Serious Eats

Taste Test: Peanut Butter, Creamy

[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

The Winners!

First Place: Skippy
Second Place (Tie): Peanut Butter & Co. and Reese's

Peanut butter was an obvious tasting to do next. We hadn't attempted this since 2007, and back then, we were just amateurs trying eight brands. This time we doubled it: 16 brands. Ever had 16 spoonfuls of peanut butter in one sitting? Ever wanted an excuse to?

We sure did! And we'll have another one soon: the Crunchy edition. But first, we figured we'd tackle Creamy. (When we polled your preference over on Facebook, Creamy won, but not by a huge margin.)

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Let's be honest, unless you have a peanut allergy, you are in the pro-PB camp. You find yourself twisting off the cap, whipping out a spoon, and going to town. Sometimes you can't stop. Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes you wake up on the couch with a peanut butter mustache, parched for milk. (Wait, just us? Right.)

One perk of conducting a peanut butter tasting is you end up with 16 half-full jars after. Each of the editors has a jar sitting at their desk with a spoon hanging out. Another perk was the convenient timing of the baguette tasting—the leftovers made for great sandwichification.

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The Contenders

365 Whole Foods
Creamnut
Jif
Jif Natural
Justin (Organic)
Marantaha (Organic)
Peanut Butter & Co.
Peter Pan
Reese's
Santa Cruz (Organic)
Skippy
Skippy Natural
Smuckers Natural
Trader Joe's (Organic)
Trader Joe's Salted
Woodstock Farms (Organic)

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Criteria

Creamy peanut butter should be smooth and spreadable, just a tad sweet but kicked up with enough salt, rounded out with a roasted peanut depth. We asked That's Nuts columnist Lee Zalben, who founded Peanut Butter & Co. to join our tasting. "How many peanut butter tastings have I done? Oh, hundreds." How's that for a pro? The Peanut Butter & Co. brand was included in the mix, but this was of course a blind tasting, so his role as a SE columnist didn't influence the results.

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The Results

We tried both the no-stir and stir varieties with oil separation. There was no question that we all preferred the no-stir commercial brands over the old-fashioned kind you have to mix by hand. Maybe it's nostalgia or maybe the stir kind just tasted too hippie-dippie healthy. Regardless, we've also included a few recommendations if you're going that route.

Note: there were ties for second, seventh, and ninth places.

#1. Skippy (7.62/10)

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You were probably raised in a Skippy or Jif household (and a Colgate or Crest one, but thankfully this is not a toothpaste tasting). Either the majority of us at SEHQ were raised in a Skippy one, or we just played at other kids' houses that were. Really smooth and creamy, sightly saltier than sweet, and rounded out with a savory roasted-ness, this had everything we were looking for. It's the peanut butter we'd eat by the spoonful, and the one we want to smear on a sandwich or Ants on a Log.

#2. Peanut Butter & Co. (6.69/10)

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Though comparable to Jif and Skippy in terms of that commercial creaminess texture, Peanut Butter & Co. is more natural-tasting. Many tasters really loved this one. Smooth and buttery on the tongue. It's not too sweet, so it'd also be good coupled with jam.

#2. Reese's (6.69/10)

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We were all a little surprised by this one. Sure, we're all guilty of snacking on Reese's Pieces and Cups, but we've never really bothered with their peanut butter. Smooth, sweet, salty, peanutty—this one's just really, really can't-stop-spooning addictive. It was one of the first jars we finished off after the tasting. There's a little of that bad-for-you-peanut-butter thing happening; you can tell it didn't come from a health food store, but we didn't seem to mind.

#4. Jif (6.5/10)

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Like Skippy, this immediately brought us back to the playground and, OK fine, probably the cupboard last week. Smooth and creamy, it has a hit of saltiness that lingers after the sweetness. "I want to spread this on white bread," said one taster. The difference between Jif and Skippy? Jif had a slightly more robust flavor: both sweeter and saltier, which some tasters didn't appreciate.

#5. Skippy Natural (5.85/10)

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Another good showing from Skippy. But we were curious: is Skippy Regular all that different from Skippy Natural? According to the label, the Regular contains hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean) while the Natural contains palm oil. Palm oils are naturally high in saturated fats, which is what makes them solid and creamy at room temperature. Rapeseed and soybean, on the other hand, are naturally very low in saturated fat but the process of hydrogenation converts some of these unsaturated fats into saturated ones. It's essentially vegetable shortening that they're using.

Some hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats can contain higher levels of trans-fatty acids, which are more harmful to your health than naturally occurring cis-fatty acids. However, according to a study by the USDA, no peanut butter, whether made with palm oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil contains any significant amount of trans-fats (from 0 to 0.0032 grams per 32-gram serving), so don't worry!

In the end, they don't taste all that different either. Both are smooth and salty (the salty sticks until the very end) with a nice toasty-ness.

#6. Jif Natural (5.75/10)

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Very smooth and spreadable with a few little peanut specks throughout. A deep roasted flavor with the right balance of sweet and salty. Same deal as the Skippy Regular vs. Natural (see above). Overall, the flavors of the two aren't significantly different.

#7. 365 (5.46/10)

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Creamy, but with an identity crisis—this one clearly wants to be Crunchy. Lots of nut bits swirled throughout and a deep roasted flavor. 365 tastes very natural, which is what we'd expect from the Whole Foods brand. If you're going the natural peanut butter route, this is a fine choice. Salty and not too sweet, it could use a jam buddy, but is also satisfying on its own. Also recommended for baking cookies.

#7. Peter Pan (5.46/10)

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Since the notorious Peter Pan recall of 2007 (oh, and there was that other one in 2009), Peter Pan has updated its logo slightly, but some shoppers will forever be turned off by the brand. Since this was a blind tasting, we didn't let any of that get in the way. Overall though, Peter Pan was a little too artificial-tasting, like candy bar levels of sweet. "I feel like I'm crunching sugar granules." There's a honey-ish aftertaste. We'd be fine with it in more of a dessert capacity, like on ice cream.

#9. Creamnut (4.25/10)

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Like 365, this was another case of Crunchy posing as Creamy. Creamnut also sells a Crunchy variety, but this was the "Natural" option (AKA the not as crunchy, but still pretty crunchy). It's gritty and sticky. Resident peanut expert Lee Zalben later explained that Creamnut uses Virginia peanuts, which creates this texture. "I think my mouth is heating up from the friction this peanut butter is causing," said one taster. Could use a little more salt.

#9. Organic Trader Joe's (4.25/10)

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This was another one that sorta surprised us. Many of us buy our PB at TJ's, but when it comes down to it, crave the more "bad for you" varieties (cough, Skippy). The peanut flavor is definitely there, but the texture is sticky and pasty. You kind of feel like a dog with peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth. It really comes down to whether you want a natural option or not—if yes, this is another decent option.

The Others...

#11. Smuckers Natural (4.15/10)
#12. Organic Santa Cruz, Light Roasted (4/10)
#13. Organic Woodstock Farms (3.92/10)
#14. Trader Joe's Salted, Not Organic (3.85/10)
#15. Organic Maranatha (3.15/10)
#16. Justin's Organic (2/10)

How to Eat all the Leftovers, Besides with a Spoon

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