BLOG: Natural Nut and Seed Butters – Managing Separation

By December 3, 2018In the News

Apples with peanut butter or seed butter spreadNatural nut butters entered the market as an alternative to peanut butter. Frequently, the “butter” composition is at risk of separating, which will compromise its perceived quality with consumers. Natural citrus fibers like Citri-Fi can bind oil and water naturally due to its hydrophobic/hydrophilic fibrous composition and high surface area.

Author: Dr. Kurt Villwock, Ph.D.

Despite its reputation for being nutrient dense, peanut butter is a longtime staple in the marketplace as a good source of plant protein and satiety – not to mention it has a satisfying, cravable flavor.  Childhood allergy awareness has spiked in recent times and peanuts are one of the top eight allergens of concern.  As a result, alternative natural seed or nut butter spreads such as sunflower, almond, cashew and hazelnut have emerged to provide consumers with more options.  This along with the protein enrichment craze unlocked new opportunities to spice up the savory and sweet spreads aisle.

Nut and Seed Spread Challenges & Solutions

One of the issues with natural nut or seed butters is that the unsaturated native fat, which is liquid at room temperature, tends to separate from the ground solids easily. As a result, separation in the jar is visible making consumers question the product quality. Forcing the consumer to remix the product before consumption is a messy inconvenience that may negatively impact the consumer experience and therefore sales.

While there are time-tested additives that can prevent oil separation such as lecithins, mono- and diglycerides and other traditional emulsifiers, these ingredients do not currently enjoy a clean label perception from consumers.  In reality, there are precious few options for natural, clean label emulsifiers.  A surprisingly powerful clean label ingredient, Citri-Fi citrus fiber, is one such emulsifier.  It comes from the byproducts of the citrus juicing industry and is both a strong water binder and a strong oil binder.

Ironically, in a high oil containing product, Citri-Fi can bind oil better if it has just a small amount of water present.  As shown in this recent trial, where about 2% water addition on top of 5% Citri-Fi citrus fiber essentially eliminates oil separation without losing that nice peanut butter spreadability and texture.

Different Peanut Butter Spreads at Varying Citri-Fi LevelsWater Activity Effects

Addition of water does negatively affect the water activity (Aw) of the nut butter. The control had an Aw of 0.2, whereas the Aw of the sample with 2% water added was about 0.4.  This is below the threshold for microbial growth, and within ideal range for reduced lipid oxidation as seen in the classic water activity diagram below (Labuza, 1970).  This means, the small amount of water added, along with the Citri-Fi 100FG, may have a positive impact on the shelf-life, flavor, and quality of the finished product.
Water Activity Graph used to reference nut butters

Looking to improve your nut or seed butter? If you have questions or would like further information, please contact