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!