Peanut butter — How to choose and store peanut (and other nut) butters

How do you like your peanut butter — spread on bread, baked into cookies, or ahem, straight from the jar by the spoonful? Salted or unsalted? With or without a little sweetener? Have you tried making your own peanut butter? (I tell you how below.) What about other nut butters? 

Enough of my questions — here are some answers to yours, starting with the one I hear most often:

A spoonful of creamy peanut butter

Do I need to refrigerate peanut butter?

No, but it will keep longer if you do.

Peanut butter has a long shelf life because it’s high in fat with relatively little moisture (so it’s not great for growing bacteria). The best place to store unrefrigerated peanut butter is in a dry, dark, cool place (not in the cupboard next to the oven). Left unopened, it should keep for six to nine months. 

Once opened, you’ll want to use it up more quickly. (The oil in the nut butter can become rancid over time.) According to the National Peanut Board, an open jar of peanut butter will stay fresh for two to three months in the pantry. After that, they recommend storing it in the fridge, where it will keep another three or four months.

You have some wiggle room, and your storage method will depend on how quickly you eat up that opened jar of peanut butter. (If you eat a jar within a month or two after opening, you can keep it in the cupboard or pantry. If you don’t eat much peanut butter, it would be better to put it in the refrigerator right after you open it.) What kind of peanut butter you eat will also affect how long it lasts. (See below.)

Kinds of peanut butter

For simplicity’s sake, let’s talk about commercial and natural peanut butters (though of course natural peanut butters are sold commercially). 

Commercial peanut butters often contain preservatives (sodium benzoate, for example) that help prevent microbial growth. They also have stabilizers that keep the oil from separating. These products can last up to a couple of years unopened in the pantry and a few months if they’re opened. Again, putting it in the refrigerator can extend that timeline. 

an open jar of peanut butter

Note that many commercial peanut butters also contain added sugars and hydrogenated oils. If it says “no stir” on the label, then oils (such as rapeseed or palm oil) have likely been added to stabilize them and make them easy to spread.

Natural peanut butters by definition have at least 90 percent peanut content. Some may contain a little salt and/or natural sweetener. Without preservatives (and usually stabilizers), they have a shorter shelf life — about several months unopened in the pantry and up to a month after opening. They can last three to four months in the fridge after opening. 

Keep in mind that if your natural peanut butter has separated (as is usual before opening), it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means they didn’t add stabilizers to it. Give it a hearty mixing and it’ll be good to go.

Here’s the USDA’s rundown of the nutrients contained in natural peanut butter.

Powdered peanut butter has less fat than regular peanut butter, so it’s slower to deteriorate. Unopened in a cool dry place, it can last a year or more. Opened, it can last about six months. Storing in a cool, dry, dark place can extend these times. After mixing with water, powdered peanut butter should be stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a couple of days because of the higher moisture content. 

What about other nut butters?

Yum! I like other nut butters more than peanut butter, actually. You can find cashew butter, almond butter, macadamia butter, hazelnut butter, walnut butter, pistachio butter, and more. (These other butters tend to cost a little more than peanut butter.) Spreads are also made from seeds, such as sunflower butter and tahini (made from sesame seeds). 

a spoon scooping nut butter out of a jar

Each nut butter will provide the nutrients of the nut. For example, almond butter, like almonds, is high in calcium and vitamin E, while walnut butter is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Peanut butter — and many other nut butters — are high in protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Nut butters are also typically high in calories (about 80 to 100 calories per tablespoon) and healthy fats, which help keep you feeling full.

Store other nut butters as you would peanut butter. Make your own as you would peanut butter, too. (See below.)

How will I know if my peanut butter is bad?

Most peanut butter will have an expiration or “best-by” date on the jar. But those are guidelines, not set rules. Use your own senses to tell if your peanut butter is fresh. Peanut butter that’s past its prime may be hard, dry, and darker brown. It might smell bitter, sharp, or soapy. Or it may not smell at all (good, fresh peanut butter will smell like peanuts). And it may taste a little sour. 

Other tips

• Use clean utensils when stirring or scooping peanut butter. A knife that’s not clean can deliver bacteria to the peanut butter, causing it to spoil more quickly.

• Always close the lid tightly to keep from exposing the nut butter to air. Air will cause rancidity faster.

• Store jars of natural peanut butter (in the refrigerator or pantry) upside down. The oils have likely risen to the top of the jar while sitting on the grocery shelves, so turning them over when you store them will help the oils redistribute through the peanut butter. If you don’t use them for a while and the oil then settles to the bottom of the jars, it’s still easier to stir without making a mess than if the oil is on the top when you open the lid. You can also flip the jar again for a while before opening to get the mixing process started.

• When you take PB out of the refrigerator, let it sit for about 10 minutes before using. This will allow it to warm and soften a bit, making it easier (and more fun) to dip into.

a spoon spreading nut butter on one half of an open sandwich

Can I make my own peanut butter?

Easily, if you have a food processor. Peanut butter is just ground-up peanuts. Simply process dry roasted peanuts until smooth. (It may take up to five minutes. Don’t stop when it looks just about done. Let it go and get very creamy! You can add some chopped peanuts afterward if you want crunchy peanut butter.) Scrape down sides of bowl now and then. 

You can try adding other ingredients, if you like. (Experiment with small batches.) Peanut butter makers commonly add a little salt and/or sweetener (honey, agave, sugar) after a few minutes of blending. Or sprinkle in some cayenne for a spicy hot version, or cinnamon for a warm, festive option. Add cocoa for a homemade Nutella. Chef Alton Brown adds a bit of peanut oil (1 ½ tablespoons per 15 ounces of peanuts) to his homemade peanut butter, which adds to its spreadability. 

About the peanuts: 

• You can roast them yourself or buy roasted peanuts. Blending them when they’re warm facilitates the creaming. (In fact, even if your peanuts are already roasted you might want to warm them in the oven before blending. This isn’t required though.)

• Spanish peanuts are best for making peanut butter; they have a higher oil content than Virginia or Valencia peanuts.

Of course, you can make your own nut butter with other nuts, too, following these same simple directions. 

I have two favorite peanut butter recipes, one savory and one sweet. The savory is a quick-to-make Szechuan Spaghetti recipe from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (published in 1980 – that’s how long I’ve been making it!). 

a messy, stacked peanut butter and jelly sandwhich

The sweet recipe is Big Gigantoid Crunchy Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Cookies from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ Vegan with a Vengeance (my first and favorite vegan cookbook). (Don’t let the “crunchy” in the title scare you if you like soft cookies; these are the perfect, melt-in-your-mouth texture.)

(I’m an affiliate of Bookshop.org, a terrific bookseller. If you purchase any of their books through my links, I’ll earn a tidbit — without a change in price for you.)

What’s your favorite peanut butter recipe?

Here are a couple of peanut-butter related items you might be interested in:

• I think a jar of homemade (or locally made) peanut butter would make a terrific gift — maybe along with a personalized peanut butter spoon or knife.

• An old fashioned peanut butter stirrer takes the work out of opening a jar of separated peanut butter!

(I have no affiliation with Lehman’s, but I feel good about recommending their product to you. I am an Etsy affiliate, which means that if you purchase anything through my link I’ll earn some coffee change — without a change in price for you. Thanks!)

You might also enjoy:

Storing canned foods

7 things to know about storing milk (to go with those pnut butter cookies!)

Eggs — How to keep them fresh and how to tell when they’re not

Coffee care — The best way to store coffee beans and ground coffee

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Tip Sheet for Storing Produce

Tip Sheet for Storing Produce