Condiment/Spread

The Best Natural Peanut Butter Is Also the Easiest to Find

April  6, 2018

My coworker Valerio is all about brand loyalty. When we talked about a canned chickpea taste test, he was sure that Goya would win. Actually, a lot of my coworkers were sure that Goya would win. And it did. Later, when we talked about a peanut butter taste test, he was just as confident: “Smucker’s!” he declared. “Incredible texture.”

This wasn’t super surprising. Some people keep mugs or flowers or picture frames on their desks. Valerio keeps a jar of Smucker’s peanut butter. But could he pick his favorite out of a lineup? Would his favorite actually be his favorite? And could humble Smucker’s really beat other, more expensive brands? Let’s find out.


THE CRITERIA

The original concept was: Which natural peanut butter is best? Think sandwiches and apple slices, noodle-y sauces and, you know, spoons. Fast-forward a few supermarkets later, though, and things got complicated.

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I assumed that natural peanut butter meant unsweetened peanut butter. I mean, didn’t you? Like, peanuts ground into butter, maybe some salt, maybe some oil to smooth things out. Many cookbooks assume the same—specifying in recipes to not use natural peanut butter, due to separation, which could become problematic in certain baked goods. Sweetened peanut butters, meanwhile, stay perfectly emulsified, like shelf-stable frosting.

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Top Comment:
“Teddies Natural Peanut butter, just peanuts and salt (or not). I think it's much smoother with more flavor than say Trader Joe’s - though my favorite is the super chunky. They also make some with flaxseed, It's made outside of Boston, but available online. I checked when my husband was thinking of moving cross-country!”
— cocoabrioche
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But some “natural” peanut butters stay perfectly emulsified, too. Because they contain sugar! When it comes to food products, natural doesn’t, actually, mean any one thing. The Food and Drug Administration currently defines the term as: “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.” Which means sugar is fine. But hydrogenated oil is not. That’s the difference between original Skippy and Jif and their “natural” counterparts—the former have hydrogenated vegetable oils, the latter have palm oil.

Hence, our peanut butter taste test concept took a pivot—from natural to unsweetened. Salt and oil are both fair game. All were tasted blind (so brands were hidden) and at room temperature. For what it’s worth, I always keep unsweetened peanut butter in the fridge; stir it once, to emulsify the oils, then keep it cold and you’ll never have to stir it again. Here, we wanted a clearer sense of the butters’ consistency and fattiness.


THE RESULTS

These are listed from least to most favorite. Each taste tester tried all six peanut butters, shared feedback on the flavor and texture, then ranked from worst to best. I averaged those numbers to determine our final list, and...we had a tie. A tie! The bottom two were neck and neck, middle two, also neck and neck, and the top two, same exact score. To make this even more suspenseful: Smucker’s was one of them. The next day, we conducted a dramatic tiebreaker (meaning I carried around the jars and asked my coworkers to please try the peanut butter—again). The winner prevailed by only two votes.

Justin’s: Classic Peanut Butter

This peanut butter had a tough day at the office. Testers described the flavor from “bland” to “very chalky” to “very ‘natural’ (like peanuts when they’re a bit old).” One went so far as to say it “didn’t even taste like nuts!” Worth noting: The ingredients are dry roasted peanuts and palm oil. But no salt, which many also noticed. When it came to texture, people were a fan, complimenting the thickness and grind.

Once Again: Creamy Peanut Butter

This brand also forgoes salt. Which many, again, didn’t like, the complaints ranging from “really bland, watery almost” to “tastes like cheddar Goldfish.” Some noted how similar it was to Justin’s. One loner declared this butter the best of the bunch: “really like the salt level and texture.” Most disagreed: “Chalky in texture,” one said. “Texture coats too much,” said another. The words “goopy” and “gummy” appeared. But the raccoon label is very cute! (Taste testers couldn’t see this label. Would that have helped? Another experiment for another day.)

Whole Foods 365: Creamy Peanut Butter

Almost every taste tester remarked on this peanut butter’s saltiness. “Just peanuts and a pinch of salt,” the label reads. Hmm! We’re not so sure about that. For some, the salt amplified its toasty, roasty, peanut flavor. For others, it was too much: “more salty than peanutty” and “too salty for me.” Several also remarked on its relatively loose texture, as well as its curious sweetness: “Sweeter,” said one. “Is there sugar in here?” asked another. Hmm!

Santa Cruz: Creamy, Light Roasted Peanut Butter

Somewhat ironically, considering the name, many remarked on this brand’s “bigger, roastier peanut flavor,” its “deeply roasted flavor,” its “strong peanut flavor,” its “nice savoriness.” One summarized it as “solid,” then underlined the word one, two, three times. Does less roasting mean more roasty flavor? One person totally disagreed: “Raw? Kinda bland.” Overall, taste testers agreed that it was a distinctly sticky peanut butter, which some liked (“nice sticky texture”) and others didn’t (“extremely sticky, coating mouthfeel”). Note to self: For future nut/seed butter tests, supply water and/or milk.

Trader Joe’s: Creamy, Salted Peanut Butter

The runner-up! Trader Joe’s almost took the cake, but not quite. In the original test, taste testers applauded its “overwhelming notes of peanut butter!” In the tiebreaker, almost everyone remarked that it’s saltier than Smucker’s (Smucker’s also contains salt), with a darker color, and smoother, runnier texture. One noted that this “would be awesome for peanut noodles,” with an exclamation-points smiley face. If we’re being totally transparent, this was my brand loyalty going into the test. But I ended up voting for...

Smucker’s: Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

Winner! On Valerio’s blind taste test, he described this one as: “SMUCKER’S. Slightly crunchy.” This standout texture was most people’s favorite part: teeny-tiny, itty-bitty crunchies from a slightly coarser grind. Think creamy butter that wants to be crunchy. Or crunchy peanut butter that wants to be creamy. Or, as one person put it: “Pleasantly crunchy without being ‘crunchy.’” One person even marked Trader Joe’s as her favorite, then tried Smucker’s, then changed her vote: “Wait! This is nice, too,” she wrote. “Nice bits of peanuts.” But the feedback that sums up the whole thing wasn’t even a word, just: “Mmmm.”

Are you loyal to a particular brand of peanut butter? Which one? Tell us in the comments!

68 Comments

Pomme D. August 25, 2018
I see I’m late to the party on this one, but so many people here seemed to love Adams that I had to look it up— would you believe it’s available at the Smucker’s online store along with Laura Scudder’s?
 
[email protected] July 20, 2018
We are fans of Wegman's natural crunchy peanut butter. It is simply the best we have found! no added salt or anything else.
 
Mary C. June 11, 2018
I was on Team Adam’s-Crunchy PB when I lived on the West Coast. Now, living in Maine, I’m Team Teddie Super Chunky ATW.
 
Nancy May 15, 2018
BJs has the best -all natural organic.... peanuts and salt only.
 
Ramona N. May 7, 2018
Old Home? Since Real Peanut Butter inexplicably went out of business, this is next best thing.
 
louisa April 28, 2018
Smucker's is good, but I've always been fond of making it on my own with unsalted, Virginia peanuts. I just bought a batch from Hope and Harmony Farms (https://hopeandharmonyfarms.com/) and am really liking how the butter is turning out!
 
Brenda P. April 22, 2018
You have to do this all over again because you did not include Cream-Nut peanut butter. Zingerman’s carries it. They will only use high grade Virginia peanuts. No sugar. You missed out. I have tried many of the butters in your study. I used Smuckers for years.
 
Ann K. April 20, 2018
Teddy’s Super Chunky Unsalted is THE best! Try it, you’ll like (love) it!
 
jet53 April 13, 2018
Just buy roasted peanuts and run them in the food processor until smooth. It will take longer than you think. Give it 3 to 5 minutes. Then add salt to taste. <br />Completely smooth without added oil, and won’t break, despite no sugar.
 
Carolyn P. April 13, 2018
What about Teddy’s? It’s made in MA and not distributed widely but it’s amazing! Dry roasted nuts with salt. You should check it out! Every time we go back to MA we buy a big jar to take back to NYC.
 
Sydne N. April 12, 2018
If no one else has mentioned it, Smucker's is Laura Scudder's on the West Coast. That discovery, gleaned from a Bon Appetit article on those no-bake chocolate peanut butter-oatmeal cookies from my chidhood, transformed my peanut butter consuming life! No added sugar, slightly gritty/crunchy texture...give it a good, thorough stir once, and then refrigerate!
 
GigiR April 13, 2018
Oh, that makes so much sense. Never heard of Smucker’s peanut butter, but I was raised on Laura Scudder’s.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 17, 2018
Whoa!
 
Siobhan April 12, 2018
TEDDY’S peanut butter is the best I’ve found yet, idk if it only exsists in NY. I moved to LA and have yet to find This best of basic.
 
Carolyn P. April 13, 2018
Yesssss! I didn’t know they distribute in NY- I just moved here from MA and haven’t seen it yet!
 
Amy April 12, 2018
Koeze from Michigan
 
Brenda P. April 22, 2018
I agree! The high quality Virginia Peanuts in Koeze Cream-Nut makes all the difference.
 
tscooli April 12, 2018
Pick’s from New Zealand. THE best hands down.
 
cocoabrioche April 12, 2018
Teddies Natural Peanut butter, just peanuts and salt (or not). I think it's much smoother with more flavor than say Trader Joe’s - though my favorite is the super chunky. They also make some with flaxseed, It's made outside of Boston, but available online. I checked when my husband was thinking of moving cross-country!
 
Jean G. April 12, 2018
Why has nobody mentioned Whole Foods peanut butter out of the grinder? Freshly toasted peanuts and nothing else? The grind it yourself almond butter is even better.
 
Mary O. April 12, 2018
The best Teddy’s. Made in Massachusetts and can be hard to find. Great peanut taste and smooth consistency.
 
Meryl April 12, 2018
Santa Cruz Organic dark roast creamy. My fav!!
 
caroberts77 April 12, 2018
Same here.
 
Jamie April 12, 2018
Hmm, I’d rather have nasty hydrogenated oil than palm oil, which is awful on the environment. I’ll stick with my good old sugary Skippy’s.
 
Scott April 10, 2018
(Looks in kitchen cabinet) Smucker's for the win!<br />You have to like a commercial food product with only 2 ingredients. (peanuts and salt)<br /><br />A good "food hack" is storing your natural PB upside down. one little stir is all that's necessary.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 17, 2018
Yes! Our contributor, Alice, does this, too! https://food52.com/blog/19209-a-handy-but-hands-off-trick-for-storing-natural-oil-topped-peanut-butter