Skip to main content
ARS Home » News & Events » News Articles » Research News » 2002 » Sunbutter--a Peanut Butter Alternative

Archived Page

This page has been archived and is being provided for reference purposes only. The page is no longer being updated, and therefore, links on the page may be invalid.

Sunflowers: Link to photo information
Click image for caption and other photo information.


Sunbutter--a Peanut Butter Alternative

By Amy Spillman
June 14, 2002

Children allergic to peanuts may soon have something to cheer about--a new sandwich spread in their school cafeterias that goes great with jelly but isn’t peanut butter.

The new product, Sunbutter, contains sunflower seeds as its main ingredient. It was developed through an agreement between the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Red River Commodities, Inc., a major sunflower seed producer based in Fargo, N.D.

Red River Commodities will officially unveil the new product tomorrow at the Institute of Food Technologists 2002 Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that 3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts, with symptoms ranging from a mild case of hives to severe anaphylactic shock. Because children make up a growing number of those allergic, some schools have opted not to allow peanut butter in their cafeterias.

Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, zinc and iron. Although they are a popular peanut alternative, no company has ever successfully marketed a spreadable sunflower seed butter. Last year, Red River Commodities decided to try, with the help of the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La.

According to Isabel Lima, an SRRC research chemist, Sunbutter is different from the unpalatable sunflower spreads of the past--it’s really, really good.

The secret’s in the seeds. Lima and SRRC food technologist Harmeet Guraya discovered a way to process them naturally so that they taste “nutbuttery” when they are blended with other ingredients. Since the mixing machine Red River uses was purchased specifically to make Sunbutter and the sunflowers used are grown in the Northern Plains, peanut contamination is extremely unlikely. However, the company plans to test regularly for peanut residue in their ingredients and finished products as an additional precaution.

A sensory panel was convened in May to perfect the Sunbutter formulation. The finished product looks similar to peanut butter and has a mild yet distinctive sunflower seed flavor.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.