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April/May 2018

Creamy Peanut Butter

The average family of four goes through a jar of peanut butter every two weeks. Are you buying the right one?  

How We Tested

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.

What Is “Natural” Peanut Butter?

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.

Oil Boosts Peanut Butter Texture

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.

Type of Oil Matters When Baking with Peanut Butter

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 heat. So the less saturated fat a peanut butter has, the less it will spread when used in baking, and the more saturated fat it has, the more it will spread.

Peanut butters made with just peanuts and salt have naturally occurring peanut oil; compared with peanut butters made with added palm or hydrogenated oil, these products had the least amount of saturated fat: 2.5 grams per tablespoon. Cookies made with these simple peanut butters spread less during baking, turning out tall, cakey, and a bit lean-tasting. On the other end of the spectrum were peanut butters made with palm oil, which had 3.5 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon; cookies made with these products spread significantly, flattening into thin, crumbly disks. The best cookies were made with peanut butters that used hydrogenated oil, which has a comparatively moderate amount of saturated fat, 3 grams per tablespoon. Cookies made with hydrogenated oil peanut butters struck the perfect balance: They were rich and their texture was ideal—thick and chewy, with just the right amount of bend.

Tasters Want A Sweeter, Saltier Peanut Butter

While there is some natural sugar in peanuts, both the hydrogenated oil and the palm oil peanut butters add more in the form of granulated sugar or molasses. The difference amounts to about ½ teaspoon (or 2 grams) more sugar per tablespoon of peanut butter than is found in products made from just peanuts. Added sugar produced a brighter, more complex flavor, with tasters claiming they’d eat the peanut butter “straight from the jar.” These peanut butters also had a touch more salt—about 150 milligrams versus 105 milligrams of sodium per serving—which helped balance them against sweet jams in sandwiches.

The Best Peanut Butter Is a Classic

If you absolutely must have a peanut butter with no additives, we can recommend Adams Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, a West Coast offering that’s also available online.

However, for a truly great peanut butter for snacking and baking, stick with the tried and true. Once again, our favorite peanut butter was Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter ($2.69 per 16.3-ounce jar); it had just the right balance of sweetness, salt, and roasted peanut flavor.

Methodology

Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers tasted nine peanut butters, priced from $0.17 to $0.27 per ounce, in three blind tastings: plain, in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and as an ingredient in Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies. Results were averaged, and products appear below in order of preference. Ingredients, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium were taken from nutritional labels and are reported per 32-gram (1-tablespoon) serving. Prices shown were paid in Boston-area stores or online.

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The Results

Note: Cook's Country continuously updates our equipment reviews and taste tests. The written content below is the most up-to-date information available and may not match what appears in the video segment.

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter

$2.69 per 16.3-oz jar ($0.17 per oz)

Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter

“Tastes like childhood,” said one taster about this familiar peanut butter, which was praised for its “balance of sweet and salty.” We loved its “classic,” “creamy” smoothness, especially in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, where it was “spreadable” and “slick,” with a “nutty” roastiness that held up against strawberry jam. It made cookies that were “sweet,” “soft,” and perfectly chewy.

More Details
$2.69 per 16.3-oz jar ($0.17 per oz)
Recommended

Jif Creamy Peanut Butter

$3.29 per 16-oz jar ($0.21 per oz)

Jif Creamy Peanut Butter

Another “familiar” option, this peanut butter was “airy” and “smooth,” with “mild” sweet notes of “caramel” and “honey.” It produced “well-balanced” sandwiches and had a “slightly roasted” savoriness that tasters enjoyed. Cookies were “chewy” and “moist,” though a bit lacking in roasted peanut flavor.

More Details
$3.29 per 16-oz jar ($0.21 per oz)

Peter Pan Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

$4.93 per 28-oz jar ($0.18 per oz)

Peter Pan Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

Tasters thought this “natural” offering from Peter Pan (which switches out the hydrogenated oil for palm oil) was “fluffy” and “spreadable,” with a “rich,” “roasty” flavor that “wasn’t easily overpowered by jelly” in sandwiches. Cookies were a bit too “thin” and “flat,” however, with some tasters noting that they seemed a tad “greasy.”

More Details
$4.93 per 28-oz jar ($0.18 per oz)

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

$2.69 per 15-oz jar ($0.18 per oz)

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The “natural” offering from the same brand as our winning peanut butter, this product swaps hydrogenated oil for palm oil. Like other palm oil products, it made cookies that were “a touch too flat.” However, tasters loved this peanut butter on sandwiches, where it was “smooth” and “creamy,” with “a hint of sweetness” and a “pleasant nutty aftertaste.”

More Details
$2.69 per 15-oz jar ($0.18 per oz)

Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread

$3.29 per 16-oz jar ($0.21 per oz)

Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread

This “natural” peanut butter made with palm oil had a “roasty,” “sweet” flavor and a “thick,” “tacky” texture that made for a sturdy, substantial sandwich. Cookies spread a bit more and seemed “heavy” and a “bit wet,” but most tasters appreciated the “fluffy” lightness of this product when sampling it plain and on sandwiches.

More Details
$3.29 per 16-oz jar ($0.21 per oz)
Recommended

Adams Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

$6.01 per 26-oz jar ($0.23 per oz)

Adams Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

This West Coast product, which needs to be stirred well to incorporate its solids and oil before serving, pleased tasters who were looking for an “unadulterated” peanut butter. Compared with products with added oils, it was “loose” and “runny,” which caused it to be a bit “drippy” in sandwiches. Still, most enjoyed its “pure peanut” flavor. It made “tall,” “cakey” cookies that had a nice “roasted” aftertaste.

More Details
$6.01 per 26-oz jar ($0.23 per oz)
Recommended with Reservations

Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

$4.29 per 16-oz jar ($0.27 per oz)

Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

Since this peanut butter doesn’t have any added oils to keep the mixture emulsified, we had to stir it to incorporate the peanut solids and natural oils. Even then, it was “goopy” and “runny” when sampled plain and on sandwiches. Many tasters liked its “deep roasted” notes, which were more prominent than in other products, though a few thought the flavor bordered on “burnt.” Cookies were “plump” and “moist,” if a little “cakey.”

More Details
$4.29 per 16-oz jar ($0.27 per oz)

Peter Pan Creamy Original Peanut Butter

$3.59 per 16.3-oz jar ($0.22 per oz)

Peter Pan Creamy Original Peanut Butter

We were surprised to find this hydrogenated oil peanut butter near the bottom of the pack. It had all the markings of our favorite peanut butters, including a “classic” hint of sweetness, strong “toasty” notes, and a “fluffy,” “spreadable” texture that held up well in sandwiches. However, many tasters picked up on a “stale” aftertaste, even though all the jars were freshly opened and well within their sell-by dates.

More Details
$3.59 per 16.3-oz jar ($0.22 per oz)

Teddie All Natural Smooth Peanut Butter

$3.79 per 16-oz jar ($0.24 per oz)

Teddie All Natural Smooth Peanut Butter

This East Coast option had its admirers, who praised its “rustic,” “slightly grainy” texture and “very nutty” flavor. However, it made cookies that were “a touch dry” and “lean,” and its loose texture made it ooze out of our sandwiches. Still, peanut butter purists liked its “touch of natural sweetness,” “coarser grind,” and “deep roasted notes.”

More Details
$3.79 per 16-oz jar ($0.24 per oz)