Nut butter is enjoying a moment, riding the wave of the vegan movement and hailed by fitness gurus for their (good) fat and protein content. This is great news for Zoe Roberts, founder of Butter Nut of London, who trades at Borough Market.
Between doling out samples to a busy crowd of market shoppers, she confides that her love of the product comes from less trendy origins. “I ate it to save money at university,” she says, “Some students ate pasta from a pan, I survived on peanut butter and banana on toast.”
The award winning recipes she sells from her stall are a world away from her student snacks. Bestsellers include: hazelnut and cacao; almond and coconut; almond, Brazil nut cashew (ABC) as well as the classic peanut. 'Nasties' such as gluten, palm oil and refined sugar are banished, she assures a customer as she clocks up another sale of the cashew, maple and turmeric flavour - it has been flying off the stall, since the yellow spice became an Instagram favourite, snapped in anything from breakfast bowls to chai lattes.
Roberts is a petite 32-year-old who channels whatever post-trading energy she has into high octane sports like ju-jitsu (she trains twice a week) and skiing.
“We honestly don’t try to be a health brand, it’s a happy by-product of what we make,” Roberts says, “our focus is taste and provenance.”
Experts agree. In 2017 a couple of her recipes won two stars each in the Great Taste Awards. These coveted awards, also known as the ‘food Oscars’, are organised by The Guild of Fine Food and can be the making of a young brand. The accolades certainly helped Roberts persuade an impressive selection of North London’s upmarket delis to stock her jars.
Before starting her business, she was more concerned with the original Oscars, having spent several years as a clapper loader in the British film industry, loading cameras with fresh film, marking actors’ positions and operating the clapperboard. Here she worked on the James Bond and Star Wars series and, aptly, Bridget Jones’s Diary, which was shot on location at Borough Market. Though she enjoyed mixing with the stars, Roberts was aware that the job gave her a very limited skill set. It was time to set up her own business.
Inspired by her boyfriend’s family (organic coffee producers who pioneered fair trade in their native Australia) Roberts decided to make nut butter with a difference.
“I wanted it to be as organic and ethical as possible, plus a little bit luxurious. No one talked about where ingredients came from, and I wanted to change that.”
This is how she became a champion of what she calls ‘ugly nuts’, the broken and misshapen nuts and seeds that supermarkets and restaurants overlook. With the same nutritional impact as their better looking counterparts, they are perfect ingredients. She is also meticulous about the origin of her organically certified ingredients: almonds from Spain, hazelnuts from Turkey, and Brazil nuts from …Bolivia.
In the early days, she toured her products around London markets, always with an eye on the big prize.
“As a Londoner, I couldn’t think of a better place than Borough Market, it is the pinnacle of the food produce scene,” she says.
Unfortunately, she was not alone in this view. Every year hundreds of bakers, makers and producers vie to fill one of the hundred odd pitches at London’s oldest food market. Since the 1990s, Borough has become a gourmet destination and tourist attraction in its own right, driven by its mission to sell world class food that is honestly priced and carefully sourced. The result is an application process that is the foodie equivalent of an army selection test.
“I did an online form and waited, then I did a more detailed application form and waited. Next was a face to face interview, and finally my recipes were put before a tasting panel,” Roberts says.
Thankfully, they liked what they ate, and Roberts did her first day’s trading in September 2017. Her current project is to extend her range to include energy balls – bite sized spheres of high fibre, high protein fruits and nuts, another product that accidently chimes with the wellbeing zeitgeist. Like the nut butters, taste will be at the forefront of the recipes. Expect mixed crowds of discerning foodies and gym bunnies queuing up to buy.
EXPLORE THE NEIGHBOURHOOD, ROBERTS’ GUIDE
The Arch, Laithwaite’s Wine, 219-221 Stoney Street, SE1 9AA
The cavernous flagship of Laithwaite’s wine in one of the railway arches. It’s a great space to relax with a glass of rosé crémant after a day’s trading.
Elliot’s, 12 Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AD
This is a small restaurant that uses seasonal ingredients from the market to make small sharing plates. It’s smart but not stuffy.
The Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, London SE1 2SG
I went to see Julius Caesar when it first opened. It was in the round and I lost my friend within the first few minutes as we followed the action. It was a great experience.