Almond Butter. What's Up With That?
At the Ferry Plaza market recently, I counted four vendors selling almond butter. At the Berkeley market, where we usually shop, I counted three. At the Temescal market, I counted two.
I bought some out of curiosity; now I’m a convert to its deep almond flavor. Melissa and I frequently have almond butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and I made almond butter cookies recently by swapping it one-for-one with the recipe’s peanut butter.
Have I just been blind to this before?
In part, yes. Lagier Ranches has sold a range of almond butters for 10 years now, says Casey Havre, who manages the company’s livestock and the company’s subsidiary, Loulou’s Garden. Of the three types of almonds they grow, Lagier uses one, the Butte, only for almond butter. They use whole almonds, since broken almonds turn rancid more quickly. They know their almond butter.
But there has been a surge in almond butter at local markets. Massa Organics, best known among foodies for their flavorful, locally-grown rice, started making almond butter within the last year, says owner Greg Massa. And a quick look through Riverdog Farm’s newsletters shows that they started selling it at about the same time.
Probably everyone is selling it for the same reason: product diversity. Small farms succeed when they can sell a range of items. One crop pays the bills even while the market for another one tanks; one crop in season covers costs while another one lies dormant. “Almond butter for us was just a natural extension of getting into the almond business,” says Massa. “ In 2004, commodity rice prices were so low that we planted our first-ever almond orchard in an attempt to diversify our farming operation.”
It’s surprising that more farmers haven’t started selling almond butter before now. Almonds are everywhere here. California’s $2 billion almond industry is the only commercial one in North America, producing 75 percent of the world’s almond supply, according to the California Almond Board. Almond butter plays straight to our locavore crowd as a peanut butter substitute sourced from nearby. It plays straight to our gourmet crowd as an interesting, flavorful ingredient. And It plays straight to our health nut crowd as a “superfood,” a concentrated nutrition source.
But it doesn’t play to our budget-watching crowd, unfortunately. Almond prices are higher than peanut prices — though they’ve dropped off sharply this year — and almond butter reflects that cost. Most of the jars of organic almond butter I’ve seen cost about $1 per ounce, although non-organic brands seem to cost about two-thirds of that.
If you’ve got the budget, you can find Massa’s at the Berkeley market and the Ferry Plaza market. You can find Lagier at the Ferry Plaza, Grand Lake, Marin Civic Center, and Temescal markets. Any vendor will give you other ideas for using it beyond AB&Js and cookies. Massa likes his almond butter on toast with honey, but he also uses it in peanut sauce recipes. Havre likes it with her oatmeal, but she suggested a combination so odd I just have to try it: almond butter and homemade sauerkraut sandwiches.
Add your suggestions for almond butter in the comments.