As parent to a vegetarian, I'm always looking for ways to diversify the healthy protein sources around the house!
Comparing Two Yummy, Nutritious "Butters"
I'm not sure what first attracted me to SunButter, a spread made from sunflower seeds that is peanut-free but looks, "feels," and tastes much like peanut butter. Maybe it was the warm, sunny name. Maybe it was the pleasure of imagining that severely peanut-allergic folks, like my nephew and some of my children's friends, might now be able to enjoy a PB-like sandwich or cookie. (Sorry, but the popular soy butter option never really did it for me. And almond butter, while tasty, is often processed in facilities that also handle peanuts—a risk not every allergic person, or parent of an allergic child, is willing to take.)
Whatever the lure, I grabbed a jar of SunButter from the local grocery and set up some side-by-side comparisons with our "house" peanut butter, Skippy Natural. The highly subjective ramblings below may give you a sense of what SunButter is like.
To State the Obvious: Allergy Alert!
This type of product throwdown is safe only for non-allergic types like me. Even if you're not allergic but have a child or adult in your home with a peanut allergy, or peanut-allergic friends visiting regularly, you won't want to replicate these shenanigans. Much better safe than sorry.
As for SunButter, here's the comforting allergy statement straight from its label:
"Processed in a facility free from the top 8 allergens."
Next to this statement is a chart listing these top eight allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, and soybeans.
SunButter is also USA-made and Non-GMO-Project verified, per the label.
For still more information, you can call the manufacturer of this brand of sunflower seed butter toll free at 877-873-4501. Additionally there are specific contact people for food service staff (i.e., for schools); go their contact page to find that contact information for your state or area.
Straight From the Jar
On its own, the SunButter "natural crunch" variety (which was the only version my store carried when I ran these informal taste tests) was really quite decent. It had more depth of flavor and was more "roasty"—for lack of a better term—than the Skippy Natural peanut butter, which I had in the creamy style. In sweetness, the two products were about equal.
Advantage: Tie. I'd take the SunButter for two bites, but if I had to eat five, maybe the Skippy—only because the deeper, "roastier" taste might start to wear out its welcome. But who eats more than a couple of bites of nut-type butter out of the jar, anyway?
Note: Looking for a less roasted taste? As with peanut butter, it's possible to customize that taste by making your own sunflower seed butter. Here's a sugar-free recipe that could easily be adapted, if sugar's okay by you.
In a Sandwich
Hmm. Maybe it's because I used a fairly sweet bread (my kids like cinnamon-swirl bread for their PBJ sandwiches, so that's what I used), but between that and the all-fruit strawberry spread, it was actually pretty tough to tell the difference between the SunButter and peanut butter sandwiches. And that's probably a good thing, right?
Read More From Delishably
On a Cracker
I laid out a few Ritz and spread some with SunButter, some with Skippy. The SunButter crackers weren't bad or anything, but the peanut butter ones created a knockout punch of nostalgia. After-school snacks. Long road trips with the family. Swim-meet energy boosters. Snacking along to The Partridge Family, circa 1974. Sigh...
Advantage: Peanut butter
Even if you don't fry them up in a sandwich like Elvis—let's not and say we did, especially his reported addition of bacon—PB and banana pair well together. But in this taste test, I found the Skippy atop a slice of banana a bit cloying. It was sugar overload. The roastier flavor of the SunButter came in handy here, playing off the banana's creamy sweetness. Based on this taste test, I'm not surprised that many of the most tempting breakfast, bread, and pastry SunButter recipes feature banana for sweetness and creaminess, as these two foods work very nicely as a team.
In a Milkshake
One of my best discoveries of 2009 was just how much peanut butter one can pack into a milkshake without one's somewhat underweight, protein-averse kid noticing. It's amazing! So I decided to try the same trick with SunButter.
Starting with a vanilla shake, I added a heaping tablespoon of SunButter. Oddly, the resulting taste reminded me of the old "drumstick" ice cream treat from the Good Humor truck. (Maybe they still sell those? Not sure.) But I like that taste, so it wasn't a problem.
I tasted again after adding two heaping tablespoons of Ovaltine to the shake. Yum! Still a bit "drumstick" like, but in a good way.
On the other hand, the SunButter's slightly stronger taste means you can probably get away with less of it in a shake than the peanut butter. I also had to blend the SunButter shake a bit longer than the PB one to get it creamy enough, but that wasn't a big deal.
Advantage: Peanut butter, if volume or "density" of the nut/seed butter is a goal, for dietary purposes. If not—tie.
Right before the kids came home, I threw together some no flour peanut butter cookies (pictured above), replacing peanut butter with SunButter.
As with peanut butter, this created a sticky dough that needed to be smooshed down on the cookie sheet with a fork. My SunButter cookies took about 10 minutes to bake, but ovens vary, so if you make these, start checking after about eight.
When the kids trampled in, I nonchalantly handed each a cookie—no explanation about the SunButter, as my guys are not super adventurous and would likely opt out if they had the full story.
Guess what? They gobbled up the SunButter cookies without complaint. And so did I!
Advantage: Close one. I'd say the peanut butter nudged out the sunflower butter cookies, but not by much.
Note: A weird issue can come up when you bake with SunButter. I didn't have this problem when adapting my flourless peanut butter cookies because their three ingredients don't include a leavening agent -- but if your recipe includes baking powder or baking soda, be advised that the chlorogenic acid in sunflower seeds can turn SunButter baked goods green! Click here for a concise, witty explanation and tips on prevention. (Or limit your SunButter cookies to St. Patrick's Day! Or Christmas, if you feel like coating your green cookies in red sprinkles :)
Is SunButter Good for You?
Based on the health benefits of sunflower seeds, I'd say this has got to be an overall "yes."
Like peanuts, sunflower seeds are high in "good fat" that can help ward off heart disease. They're rich in phytosterols, believed to reduce blood cholesterol. They provide magnesium for healthy bones, plus plenty of antioxidant power in the form of vitamin E.
But how does SunButter, specifically, stack up nutritionally against its more traditional cousin? Checking the labels, I see virtually equal amounts of fat (16g per 2 tbsp. serving for the peanut butter, 17g for the SunButter) and cholesterol (0g in both cases). They have identical, reassuringly low sugar counts (3g per serving). The Skippy Natural peanut butter has a bit more sodium: 150mg, compared to only 99 for the SunButter. But they both have 7g of protein—a key figure when your kids are near-vegetarians like mine, or if you are on a high-protein diet.
SunButter vs. Peanut Butter: Nutrition Information Per Serving
17g fat (2g saturated)
16g fat (3.5g saturated)
Where to Find SunButter
In addition to independent local grocery stores like mine, the product's been spotted at national chains like Target and Trader Joe's, so call your nearest branch to check. Or ask your grocery to order, if it's not on the shelves already.
You can also grab SunButter online, at a bulk price much lower than what I paid for a solo jar at our local store. Online you can choose from several varieties: the crunchy kind I used for my taste tests, a creamy type I later photographed for this article, an organic version, and a no-sugar-added type.
Make Your Own Sunflower Seed Butter
I'm not sure if this would save money over purchasing the ready-made SunButter, but certainly there's an appeal to homemade food. Go here for a recipe for sunflower seed butter that has just four ingredients (though, the blogger points out, it can also be made with just one: roasted sunflower seeds) and includes serving suggestions for the finished product that I haven't included here in my SunButter vs. peanut butter throwdown. No-bake energy balls made with honey and coconut sound particularly appealing, as you don't need to worry about the green color described above that sometimes occurs during the baking process. Or for a more decadent take on homemade sunflower seed butter, check out this version that incorporates coconut (and chocolate!) from the jump. Or this lovely-sounding cinnamon maple version.
The culinary potential of sunflower seed butter is vast! If you'd like to go beyond the classic sandwiches, cookies, and snacks I taste-tested, give these SunButter recipes a spin:
- Yummy homemade muffins, pancakes, banana bread, waffles, and granola would all be great breakfast options. If time is really tight, grab a no-bake oat bar as you run out the door. For a quick, healthy meal in a glass, try this smoothie.
- Sunbutter brownies would be my pick for a decadent dessert. Or if you "sold out" of your Halloween candy as we did—so wonderful to see kids enjoying the relatively pandemic-proof outdoor activity of trick-or-treating!—you could try making this variation on peanut butter cup candies: lovely sunbutter cups! (You can find these, premade, at Trader Joe's, but not everyone is lucky enough to have a TJ's nearby. An Amazon-available brand, free2b, has a version as well!) An alternative to my sunbutter cookies recipe linked above, with a bit more texture, is this one that includes oatmeal or these oat flour and chocolate chip sunbutter cookies. Allergy sufferers will appreciate this easy, allergen-avoidant fudge recipe that centers chocolate (as it should be!) but swirls in some savory sunbutter. Or this recipe for 3 ingredient caramel sauce--which, if you want to convert this layer cake to a bundt cake for easier prep and serving, might be able to substitute for the yummy frosting included in the cake recipe.
- For the holidays coming up, why not try this version, rich with sunflower seed butter, of maple-frosted gingerbread cake, these moist gingerbread cake bars with a white chocolate drizzle, or this fun take on chocolate gingerbread cookies?
- For excellent after-school snacks or midday pick-me-ups, try a variation on rice krispie treats, no-bake energy bites, or this recipe for homemade granola bars that lets you choose between sunflower seed or sesame seed (in the form of tahini) as a binder and primary nutrition source. (Like the energy bites, they require no baking!)
- In search of a yummy side dish? Crispy Brussels sprouts are all the rage at restaurants these days, nudging many of us along the continuum from Brussels avoider to Brussels-curious to, yes, Brussels enjoyer! Here's a pretty healthy recipe for crispy Brussels that includes SunButter. Alternatively, here's a veggie stirfry recipe sure to brighten up the plate. I also love the idea of tossing a big bowl of fresh, crunchy greens in this salad dressing, which doubles as a dip for crudites. This quick and easy satay sauce could be drizzled over steamed or stirfried tofu or veggies.
- And, for a savory main-dish treat, how about noodles, African-style stew, a spicy lentil and veggie entree, a gluten-free chicken dish inspired by the delicious flavors of India, or (perfect for fall and winter) a comforting bowl of SunButter pumpkin soup? If you're still wondering what to do with that leftover turkey from Thanksgiving that's tucked away in your freezer, try this lively curry recipe.
- While this one's not a recipe, you can get sunflower butter ice cream -- no dairy! -- courtesy of Ben & Jerry's. Read a review here for these plant-based flavors.
SunButter as a Stress Buster?
When we think "tryptophan," most of us think of turkey and a long, lazy post-Thanksgiving-dinner nap. But foods high in tryptophan, touted by many nutritionists as a natural serotonin booster in the body, can assist with stress management as well as sleep.Tryptophan is a plant-derived amino acid that, when metabolized, transforms into important things like melatonin (perhaps that's where the sleep part comes in!) and niacin as well as serotonin. This published analysis discusses the possible therapeutic benefits in more detail: "Dietary tryptophan and its metabolites seem to have the potential to contribute to the therapy of autism, cardiovascular disease, cognitive function, chronic kidney disease, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep, social function, and microbial infections."
Happily, sunflower seeds are on the list of tryptophan-rich foods. They won't solve all your problems (what food will?)—but as stress-busting snacks go, they (and their spreadable form: SunButter) are worth a shot!
More Peanut Butter Alternatives
If the taste and/or texture of sunflower seed butter does not appeal, try:
- Almond butter (my favorite, for both snacking and baking)
- Cashew butter (or cashew-pecan butter)
- Granola butter
- Hazelnut butter
- Soy butter (in moderation, if you worry—as I do—about the health complexities of regular soy consumption)
- Pumpkin seed butter
- Watermelon seed butter (this is the newest one I've heard about)
Would You Try SunButter?
Or have you already tried it? How does it compare to other peanut butter alternatives you've tasted? What are your favorite ways of using SunButter—beyond straight from the jar?
© 2009 Mary