, cashews or other nuts, you know that their flavor is fresher and equally delicious.

Natural food stores commonly make nut butters from raw nuts  and seeds—you can commonly find almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans and walnuts, as well as pumpkin seed, sesame seed (tahini), soybean and sunflower seed butters. Consistencies can vary widely, and the nut oil often separates at the top because no chemical emulsifiers and stabilizers are used.

What makes Artisana nut butters better than others we’ve tried? The quality of the ingredients. It’s all they do, and they do it best.

  • The nuts and seeds are hand-selected from the new harvest—they’re the freshest and the best.
  • They’re grown by small, organic California farmers who live sustainably and are emotionally bonded to their crops (yes, it makes a difference). There are no toxic pesticides, chemicals or genetically modified organisms.
  • The products are handcrafted and pure. It’s just nuts. There’s no added salt, sugar, preservatives or flavors—just the clean, fresh taste of healthy, raw nuts and/or seeds from nature.

If you weren’t so busy enjoying the delicious flavors of these butters, you might think about the healthy enzymes, proteins and vitamins. But we’re all about the flavors, so let’s get to them...and how to use these nut butters.

Cacao Butter
Winner of the 2007 “Best Of Show” award for vegetarian products at the country’s largest natural and organic products show, Expo West.

NOTE: Nut and seed butters are not recommended for children younger than one year old; in families with a strong history of allergies, nuts and nut products should not be introduced until three years of age.

Enjoying Nut Butters: Serving Suggestions

In general, you can use these nut butters:

Coconut Butter
  • On toast, bagels and other breads
  • On sandwiches and wraps
    (TIP: Add sliced apples, other fruit or grated carrots to a nut butter sandwich)
  • With fruit
    (TIP: Spread apple or pear slices with nut butter and raisins)
  • With vegetables
    (TIP: Spread on carrots, celery or fennel)
  • In salad dressings
  • In dips
    (TIP: Purée cooked beans with nut butters in the same way tahini and chickpeas are made into hummus)
  • In soups and sauces
    (TIP: Make quick nut pestos)
  • In baking (cookies and breads)
  • On ice cream

Serving Suggestions: Individual Variety Nut Butters

Here’s how you can enjoy nut butter:

Almond Butter

This mildly sweet butter has a great texture and aroma. It’s high in vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), and manganese, and a good source of copper, magnesium, phosphorus and riboflavin. Use it as:

  • A popular alternative to peanut butter as a sandwich spread
  • A base for soups, sauces and dips
  • An addition to fruit smoothies
  • A topper for cereal...or eat it right out of the jar

Cashew Butter

Smooth and creamy as frosting, cashew butter has a natural sweetness and is naturally high in copper, essential amino acids, magnesium and manganese. It’s also a good source of phosphorus, vitamin K and zinc. Use it:

  • As substitute for peanut butter or as a general bread spread
  • In soups, sauces and dips
  • In Indian dishes, especially curries
  • As a condiment on all types of sandwiches and wraps (vegetables, turkey, roast beef)
  • In smoothies and desserts—make cookie sandwiches, frost cupcakes, use it as a cake filling
Cinnamon Raisin Bagel
Try coconut butter on a bagel. Photo of French Meadow Bakery’s organic Cinnamon Raisin Bagel by Claire Freierman.

Coconut Butter

This butter is puréed coconut meat, yet it is solid white at room temperature—you’ll think you’re looking at the inside of the coconut itself. You can turn it into a spread by warming it in the microwave or in hot water; but at room temperature, it flakes with a fork or spoon, providing a most attractive garnish for sweet or savory dishes. Coconut butter has a more subtle flavor than chewing on coconut meat—rather than fibrous coconut, the butter melts in your mouth. People who like coconut may well find it addictive snacking from the jar. A small amount is very satisfying. Spread that is wonderful in sweet and savory preparations:

  • Try a bit with your morning cereal
  • It’s terrific on a bagel
  • Scatter some into soups at the table—the flakes will melt like snowflakes and add subtle coconut and buttery accents to chicken, tomato and other vegetable soups
  • Enjoy it with dessert—with pineapple, ice cream or a frozen banana—or in a smoothie
  • Make frosting from a mixture of Coconut Butter, agave nectar, vanilla and a pinch of sea salt (sandwich it between two cookies!)
  • Snack from the jar
Figs
Garnish a sliced fig with a dollop of Pecan Butter or Walnut Butter. Photo by Liv Friis-Larsen | IST.

Macadamia Cashew Butter

Want more richness in your Cashew Butter? Artisana reached beyond California to blend in macadamias from Hawaii and Australia.

Pecan Butter

What a delight this butter is. Rich and profound, it’s another way to enjoy pecans.

Walnut Butter

With more alpha linolenic acid than any other nut, your heart will be happy when you eat walnuts in any form—including this delicious butter.

Walnut and Pecan Butters have similar applications.

  • For an easy, dynamite hors d’oeuvre or dessert, add a dollop to fresh figs.
  • Try them on pancakes.
  • Make nut butter sandwiches with fig jam.
  • Make “nut pesto” for pasta.

 

Tahini

Artisana makes two superb varieties of sesame seed butter—a.k.a. tahini—a regular Raw Tahini and a beautiful Raw Black Sesame Tahini. Tahini is an ingredient in a variety of Middle Eastern dishes, most famously the chickpea and tahini dip, hummus. Like the other butters, it can be thinned with broth or water and used to make dressings, gravies, sauces and soups.

Serving Suggestions: Bliss Butters

Multi-ingredient spreads are appropriately called “Bliss”: They are wonderful spreads and garnishes. The Bliss products include a bit of organic agave syrup, a low-glycemic sweetener made from the juice of the agave plant (agave is a Mexican succulent—tequila is also made from agave juice).

  • Flake them onto ice cream or other desserts
  • Crumble them into salads, especially those with fresh or dried fruit
  • Spread them on plain cookies

Amazon Bliss

Amazon Bliss tastes of coconut, but it’s full of high-antioxidant superfoods: açaí for energy, cacao nibs for euphoria, goji berries for clarity and relaxation and yacón (a sweet-tasting tuberous root grown in the Andes that is described as a cross between apple and watermelon) for stamina. We like it because it’s more complex than the basic Coconut Butter, and because you will have fun figuring out what to do with it. Like the Coconut Butter, it is solid at room temperature but melts in the mouth.

Cacao Bliss

Taste Cacao Bliss and you’ll know why it won the Best New Product Award over hundreds of entries. A blend of cacao butter and coconut butter, it looks like fudge and tastes like heaven. The possibilities for chocolate lovers are endless, from an Almond Butter and Cacao Bliss sandwich (or PB and Cacao Bliss) to desserts. The flavors of coconut and chocolate are present in equal strength. Lovers of Mounds bars: You can feel good about converting to this healthier version. (Have friends who love Mounds, or other chocolate coconut confections? They’ll love a jar.)

Amazon Bliss
Amazon Bliss is more complex than Coconut Butter but has a similar consistency.
Goji Bliss Goji Berry Butter
Goji Bliss is made from high-antioxidant goji berries.

Goji Bliss

Perhaps the prettiest butter, Goji Bliss blends lots of goji berries—the Amazonian superfruit—into coconut butter. There’s a strong coconut flavor, but it also tastes like candy—candy with a big antioxidant punch. Like the Coconut Butter, Goji Bliss flakes, and can be flaked into fruit salads, Chinese chicken salads, savory dishes that beg for a little coconut pick-me-up, banana sandwiches and more.

Nut Butter Recipes

There are more recipes on the company website, PremierOrganics.org; but once you taste these butters, you’ll have the most fun creating your own.

Asparagus With Almond Butter Sauce

This was developed for asparagus, but can be enjoyed on green beans, broccoli, zucchini and other fresh vegetables. You can also use it on pasta with the vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • 1/4 cup Artisana almond butter
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation

  1. Boil or steam the asparagus or other vegetable to desired consistency; drain well.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add Artisana almond butter and cook until golden brown, about 6 or 7 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat; add lemon juice and salt. Pour sauce over hot cooked asparagus.
Fettucine and Asparagus
Use the Almond Butter Sauce on plain asparagus, or combined with pasta and other vegetables (here, with spring peas). Photo by Claudia Hung | IST.
Mushroom Soup
A half cup of nut butter adds creaminess and richness to soups. Photo by Emrah Turudu | IST.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups mushrooms, chopped fine
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cashew butter
  • 1-1/4 cups vegetables or chicken stock
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup whole, cashews
  • Fresh thyme to garnish

Directions

  1. Sauté one cup of the mushrooms with the onion in half the oil until tender.
  2. Blend the sautéed vegetables with the cashew butter, water, soy sauce and cayenne pepper.
  3. Heat the remaining oil and sauté the whole nuts and remaining 1 cup of mushrooms until tender. Add to the blended mixture and bring just to a boil on low to medium heat.
  4. Simmer on low for 15 minutes until hot. Garnish with snipped fresh thyme.

Finale

If your taste buds yearn for something new and different, try Artisana nut butters. You don’t have to search through the thousands of products at Expo West—we’ve done it for you.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to food lovers who want to discover something new and delicious; to cooks looking for new ingredients.

ARTISANA NUT BUTTERS
Amazon Bliss, Cacao Bliss, Goji Bliss, Raw Almond Butter, Raw Cashew Butter, Raw Coconut Butter, Raw Macadamia Cashew Butter, Raw Pecan Butter, Raw Walnut Butter

Certified organic by CCOF
Certified kosher by KSA

  • 8-Ounce Jar
    $7.99 to $8.99

Purchase online* at e-tailers listed on company website, PremierOrganics.org

*Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional. THE NIBBLE does not sell products; these items are offered by a third party and we have no financial relationship with respect to this sale. Information to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.

Artisana Nut ButterSome of the Artisana nut butters.

 


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