There is something almost soothing about that simple combination of words…
Like some beautifully mouth-watering gastro-linguistic conflation that is somehow able to single-handedly define the delicious meaning of comfort food.
Yet despite the culturally ubiquitous and near-romantic relationship with this beloved food, we seem simply unwilling to acknowledge its botanical properties.
The truth is… they are not nuts at all.
That’s right… pea-NUTs are actually a legume. Much closer related to beans then an almond.
It’s for this reason that some people prefer to use preparation methods beyond just roasting.
If you care –I expand on this theory below.
If you don’t care — or already know, or are just anxious to get lost in homemade PB-euphoria… skip down to my recipe for homemade sprouted peanut butter!
Anti-Nutrients, Phytic Acid, & Enzyme Inhibitors
The more and more I research on the topic of traditional seed (grains, beans, and nuts) preperation, the more I realize that it is an area of nutritional science that still has a lot of missing pieces. Some groups insist that soaking/sprouting/fermenting is the only way that these foods should ever be eaten, and other people say that it really doesn’t matter.
Currently I’m waiting for science to catch up and figure out which preperation methods are worth-while. In the meantime, I soak my nuts/seeds because I think they taste better, and I soak my grains because they cook faster. However, the firm stance that I use to have toward the process has slightly faded.
As we just brought to light, peanuts are legumes (like beans).
While the human consumption of legumes –and similarly grains– dates back roughly 10,000 years, to the dawn of agriculture, they aren’t necessarily “human food”.
In fact, in their un-proccessed raw form, they are nearly inedible to humans –and some are even toxic.
This is because these foods contain naturally occurring defensive deterrents like anti-nutrients and enzyme-inhibitors.
Case in point, ever eaten a bowl of under-cooked beans?
If you have, you’ve spent a night clutching your stomach in pain, and know exactly what I’m talking about.
Luckily for us, our ancestors found innovative ways to render these food sources edible.
Some of these processes include: thermal processing (cooking), grinding (flour and oatmeal), soaking, fermenting (sourdough bread), and… sprouting!
Long story short… sprouting is a method, similar to cooking, that can help render seed-foods –like peanuts!– more nutritive and digestible.
I continue to ramble about this… (Click me if you care)
The idea behind the preparation of grains and legumes is that they contain naturally occurring “defense mechanisms” meant to deter predators (us) from eating them.
The botanical theories that I have found behind this are fairly simple. Legumes and grains are seeds –seeds have evolved to grow into plants.
Some seeds like to be eaten, like fruit seeds. They are sweet and delicious, and once they lure in a diner, they are equipped to survive the digestive process and be transported to a new location via… fecal matter.
However, some seeds do not hold up so well to gnashing teeth and digestive juices, and they would prefer to not be eaten –example: grains and legumes.
As such, they have evolved complex defense mechanisms in the form of anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors –like lectins and phytic acid.
There are a range of theories and ideas about these compounds. One, is that their goal is to help the seed stay intact to potentially survive the journey through our digestive system.
Another idea is that the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors, found in legumes and grains, are meant to cause digestive stress to predators who consume them, therefore deterring us from going back for seconds.
A general consensus is that these anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors bind with minerals –potentially leaching them from our body, and in general can potentially cause digestive complications.
With that being said, the degree of digestive complications, and the amount of these foods one would need to consume to be at risk, is highly debated.
I’ll let you dig into the science of it on your own (resources at bottom of page), but here is the point:
…Grains and legumes are not naturally a human food.
If we eat them raw, we get sick, and get almost no nourishment.
However, they can be turned into human food!
Our ancestors –who were drawn to the food security that these foods offered– likely learned this the hard way, through years of stomach aches, before figuring out the perfect combo of methods needed.
A beautiful example is traditional sourdough bread! Which turns in-edible wheat seeds into a food product that can nearly sustain human life!
Similar methods can be seen across the globe in cultures that rely on seed foods for a staple caloric intake; from soured millet porridge in Africa, to fermented soy products in Asia.
In general these preparation techniques, as mentioned, are: grinding, soaking, heat cooking, fermentation, and of course —sprouting!
While each method works a bit differently, the idea with sprouting is that the seed goes from dormant to “awake”. It thinks it is time to grow into a plant, and its naturally occurring defense mechanisms reduce. At the same time the process transforms the nutritional makeup of the seed, increasing the bio-availability of micro-nutrients.
So the point is, by sprouting peanuts we are able to create an equally delicious peanut butter that has increased nutritive quality and digestibility!
Peanuts contain anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors –that part isn’t really debatable.
However, it could be (and is) highly debated how negative these anti-nutrients actually are to our health.
Obviously their are plenty of people who eat significant quantities of peanut butter on a daily basis, and are fine.
On the other hand, many people experience digestive issues with peanut butter.
…So it really goes both ways.
Sources and links to more info at the bottom of page!
Anyway… if you want to make your own sprouted peanut butter at home, here’s how!
Homemade Sprouted Peanut Butter
1 — Soak
Get yourself some RAW peanuts, and soak them in a bowl overnight.
2 — Sprout
Rinse the peanuts and place into a container that allows water to drain well. Rinse thoroughly several times a day. Let sit away from direct light for a few days –until sprouts reach about half the size-ish of the peanut.
3 — Dry
To make peanut butter, we need to roast the peanuts. In order to roast, we need dry peanuts. You can either put them in a dehydrator at 150F-ish, or in a low setting oven (crack door if you can’t set temp low enough) until they are completely dry.
4 — Skin
This is optional, but if you want a smooth consistency, you should probably do it. There are lots of methods for this, so get creative! My current strategy is to rub the peanuts between my fingers in a large bowl until the skins fall off. Then I go outside and pour the peanuts from one bowl into another bowl –while blowing the skins away.
Haha… I know it sounds weird and difficult, but it’s really easy (and maybe a little weird).
5 — Roast
Lay the peanuts in a single layer, and put in a 350F oven for around 15 minutes. Check on them frequently. When they turn light brown and look oily, they are done!
Don’t let them overcook! You’ll know, because they turn a dark burnt-brown.
6 — Grind
Add the still-warm peanuts to your food processor and start processing!
Here’s the trick: just keep grinding!
It will look gritty…
You will think you’re a failure…
But you’re not! Just keep grinding!
If you want to make chunky sprouted peanut butter, give the nuts a few pulses and then save a scoop of those pieces for later. The trick is to blend it smooth and then add the chunks back in.
7 — Grind Some More!
Seriously… just keep blending that thing until she is silky smooth!
8 — Add Ins
Once it has turned into deliciously creamy perfection, you can add in whatever you want! Honey and salt are classic, but I’ve done ginger, balsamic, coconut flakes, chopped nuts… you really can’t go wrong!
9 — Feast.
In the unlikely event that you have any left over, it should keep well for a few weeks in the refrigerator!
Skeptical? Confusing? Simple? Delicious?
…What do you guys think?
Anti-Nutrients & Enzyme Inhibitors
Sources, Research, & Info
The above references to phytic acid, anti-nutrients, and enzyme inhibitors, come from my own collection of research over the past couple years. While I try to not promote pseudo-science, it is important to note that the effects of these food properties are widely debated. In some circles, it is enough evidence to avoid grains and legumes all together, and in other circles it is deemed to not be an issue whatsoever.
Personally, I try to take the approach that I normally do with food… look at healthy populations, look at what they have eaten, and try to mimic their time-tested food-preparation methods.
If you want to dig into the topic yourself, here are a few articles that I have found particularly interesting!
“Nutritional improvement of cereals by fermentation”
“Effect of soaking, sprouting, fermentation and cooking on nutrient composition and some anti-nutritional factors of sorghum seeds”.
One of the paleo-diet arguments.
An argument against the paleo-diet argument.