#3: Peanut Butter and Co.
Last time we were trying peanut butter, it was the Creamy variety. But it was only a matter of time before we'd round up the favorite Crunchies.
Once again our office was covered in jars, and once again our diets have been comprised of approximately 88% peanut butter since the tasting. A little spoonful here; a little spoonful there. (There are still 18 leftover jars sitting on the kitchen counter staring us down...)
This time, we divided the results into two categories: stir (with natural oil separation) and no-stir. First up: no-stir. (Here are the results from the stir tasting.)
In this one, you'll find the familiar Jif, Skippy, Peter Pan, and others brands that don't require the upper body strength to stir that top layer of oil in with the rest of the peanut buttery-ness below.
- Skippy: peanutbutter.com
- Jif: jif.com
- Skippy Natural: peanutbutter.com/natural
- Jif Natural:
- Peter Pan: peterpanpb.com
- Smart Balance: smartbalance.com/products/peanut-butters
- Planter's: planters.com
- Peanut Butter and Co.: ilovepeanutbutter.com
What were we looking for? The balance of sweet and salty, and a roasted peanut-ness. There are some textural differences, too—from the silky-smooth to the gritty, sandpapery (which we weren't fans of).
In this no-stir round, we were looking for a creamy peanut butter body without oil separation, with plenty of roughly-chopped nut chunks mixed in. You shouldn't have to search for the chunky bits in the jar, but you also don't want a nut salad, and almost choke on big ol' nuggets. Spreadability on bread was also a big priority for some tasters.
In this blind tasting we ended up ranking the crunchy peanut butter brands that we grew up eating higher than the less familiar-tasting ones. There must be a peanut butter cognition theory at play here, eh? The first peanut butter a child sees and tastes, on a PB& J or Ants on a Log, becomes, for him or her, peanut butter...
This meant that the big brands (Jif and Skippy*) came out on top again. Ah, the Jif vs. Skippy rivalry. In our creamy tasting, Skippy came out on top but this time, the victor was Jif. (Cue fervent Jif vs. Skippy sentiments.)
* Does anyone else find themselves creating a new third brand, Jiffy?*
Both Jif and Skippy also have "Natural" varieties, which we included in this tasting because they fall under the no-stir style (there's no major oil separation). What's the major difference between the regular versions of Jif and Skippy and the Natural? The ingredients are similar except the Natural contains palm oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), which is a dealbreaker for some folks.
More on the oils in PB: As we went over in the last tasting, 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!
The Winner: Jif (6.94)
"The peanuts are actually crunchy," agreed tasters. Jif keeps the chunks big, which we liked. Very familiar-tasting, with a nice balance of salty and sweet. The creamy part is really creamy, too.
2. Skippy (6.44)
This one was slightly saltier and sweeter than Jif. Again, it's a pretty mild difference. We had to taste them side-by-side (and think about it really hard while doing so) to notice it. Some tasters thought the peanut-ness was lost under all that sweet-salty flavor power. It depends how "natural-tasting" you want your peanut butter. We'd still be happy spreading this on bread or celery sticks, just like we were during the playground era (ahem, Peanut Butter Cognition Theory).
3. Peanut Butter &Co. (6.39)
Smaller crunchie nuggets than Jif and Skippy, but they are numerous so you don't feel robbed. The peanut butter part is silky smooth; it would easily spread on bread, as opposed to the bigger-nutted ones that require some effort. We liked the depth of roasted flavor, which you don't get in all of them. Very roasty, fatty-tasting, and satisfying.
Full disclosure: This is our That's Nuts columnist Lee Zalben's company, but the tasting was completely blind.
4. Jif Natural (6.25)
Jif Natural is a little more natural-tasting than regular Jif. For us, that translated to "not as salty," which some tasters appreciated and others found underseasoned. You get a little more sweetness on this one; more roasted honey notes.
5. Skippy Natural (6.11)
As with Jif, the difference in the ingredients here between the Skippy and Skippy Natural comes down to the oils. The Natural uses palm oil, and the Skippy regular, hydrogenated vegetable oils. Skippy Natural is a pretty sticky experience—let this be a warning to the roof of your mouth. It gets familiarity points, though; many of us guessed Skippy upon first lick. Salty, sweet, and spreadable.
6. Smart Balance (5.89)
This one came recommended by some passionate SE readers. Smart Balance doesn't contain any hydrogenated oils; instead it's made with a "natural oil blend (palm fruit and flaxeed oils)". The label also really emphasizes the Omega-3s; one two-tablespoon serving contains 320 milligrams, or 20% of the recommended daily value. A couple tasters picked up on a peculiar fishy-ness, which could be linked to the omegas. For one taster, it was specificially blue fish pate, but most of the others thought it was subtle, and weren't turned off by it. "Slightly saltier and sweeter than the rest." Definitely the most savory of the PBs we tried.
7. Planter's (5.78)
Planter's makes peanut butter? They actually haven't for several decades, but their parent company Kraft decided to re-enter the market just this month. What timing! It's like they synced it with our tasting. Planter's has also commissioned Marcus Samuelsson (co-owner of Aquavit and the chef at Red Rooster) to create Kraft-exclusive recipes like Planters Peanut Butter-Chocolate French Toast and Planters Peanut Butter Steak Sauce. (Do we need to hold a flavored PB tasting next?)
The peanuts in this Crunchy taste roasted, full of those good nutty oils, but the creamy body is a little pasty. Also, the saltiness is on the extreme end; you have to be a salt fiend to like this one. "This is the salt level I like," said one such fiend. "Make it stop," said a non-fiend. It builds in waves.
8. Peter Pan (5.33)
A little bland. Nothing off about it, but also nothing exciting. It didn't have us spooning up more. Some tasters thought it leaned towards too sweet—like peanut-butter-in-candy-bars sweet. Not enough roasty peanut depth. "Reminds me of a Tootsie Roll," said one taster.