I recently ate the last of the peanut butter I brought with me to St. Louis from Colorado - my favorite peanuts-only brand in a massive but surprisingly affordable 36-ounce jar - and it was a sad afternoon when I found out that this particular brand is not sold in St. Louis. A very sad afternoon.
America's most classic nut butter is made from peanuts, but in recent years, peanuts have faded into the background while almonds have rapidly gained in popularity. Unfortunately, almond butter can get crazy expensive, so do your wallet a favor by buying almonds in bulk and making your very own almond butter for a fraction of the cost. It's insanely easy, insanely delicious, and you'll have the benefit of knowing exactly what's in it.
Keep in mind that from 1 cup of almonds, you will get a 1/2 cup of almond butter. All that blending breaks down the volume pretty substantially, so if you're looking to make a pint-sized jar of almond butter, begin with 4 cups of almonds.
Grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are common sources of phytates: antioxidant compounds that hinder or block absorption of iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. Sounds bad, right? It is thought that soaking these foods in water, milk, or vinegar before consumption can help break down the phytates and make the minerals more absorbable. While it is true that high amounts of phytates can keep your body from utilizing all the nutrition from these common foods, let's look at the full story.
People who eat plant-based diets commonly include many of these phytate-containing items in their meals each day; they tend to be excellent alternative sources of protein, after all. If you are a vegetarian or vegan who struggles to get enough iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium, or if you have a history of anemia, consider soaking some of your grains, beans, and nuts prior to eating, or eat your phytate-containing foods with foods that are rich in vitamin C, like berries, bell peppers, citrus fruits, pineapple, and cruciferous vegetables. The ascorbic acid significantly counteracts the mineral-blocking mechanism of phytates. However, do keep in mind that it is extremely unlikely that phytate consumption would cause mineral deficiencies unless you happen to be following a diet comprised completely of bran. In that case, we need to talk for several reasons. Don't go there.
Before we send phytates to the gallows, lets look at their good side... they are antioxidant compounds, remember? It is thought that phytates can help inhibit the development of several cancers and help chase down disease-causing free radicals in the bloodstream. Free radicals are nasty, destructive little molecules that mess with your bodily tissues and cause aging, heart disease, cancers, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia. We want to fight them. Plant foods are the way to do it. Phytates happen to be one source.
My conclusion on soaking? If you've got the time and patience, do it. There's no reason to truly fear phytates, but as far as I can tell, there isn't a downside to letting almonds sit in some liquid for a while to make the minerals more usable. A balanced diet will contain antioxidants from many sources, so while phytates aren't necessarily bad, there's no need to rely on them for free radical-fighting power.