Peanut Butter

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:
“As someone who has eaten peanut butter from an open jar and a spoon since childhood, this is the best snacking PB around. But the Smucker's is actually better for cooking. (Oddly enough, nobody in my family ever complained about me eating the PB straight from the family's shared jar. And yes, they knew I did, because this was my favorite TV watching snack!)”
— Dennis
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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!

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

86 Comments

ula March 8, 2020
As a Crunchy PB FAN, I have to mention Crazy Richards, Laura Scudders and Peter Pans Simply Ground.
I'm always searching for the chunkiest PB w Oil on top
Price is not a huge consideration.
If I find a favorite, I order multiples!
 
Martha J. March 1, 2020
I only buy Adams or Laura Scudders, or we grind our own. I used to also like Trader Joe's, but we have now stopped buying anything that comes in a plastic jar, so many TJ items are out for us. Interesting discussion!
 
Leila February 29, 2020
Try Trader Joe's Valencia, salt-free crunchy. Absolutely the best.
 
Hannah February 29, 2020
The Valencia Peanut butters from Trader Joe’s are fantastic. I usually go for the crunchy salted, but the crunchy unsalted is just as good - and is actually quite creamy, too.
 
Carole February 29, 2020
My husband and I have eaten Smucker's for years and love it! We do alot of "fasting" as Orthodox Christians and go through a lot of peanut butter. Smucker's is the BEST!
 
Jill F. February 29, 2020
Santa Cruz Dark Roasted Peanut Butter is my family’s hands down favorite! I buy several jars at a time as it’s a necessity.
 
Dennis February 29, 2020
I've been a big fan of the TJ's salted PBs for quite a while, both crunchy and creamy. As someone who has eaten peanut butter from an open jar and a spoon since childhood, this is the best snacking PB around. But the Smucker's is actually better for cooking. (Oddly enough, nobody in my family ever complained about me eating the PB straight from the family's shared jar. And yes, they knew I did, because this was my favorite TV watching snack!)
 
Ruth February 28, 2020
We've been Smuckers customers for years, tried TJs and didn't love it. In recent months I've been alternating between Smuckers and Wegmans house brand, though. I think my PB holy grail is from a company called Walnut Acres, which went out of business many years ago. When I was a kid they had a peanut butter-sesame-honey spread that was divine. Just as well it's no longer available, since I used to eat it by the spoonful, and I'm sure the calorie count was sky high.
 
Alice H. February 28, 2020
I mean, I guess now we just have to as Valerio what their favorite bottled red sauce is, or maybe lentil soup, or frozen riced cauliflower. Why bother testing if the data is in this person'e head already?
 
Debbie April 3, 2019
You missed Teddie! By far the best and probably the least expensive. https://teddie.com/
 
raoul47 April 3, 2019
Teddies , you have seen it on Sesame Street here is the linc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKcrnTZ9IaE
 
April M. April 2, 2019
I've always loved smuckers natural peanut butter. it's SO delicious and super yummy.
 
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.
Completely smooth without added oil, and won’t break, despite no sugar.