Like nuts, seeds are small but powerful sources of many nutrients. And also like nuts, they’re showing up in delicious, spreadable form.
Thanks to the grind-your-own option at Whole Foods and other grocery stores, you now know you can make butter out of virtually any nut. And now seeds like sunflower, pumpkin and even watermelon are joining the charge. You can expect to see a lot more of them in the coming year, according to a recent report from healthy snack manufacturer KIND. In a survey of more than 5,000 food and beverage experts, chefs, and registered dietitians, “Respondents ranked seeds as the second most popular ingredient that will be popping up in more snack options next year,” says Stephanie Perruzza, R.D., the brand’s in-house dietitian.
The trend is likely fueled by demand for plant-based protein and nut allergies, since seeds don’t tend to trigger the same reactions. “Dietary guidelines do recommend that we get more nuts and seeds,” says Isabel Maples, R.D., a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Because seeds are essentially baby plants packed into a tiny shell, complete with all the energy that plant needs to grow, they’re a super-concentrated source of nutrients (ditto nuts, which are botanically a type of seed). One of those nutrients is protein, Maples says, and seeds are so packed with it that a half-ounce of them is the equivalent of a full ounce of meat or one egg—pretty good bang for your buck.
They’re also a great source of many of the same things that make nuts a good snacking option: heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin seeds for example, are a good source of magnesium; sunflower seeds are rich in zinc and vitamin B6; chia seeds deliver omega 3 fatty acids, according to Perruzza.
Eating a variety is the best way to reap the benefits, and when you grind or pulverize seeds, the way you do to make them into butter, you make their nutrients easier for your body to absorb (also known as more bioavailable). Tahini, which is made from ground sesame seeds, has become popular since it’s used so much in Mediterranean diets, and now sunflower seed butter is catching on too. Like nut butters, the healthy fats in seeds make for a creamy—and tasty—spread.
You can use them just about any way you’d use nut butter—slather on apple slices, stir into oatmeal, use in dip. Just keep an eye on how much you’re using, says Maples, since that nutrient density means calorie density too. A tablespoon of sunflower seed butter has around 100 calories, and it adds up quickly. You can easily make butter from any seed using a high-powered blender, but if you’re buying pre-packaged seed butters, check the label for added sugar, salt, or oil. Some brands, like SunButter, offer no sugar added versions. She also recommends storing seed butters in the fridge or freezer for maximum freshness, since grinding seeds releases their natural oils, which can start to go rancid.
Some seed butters to go nuts for:
- Tahini-This sesame seed paste is ubiquitous in hummus and other Mediterranean foods, but its sesame-driven taste can be slightly bitter.
- Sunflower seed butter-If you’ve ever tasted sunflower seeds, you will like this. It’s not as sweet as most peanut butter, and has roasted notes.
- Watermelon seed butter-If you expect any fruitiness, you’ll be disappointed. It’s like a lighter tahini, with mild bitterness.
- Pumpkin seed butter-More nutty than other seed butters, like raw pepitas.
- Hemp seed butter-Intensely nutty flavor, without the allergens. Some describe it as grassy, and it tends to be thicker than other seed butters