Q: I have been seeing jars of different fruit “butters” all over shelves lately. Apple butter, pear butter, fig butter… What are these? And are they healthy choices?
A: Don’t let the name fool you; fruit butter does not contain butter, but it does contain fruit and have the smooth, spreadable consistency of butter. Think of this condiment as a thick fruit sauce that has a creamy consistency that comes from cooking the fruit longer than jam or jelly. Traditionally, fruit butters are made with less sugar than jams or jellies — but you’ll really need to look at the ingredients and Nutrition Facts label to see if there’s any nutritional difference between the store-bought varieties and jams/jellies. Most fruit butters have 35-40 calories and around 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon. For perspective, a teaspoon of sugar has 15 calories and 4 grams of sugar (45 calories and 12 grams per tablespoon) and most jellies and jams have 50 calories and 7-10 grams of sugar per tablespoon.
We always recommend getting fruit servings from whole fruit first — it provides more fiber and nutrients for the calories compared to juice, jelly, and fruit butter. For instance, add sliced apple and a sprinkle of cinnamon to a peanut butter sandwich, rather than using apple butter. But, fruit butters aren’t an unhealthy choice if you use them as a condiment. This means using a small amount (about 1 tbsp) to add flavor to otherwise healthful foods. If you use fruit butters to deliver flavor to healthy food choices, they might help you enjoy those foods more often. For instance, try brushing a teaspoon of apricot butter onto a 4-ounce piece of salmon or chicken before baking, to impart a sweet flavor. Spread a teaspoon of fig butter onto a grilled cheese sandwich before cooking, for a great sweet and savory flavor combination. Stir a teaspoon of apple butter into a serving on plain yogurt to deliver some fruity flavor.
Have you purchased any fruit butters lately? What are your favorite flavors and what foods do you eat them with?