Are Nuts a Sustainable Plant-Based Protein Source?

Growing consumer awareness and demand for healthier ingredients, including plant-based protein, cleaner labels, and technological advances in nut processing, are driving a surge in the market. The segment is predicted to increase by a CAGR of 7%, from USD 53.12 billion in 2022 to USD 78.5 billion by 20291.
While Europe experiences a rising interest in nuts, the United States dominates the market2. The category encompasses unprocessed products, such as walnuts, cashews, and almonds; roasted and flavored nuts; processed options, such as sliced, chopped, and blanched buts; organic products; and nut butter.
Nuts are the perfect nutritious, healthy snack, as well as butter, flavor, and texture-enhancing ingredients in baked foods and meals. The versatile foodstuff is also ideal as a protein source, especially for plant-based consumers.
Why Use Nuts as a Plant-Based Protein Source?
Using nuts in plant-based food alternatives is increasingly popular. The product replaces cow’s milk, with almond currently the leading milk alternative, representing over USD1bn in sales in the US3. Nuts are also used to produce dairy-free ice cream, yogurt, and cheese.
Unlike other plant-based protein sources, such as soy, grains, and legumes, nuts and seeds provide equal or sometimes higher levels of various bioactives and nutrients, including protein. These include essential amino acids, copper, phosphorous, manganese, healthy unsaturated fats, and melatonin.
Pistachios and almonds contain 20g of plant protein per 100g, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds 30g and 23g. In contrast, oats offer 2 to 3g, chickpeas 6g, oats, and tofu 12g4.
As a significant protein source in healthy diets, nuts are also often sustainable, contributing to personal and environmental wellness5.
The Environmental and Social Impact of Nut Farming
A Shift in diet to include more sustainable nuts can help boost nutritional, social, and environmental impact by almost 23%. In response, the EAT-Lancet Diet for Planetary Health recommends a daily consumption of 25g each of tree nuts and peanuts6.
According to Olam food ingredients (Ofi), almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews are seeing a resurgence. One reason is that consumers favor the taste and texture of these nuts over oats and soy. In addition, research indicates that nearly six in every ten (58%) anticipate increasing their plant-based consumption in the next 24 months7.
At the same time, while nuts are typically analyzed as a single food group, the products and their nutrient and carbon and water footprint profiles can differ considerably.
Which Nuts Are the Most Sustainable?
Plant-based proteins, including nuts, exhibit a significantly lower greenhouse emission count than animal-based sources. For example, while nuts emit around.0.26kg CO2eq per 100g of protein, beef emits 49.89kg, mutton and lamb 20kg, and eggs and poultry 4.2kg and 5.7kg, respectively.
In overall sustainability analyses using a model prioritizing consistent performance, including human rights ratings, sunflower seeds and walnuts consistently outperformed other options, with Brazil nuts scoring well overall. Hazelnuts, peanuts, and almonds are middling, while cashews are ranked as least sustainable8.
Almonds and cashews are packed with protein and other nutritious elements and are ideal for plant-based milks and cheeses. Yet, from a sustainability point of view, almonds and cashews leave something to be desired. Producing almonds requires much water9, and cashews have a climate footprint of 7.1 CO₂-eq/kg10.
Meanwhile, if it’s a nutty aroma and flavor you’re after, you can achieve this sustainably, affordably, and authentically. Rely on Advanced Biotech’s pure and natural taste and odor ingredients.
How to Impart Nutty Flavors Without Whole Nuts
Advanced Biotech’s extensive range of molecules and extracts can create or enhance plant-based products and nutty snacks. Please browse our selection of nut-based distillates, natural oils, pyrazines, thiazoles, and more. Contact us to place your order or request product samples today.