It's hard not to love peanut butter, at any age. It's rich, mellow flavor works well in everything from Thai food to a simple PB & J, and it's high in both protein and healthful unsaturated fats. Unfortunately, at about 100 calories per tablespoon, it's terribly easy to have too much of a good thing. Making your own reduced-fat peanut butter can remove much of the guilt from your pleasure.
Regular and Low-Fat
The simplest, most natural varieties of peanut butter contain only peanuts, ground to an oily paste. Commercial varieties add salt and sweeteners for flavor, and often hydrogenated oils or other stabilizers to help make the peanut butter softer and more spreadable. Removing oil from the mixture leaves the peanut butter stiff and dry, so manufacturers of low-fat peanut butter must replace it with ingredients that restore its texture. Those often are sweeteners, such as corn syrup. The net result is a spread that's lower in fat but only marginally lower in calories. Making your own, at home, gives you the option of finding a healthier way.
For home cooks, the simplest way to make a low-fat peanut butter is to start with peanut butter powder, rather than the traditional whole peanuts. Peanut butter powder starts as peanut flour, a dry powder made by pressing most of the oil from peanuts. Powdered peanut butter is ground more finely than regular peanut flour, so it mixes more easily, and has a bit of salt and sugar added for flavor. To "reconstitute" the powder into a spreadable peanut butter, simply mix 2 tablespoons of powder into 1 tablespoon of water. It won't be as smooth as your regular peanut butter from a jar, but will have roughly half the calories, a fraction of the fat and a bold peanut flavor.
Working with Powdered Peanut Butter
Mixing the powder with water isn't your only option. Reconstituting it with yogurt or milk -- or their non-dairy equivalents, if you're vegan -- produces a richer-tasting spread with even more protein. You can also blend the peanut powder with a puree of bananas, squash, sweet potatoes or other mild-flavored fruits or vegetables. Use the mixture as a spread, or as a dip for vegetables or crackers. Don't use your homemade low-fat peanut butter in place of the regular kind in baking, because its low fat content alters the outcome. However, you can use the powdered peanut butter directly in recipes to add protein and peanut flavor without the fat.
Starting with Peanuts
If you can't locate powdered peanut butter or would rather avoid the processed product, you can start from peanuts. Simply grinding peanuts in a food processor or heavy-duty blender will eventually produce a grainy but good peanut butter. If you like your peanut butter crunchy, scoop out and reserve a tablespoon or two of the nuts while they're still at the coarsely chopped stage. Most recipes call for roughly a tablespoon of added oil per cup of peanuts to make the butter more spreadable, but it's not necessary. To make the final spread lower in fat, substitute up to 1/4 of the peanuts with pureed chickpeas, red lentils or other mild-tasting legumes. Alternatively you can add honey or fruit puree to sweeten the butter and make it more spreadable.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.