Reader Question: Do I have to refrigerate almond butter?

My friends and readers regularly send me e-mails with food and cooking questions, and I figured I might start sharing some of these here with you. This one is from my friend Matt (sometimes referred to as BFF Matt):


You know I like to follow rules.  

So I got back from a run around Lake Merritt this morning and needed a nice scoop of almond butter before heading over to Blue Bottle for the latteIwouldorderifondeathrow.  My endorphin high was completely shuttered because I remembered that on the side of my freshly opened almond butter it told me to 'stir and refrigerate after opening' as it always does. 

Look, I hate refrigerating peanut and almond butter; the refrigerator sucks the life and creaminess out of an otherwise smooth treat.  I just don't want to have to 'defrost' my fucking almond butter before I eat it.

All I am saying is, what am I risking by not refrigerating my favorite post-run snack?

Ahhh...Matt. What an excellent question!

I feel the same way you do about peanut butter and almond butter (and, for that matter, cow butter). I only ever eat the organic unsweetened kind so when I refrigerate it, it gets extra hard and unmanageable which is just no fun.

Here's the thing: "officially," you have to refrigerate it. Once opened, almond butter and peanut butter, especially the kind without added salt, sugar, or preservatives, is incredibly susceptible to rancidity and spoilage. The healthy unsaturated oils that are so freaking awesome about nuts, are unfortunately, also the ones that oxidize quickly on exposure to heat, light, and air, creating rancidity that makes them smell and taste bad. This is actually true of nuts in all forms, but roasted, chopped, and ground nuts go rancid much quicker than whole raw ones.

In terms of risks, eating rancid almond butter likely won't kill you (unless you have an allergy or an already compromised immune system for other reasons), but it **will** make for a decidedly different kind of...ahem... "running" snack (so to speak). Along with the bellyache and bathroom time, rancid nut oils have been shown to be carcinogenic in the long term. There is also a level of food (and financial) waste, since the butter won't last as long as it would if stored in the fridge so you'll have to toss it out sooner.

Unofficially, you have a little more leeway with this. For one, rancidity is not going to happen overnight. It probably won't even happen for a few weeks. And it's also very obvious; rancid nut butter will smell and taste funny (sour, rank, w/ a slight chemical oil paint smell) when you eat it, at which point you can simply spit it out and throw out the rest.

In my home, I don't refrigerate my peanut butter and I also keep a jar of it at my desk at work, because I eat it regularly (I like to make shakes with peanut butter, banana, cocoa, and almond milk). I do have a jar of almond butter that I keep refrigerated because I currently prefer my peanut butter as it's a particularly delicious blend of virgin coconut oil and peanuts. Freaking amazing, if slightly off-topic.

Point is, if you're eating almond butter very regularly, I think it's cool to leave it unrefrigerated. You should, however, take a few steps to keep it safe. My recommendations:

  • Store it in a cool (under 70 is ideal), dark, and dry place; remember that depending on the heating system in your home, this spot may differ in the summer and winter. Keep away from the stove, sink, and any appliances that emit heat and/or moisture.
  • Avoid introducing bacteria into the jar by always using a new, clean spoon when scooping it out and don't "double dip." Also don't put your fingers into the jar, underneath the lid, or around the rim of the jar.
  • Smell and then taste a tiny amount before digging in; if it tastes bad, don't eat it. (A seemingly simple rule of thumb that many people ignore.)
  • During summer heatwaves or times when the temperature is unusually hot in your home, definitely refrigerate it. Also refrigerate it when you go out of town.
  • Don't keep an unrefrigerated jar longer than 4-5 weeks. If possible, buy smaller jars to avoid the waste.

As an alternative, you can always pull  the amount you want to eat out of the refrigerated jar and microwave it for 10-15 seconds to soften it, or pull the jar out before you go on your run or hit the gym as a couple hours on the counter won't hurt it at all.

Further to this, nut oils (like almond oil or walnut oil) should definitely ALWAYS be refrigerated. Homemade almond and peanut butter (this includes the kind you make yourself in the machine at the store) should also always be refrigerated.



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