Cook’s Illustrated rates creamy peanut butters

Creamy Peanut Butters

What kind of peanut butter do you keep in your pantry? Where there were once just a few options for peanut butter, it seems like there are dozens of types and brands to choose from these days. You have the option of creamy and crunchy, as well as natural, honey roasted, Omega-3 enriched, sea salt and no salt – just to name a handful of the options out there. Peanut butter is great on a sandwich, but it is also used in many recipes where both flavor and consistency play a big role. The testers at Cook’s Illustrated set out to wade through all the options and conducted a taste test of 10 different creamy peanut butters (March/April 2011) to find out what the differences were from jar to jar and what brands tasted best.

The most basic peanut butter can be made by pulverizing peanuts into a paste and adding a little salt. Few brands use this technique, as the peanut butter has a sandy texture that isn’t as appealing as the ultra creamy competitors out there. The creamy peanut butters, both regular and “natural,” generally use either hydrogenated oil (not the same as partially hydrogenated oil) or palm oil (a high saturated fat oil that is usually found in the “natural” peanut butters). The test kitchen wanted a creamy peanut butter that tasted good out of the jar and performed well in recipes, so they tested with spoons, peanut butter cookies and satay sauce to pick the winners.

In the taste test, the brands with the creamiest textures were the tasters top picks. In the cookie test, tasters liked brands that produced soft, chewy cookies that were tender, rather than hard or brittle. In the sauce, creaminess and overall peanut flavor were the most important traits that the testers looked for.

The test kitchen’s top pick (and it has won in their last two taste tests) was Skippy Peanut Butter, which had a very creamy texture that tasted great on a spoon and in cookies. A close second was JIF Natural Peanut Butter Spread, which had a surprisingly creamy texture for a “natural” peanut butter and a great roasted peanut flavor. The other top picks were Reese’s Peanut Butter, Jif Peanut Butter and Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread.

Brands that fell short in one or more of the taste tests, and generally were not as pleasantly creamy as the winners, were dubbed Recommend with Reservations and include Peanut Butter & Co No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator, MaraNatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter and Peter Pan Peanut Butter. Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter and Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter (the only brand made with 99% peanuts) were not recommended.

The full article, “The Reinvention of Peanut Butter,” contains all the details of the taste test and lots more information about each of the tested peanut butters. You can read it on the Cook’s Illustrated website, where the full article will be available to Baking Bites readers through that link until March 31st!

15 comments

  1. Maybe some of my fellow Canadians can back me up on this (or maybe not), but in my opinion the best peanut butter option for all categories (processed, natural, crunchy, smooth, etc..) is Kraft. Their 100% Peanut Smooth is better than any other I’ve tried, doesn’t seperate horibbly, and is about as smooth as a natural peanut butter can get. To me this quality is the same for all PB categories and I’m a person that cannot live without Peanut Butter. I don’t think we have as many options, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that any other PB is better. (Although I quite enjoyed PB&Co’s white chocolate variation :), I actually had to write about it on my site :)).

  2. Aww man! I *love* the Smart Balance PB! I eat it every single morning on waffles!

  3. Even though I love the commercial peanut butters, I’m only buying/using organic raw nut butters. Lots more expensive but I don’t use much and I prefer the health/nutritional values.

  4. I have always KNOWN that Skippy was the best!

  5. I’m totally with you Adam. I’ve tried a few others, but I always go back to Kraft. Once in a while I’ll change it up and go crunchy, but it’s normally the famous green label that greets me when I open the cupboard. Together with my home made blueberry jam…awww ya…now I’m craving!

  6. Besides homemade, I like Arrowhead Mills organic Valencia peanut butter.

  7. It’s not peanut butter if it has anything besides peanuts and maybe some salt. The rest is just “peanut butter spread”. Sorry but the natural stuff is so much better!

  8. We buy (and love) Jif Natural here =) Crunchy for my husband and Creamy for the kids.

  9. I always get the Costco brand — Kirkland organic. It contains just peanuts and salt — no added oils. I’m sorry, but I just don’t like the ones with the lard-y stuff and sugar.

  10. My fav is Trader Joe’s. Stir in the oil and refrigerate and you never have to stir again. Love the taste.

  11. My favorite is Adam’s natural creamy. It has a great texture for a natural creamy PB and the perfect amount of salt. I like the Trader Joe’s ones too but the salted one is too salty and the unsalted it not salty enough :) I never saw Adam’s until I moved to the West coast though.

  12. I’m glad to hear Skippy’s won out. I don’t eat it for my peanut butter but for baking it is my first choice. Eating-wise, I agree Adam’s is good and it used to be my favorite but I go with Trader Joe’s these days. If the salty is too salty and the unsalted is too unsalted–maybe mix a jar of each to get the right mix. Lately I’ve been into almond butter but I’ll always love peanut butter–especially the natural ones.

  13. We love the smuckers natural. I stir it once and leave it at room temp and it is fine! The problem with Jif natural is that it isn’t natural… loaded with palm oil and sugar! smuckers is just peanuts and salt.

  14. Organic only, here. I also don’t need any extra oil, sugar, or salt. Yes, sugary, creamy peanut butter tastes good, but it’s not that much better than just-peanuts peanut butter, especially since I’m always eating it in PB/pumpkin butter sandwiches, PB cookies, or PB cake, where the other ingredients add plenty of sugar and salt. (Or sometimes I dip chocolate chips into it. I admit it.)

    I stir mine and don’t put it in the fridge. Then it doesn’t get hard enough to slice. If you don’t use it regularly, you might have to stir it again, but it’s much easier the second time!

  15. I think it is kind of funny given epicurious rated Peter Pan as #1 in contrast to cook’s

    http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/everydaycooking/tastetests/peanutbuttertastetest

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