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Jasmine Rice

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How we tested

Jasmine rice, which is native to Thailand and a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, is becoming a favorite in America, too. Here, its consumption shot up by 15 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the USA Rice Federation. Unlike ordinary rice, the jasmine variety carries a delicate floral and buttery scent that is highly prized in Thailand. In fact, the purest form of the rice, known as Hom Mali (“good smelling”), receives special government certification. Packages of jasmine rice containing no less than 92 percent Hom Mali are stamped with a green seal from Thailand’s Department of Foreign Trade.

Though the name jasmine derives from Khao Dawk Mali, a variety of Hom Mali–certified rice grown in Thailand that translates to “white jasmine flower,” the fragrance of jasmine rice is not actually a byproduct of the plant. It’s the result of 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, a flavor compound that’s found in all rice varieties but occurs in elevated levels in aromatic rice such as jasmine and basmati. The fragrance is detectable even when the rice is covered with bold sauces.

Compared with other varieties of long-grain rice, jasmine rice tends to cook up relatively soft and sticky, though it maintains a slightly firm chew. As Farman Jodari, an agronomist and plant breeder with the Rice Experiment Station at California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation, explained, that’s because it contains less amylose—a starch that resists water—and gelatinizes at lower temperatures than varieties like basmati, meaning the grains deconstruct at a lower temperature.

We sampled six products, five nationally available from Thailand and one mail-order package from Cambodia (most jasmine rice sold in the United States is imported), both plain and with Thai-style curry. All but one was prepared in a rice cooker; that outlier, from Uncle Ben’s, heats quickly in the microwave—and not surprisingly, ranked dead last. Tasters panned the waxy, yellow-tinged grains’ “fake,” “plastic” flavor. The pricey Cambodian rice also lost points for disintegrating in the curry. Top honors, meanwhile, went to Dynasty Jasmine Rice ($4.59 for 2 pounds), a supermarket product boasting a distinct fragrance and separate, toothsome grains.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*