Keeping the Taste, Not the Waste
One of my earliest memories of food is of having a scrumptious peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I can also never forget that delectable, butter glazed cinnamon donut I enjoyed for breakfast in grade school. I wasn’t the only one. My peers and I crowded the cafeteria tables to hurriedly gobble up our peanut butter and jelly graham wafer sandwiches so we could enjoy a few extra minutes of outdoor recess. At that time, there were no designated, “nut free classrooms,” let alone a “nut free table,” in the cafeteria. Seldom did we hear of allergies. As kids, we also had no worries about the fat or calorie content of our food. Good days!
Fast forward thirty years, we’re living in an era of alarming obesity across the age spectrum. With physical activity on the decline, it is indeed critical to proactively seek healthy choices. Yes, everything with “real” butter tastes better! It takes on the star role in a dish—be it your favorite cupcake recipe, or grandma’s famous scrambled eggs. There are many alternatives that can fill in the role providing the same richness we love, without the saturated fat.
First, let’s take a quick look at saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats, to get a better understanding of why we should consider replacing butter. Unsaturated fats originate from plants, seeds, vegetables, fish, and nuts and aid in lowering blood cholesterol levels. According to an article in Harvard Medical School’s Health Publication, titled, The Truth about Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between, adding unsaturated fat to your daily diet is essential. The keyword here being, “unsaturated.” Fat is a source of energy. It helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, it is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, stay liquid at room temperature and are considered the healthiest option. On the other hand, saturated fats such as butter, which are solid at room temperature and derived from animal sources, increase LDL blood cholesterol levels leading to increased risk of heart disease. Coconut oil is however a healthier, plant-derived saturated fat. Finally, the most harmful is trans fat, which is mostly synthetic. It is made by industrially converting liquid fats into solids by hydrogenation. Shortening is an example of a trans fat. Hydrogenated oils used by fast food restaurants for frying also fall in this category. These increase one’s risk of developing heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.
Replacing saturated fats, such as butter, with unsaturated fats is easier than you think. Some chefs swap butter for mashed avocado in traditional baked goods, and get delicious and healthy results. Another alternative is the “liquid gold” of the kitchen: olive oil. As Muslims, however, we have known for centuries from the Quran, that the olive tree is a blessing for humankind:
“God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. God guides to His light whom He wills…” (Quran 24:35)
A healthy substitute for butter is IFANCA halal certified Cabot or Zone Perfect Greek yogurt, which adds protein and moistness to baked goods without adding unwanted calories and the fat found in butter. According to lifestyle author, Andrea DeShazo, “Greek yogurt will add richness and a tangy flavor reminiscent of buttermilk to your baked goods, along with the heart-healthy benefits that come from reducing fat.” If your recipe calls for butter, simply add the same amount of Greek yogurt instead. Keep in mind that yogurt increases the moisture content of your recipe, so increase the flour slightly.
Pumpkin puree is an appropriate replacement for butter in your recipes. As Marcia Frost from Livestrong.com says, “Pumpkin puree can provide moisture in your recipe the way butter would. You can try it in many recipes, but pumpkin is especially helpful when baking cookies, cakes, and muffins since it has just a bit of sweetness that works well in baked goods.” In this case, if your recipe calls for one cup of butter, replace that with three fourths of a cup of pumpkin puree. In the end, you will have saved yourself from the typical 800 calories and 90 grams of fat found in half a cup of butter, versus only 40 calories and less than one gram of fat found in a half cup of pumpkin puree.
When it comes to the calories and fat per serving, peanut butter is on the same boat as butter. Nut-free substitutes for peanut butter are just as easy to find, and provide a fulfilling taste, vitamins, and minerals without the excess fat and calories. Substitutes include sunflower seed butter, tahini paste, and coconut butter. Mother and author, Christine Gallary, tested these substitutes and found that the closest spread in terms of flavor and texture, is sunflower seed butter. “Sunflower seed butter has a nice nutty flavor and is smooth and spreadable,” says Gallary. “I honestly don’t feel like I’m missing out on peanut butter.” Indeed, sunflowers are no longer simply a road trip snack, they can be transformed into a delicious spread that is packed with nutritional benefits, including protein, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, and healthy fat.
Tahini can do the job too. For those unfamiliar with tahini, it is a condensed paste made from crushed sesame seeds. Tahini paste is a mixture of sesame seeds, lemon juice, garlic, and water—depending on your preferred consistency. The most common use for tahini paste is obviously hummus (a chickpea dip), but tahini is just as effective in any dish or sauce to give it a creamy and nutty flavor. Author, Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati also comments that, “Tahini makes delicious dressings, creamy soups, scrumptious sweets, and excellent entrees.” It is protein-rich and is also a unique source of sesamin and sesamolin-lignans that are proven to lower cholesterol and protect the liver from oxidative stress.
Last but not least, there is good old coconut butter. It may sound more like a dessert ingredient, but is actually a paste made from raw, unsweetened, shredded coconut. If it is broken down in a blender for approximately 15-20 minutes, with a dash of salt, the end result is a consistency similar to creamy peanut butter. Spread it on your favorite bread to make a sweet and nutty sandwich. Just as versatile as peanut butter, it can be used for a fresh fruit dip, a spread for pancakes, or to enhance a meat rub. It’s rich in taste and also in lauric acid which strengthens immunity and helps in weight management by boosting metabolism and thus increasing energy levels. It has all the goodness of coconut: healthy fats, essential amino acids, calcium, and magnesium. These changes do not necessarily mean that we have to sacrifice taste for health. These alternatives are indeed both delicious and pack a nutritional punch, minus the calories and undesired fats.
Asma Jarad is a writer and editor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from National University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Illinois.