The Belgians take responsibility for cookie butter, a food paste made from speculoos cookie crumbs, fat, flour and sugar, while hazelnut chocolate spread started in Italy. Peanut butter is the U.S.’s claim to fame in the sweet-salty spread category, and in recent years, Americans have become intrigued with non-peanut spreads due to a rise in peanut allergies and a quest for protein.
Today, there are spreads being made with all types of nuts and seeds, often in combination with other ingredients, including fruit pieces and chocolate chunks. Even coffee beans are being ground into a spreadable paste.
The marketers of these spreads are promoting their nutritional benefits, with some a noteworthy source of omega-3 fats, protein or fiber. The different base ingredients possess varying flavor profiles and textures, as well as a rainbow of hues.
Peanut dominates the nut butter category with about three-fourths share, according to Mintel, Chicago. Other nut spreads are rising in popularity, most notably hazelnut, followed by almonds then cashews. Alternative nuts have a tough time competing with peanuts in terms of price, but for those consumers with a peanut allergy, price is often overlooked. Seed butters, some of which stay far away from any type of nut in order to appeal to those with nut allergies, are becoming more popular.
Mintel research indicates snacking is a potential growth market for these spreads, as they are characterized as a healthy indulgence. To encourage on-the-go snacking, marketers are offering single-serve pouches and even powdered formats that require hydrating with water. The powders also allow for addition as a protein source into smoothies and shakes.
Betsy Opyt, president and chief executive officer, Healthy Concepts Food Company, Naples, Fla., encourages use of Betsy’s Best nut and seed butters in cooking. Her cardamom cashew butter blended with cream cheese complements smoked salmon as an appetizer atop crostini or rolled in a wrap. The cinnamon peanut butter, which contains chia seeds, may be blended with soy sauce, sesame oil and honey to make a marinade for portobello mushroom burgers. The cinnamon sunflower seed butter may be thinned by mixing with water and a touch of maple syrup to make a slightly sweet dressing that goes well with apple spinach salad.