Taste Tests

We taste the leading brands to find the distinct differences and rate them with tasting scores.

Taste Test: Crunchy Peanut Butter, Stir

20110627-pb-tasting-stir-group.jpg

[Photographs: Shell Tu]

The Winners!

#1: Smucker's
#2: Whole Foods 365
#3: Santa Cruz

If you read the results of the no-stir peanut butters and thought, eww, hydrogenated vegetable oil, palm oil, and sugar, then this is the category you were waiting for. The "stir" classification of peanut butter has that puddle of oil sitting on top that you need to give a hearty stir. The ingredients in these are far more au natural: just peanuts and usually some salt. That's it. These are the peanut butters that taste more like, well, peanuts.

The Contenders

  1. Smucker's: smuckers.com
  2. Maranatha: maranathafoods.com
  3. Creamnut: creamnut.com/natural
  4. Sweet Ella's: koeze.com/organic-peanut-butter
  5. Whole Foods 365: wholefoodsmarket.com
  6. Santa Cruz: scojuice.com/peanut_butter
  7. Arrowhead Mills: arrowheadmills.com
  8. Crazy Richard's: kremaproducts.com
  9. Trader Joe's: traderjoes.com

The Criteria

Oil separation is naturally occurring, and expected, in these peanut butters, but even after our dedicated intern Will vigorously stirred for a few minutes, some of them remained runny and reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's Oobleck (acts like both a solid and liquid). As natural and unadulterated as these peanut butters may be, they stuck to the roofs of our mouths, and were messy during sandwichification. Not ideal. We were looking for a smoother texture that would spread well.

As for flavor, we were looking for a good roasty-nut depth, but also knew that these wouldn't be as salty and sweet as the no-stir peanut butters, given the lack of additives. While we expected a more wholesome peanut flavor, we also didn't want bland or underseasoned.

And for chunk size, some tasters preferred bigger nut bits, while others liked teenier pebbles. That's more up to personal preference.

The peanut butters were each judged on a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being the best.

The Winner: Smucker's (6.78)

20110627-pb-tasting-smuckers.jpg

"Salted and roasty and crunchy, oh my!" Tasters were overall pleased with this one. The nuts are chopped into Rice Krispie-sized bits, not massive nuggets. They have a nice toasty flavor, and are blended into a slightly textured, but not gritty, peanut butter base. It's healthy-tasting, that's for sure—not junk-foody or candy-sweet. Pretty similar to what you'd get from the GIY (grind it yourself) machines.

2. Whole Foods 365 (6.67)

20110627-pb-tasting-365.jpg

In past tastings, the Whole Foods 365 brand hasn't performed all that well, but they seem to know what's up in the crunchy peanut butter department. Though the body is a little thin (make sure you give it a hearty stir) the nuttiness is robust, with good-sized bits (not too chunky) and just the right amount of salt. Our only issue was the stickiness—after a spoonful, it was sticking to the corners of our lips.

3. Santa Cruz (6.44)

20110627-pb-tasting-santacruz.jpg

Santa Cruz uses USDA certified organic Spanish peanuts in both Dark-Roasted (pictured here) and Light-Roasted varieties. The Dark has a deeper roasted quality, and adequately salted without overwhelming the natural nut flavors. "Yum, tastes like a baseball game!" said one taster about the Dark. The Light has blonder with more honeyed notes, but still isn't too sweet. Be sure to really stir these two—a few spoon dips in the jar won't suffice. There's quite a layer of oil sitting on top.

4. Creamnut (6.11)

20110627-pb-tasting-creamnut.jpg

Creamnut is made by Koeze, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and started making peanut butter way back in 1925 (they also make Sweet Ella; see below). They use Virginia peanuts in the Creamnut, and they sure go nuts (sorry, had to) adding them. Chock full of nut bits, blended in a thick-textured peanut butter base. It could use some more salt. We found Creamnut to be a little bland, frankly. But if you're not a salt freak, you might appreciate it. There's not too much oil separation in this one, so if you're on Team Lazy and don't feel like stirring, Creamnut is the least stir-intensive of what we tried in this category.

5. Sweet Ella's (5.66)

20110627-pb-tasting-sweetellas.jpg

Also from Koeze, Sweet Ella's is their organic option. It's made with Spanish peanuts, which are naturally sweet. While we did pick up on some sweetness (still not all that sweet, especially compared to the no-stir peanut butters), there was a curious savory quality. Soy sauce, said one taster; for another, it was fish. "More earthy-tasting." The texture is notably thick, pushing gritty.

6. Crazy Richard's (5.22)

20110627-pb-tasting-crazyrichards.jpg

Who is Richard, and why is he crazy? We're not sure, but we weren't super crazy about his peanut butter. Too runny and loose. This had the most oil sitting on top. Even after the stir treatment, it was still too wet. There are plenty of nut chunks in there but not much peanut flavor. Needs more salt and, yeah, flavor.

7. Trader Joe's (5.00)

20110627-pb-tasting-traderjoes-organic.jpg

Very gloppy. Tough to spread on a sandwich, even after a good stir. It's peanut-y (made from Valencia peanuts), but a little weak. "The way a peanut bag smells," said one taster. "Where's the milk?" said another. A hint sweet, so it might be good in peanut butter cookies.

8. Maranatha (4.78)

20110627-pb-tasting-maranatha.jpg

"Weird soy sauce flavor," agreed tasters, more so than in the Sweet Ella's. While the crunch was good, the flavor was too Kikkoman-reminiscent while weirdly sweet, and the texture, too pasty.

9. Arrowhead Mills (3.33)

20110627-pb-tasting-arrowheadmills.jpg

"Tastes like gum.. no peanut flavor." "Tastes like dirt." "Raw." The comments were overwhelmingly negative for Arrowhead Mills. There was a strong bitterness that made it a real mouth-closer. Strange non-peanut-buttery color, too. "Wet cement-y."

How to Eat all the Leftovers, Besides with a Spoon

20110519-pb-tasting-cookies.JPG

Peanut Butter Cookies »
PB&J Bar Cookies »
Elvis's Favorite PB Sandwich »
Double Peanut Popcorn »
Homemade Do-Si-Do Cookies »
Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies »
Inside-Out Peanut Butter Cups »
Peanut Butter Bread »
Peanut Butter Fondue »
Vegetarian Chili with Peanut Butter »
Beef Satay »
Peanut Butter "Sushi" »

More Taste Tests

20100631-cccookies-links.jpg

Comments

Add a comment

Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: