The average family of four goes through a jar of peanut butter every two weeks. Are you buying the right one?
Published Apr. 1, 2018. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 12: Comfort Food Done Right
Americans go nuts for peanut butter. Not just spread on PB&Js but also baked into cookies, pies, and cakes; swirled into brownies and frostings; and even stirred into soups and sauces. There are a ton of options: creamy and crunchy styles, of course, but also flavored, organic, “no-stir,” and “natural” peanut butters. The last category has expanded significantly—with major brands, including Skippy and Jif, offering natural options, too.
For this tasting, we focused on creamy peanut butter since it’s more popular than crunchy and is the type we use most often in recipes. We tried nine top-selling creamy peanut butters—three traditional and six natural, priced from $2.69 to $6.01 per jar—plain, in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and in peanut butter cookies.
At its most basic, peanut butter is made by grinding shelled, roasted peanuts with a bit of salt. However, the light brown, homogeneous peanut butter most Americans are familiar with is sweetened with sugar. And to create a product that’s spreadable straight from the jar, oils are added to keep the mixture from separating.
The products in our lineup fell into three categories. First, there were the aforementioned familiar peanut butters, made with hydrogenated vegetable oil and sugar, from Skippy, Jif, and Peter Pan. The second category consisted of peanut butters labeled “natural” that swap hydrogenated oils for palm oil. (Hydrogenated oils have been chemically treated to be solid at room temperature, while palm oil is naturally solid at room temperature, hence the label “natural.”) This category included Skippy Natural, Jif Natural, and Peter Pan Natural. The final category consisted of peanut butters made with just peanuts and salt, which were also labeled “natural” and included Adams, Teddie, and Smucker’s.
Once we tallied the results, our rankings were sorted almost according to type of peanut butter (hydrogenated oil on top, then palm oil, and then just peanuts and salt). Why the divide?
Products made from just peanuts and salt separate into two layers (dense solids topped by oil) and need to be mixed before serving. Even then, they don’t come close to the ultrasmooth texture of peanut butters with added oil; instead, they were largely thin, runny, and gritty, and they oozed out the sides of our sandwiches, while peanut butters with added oils stayed creamy and spreadable.
The type of oil in each peanut butter also made a major difference during baking. This is because saturated fats are solid at room temperature but start to liquefy when exposed to...
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