Our eight-member taste panel came to only one conclusion: 14 types of peanut butter are too many to compare in just one hour. There were no clear-cut winners though a couple of peanut butters were resoundingly loathed.
Participants, including those who swore by only certain brands, were unable to pick out their favorites. One man who only refuses to eat anything but Skippy Super Crunch gave it a paltry 4.
The findings of our unscientific test did not surprise Mitch Head, executive director for the Peanut Advisory Board in Atlanta.
"There are only small differences in taste among peanut butters," says Mr. Head. And while 40 percent of consumers say they are loyal to particular brands only professional taste testers can accurately distinguish between them, he says.
By law, peanut butter must contain at least 90 percent peanuts. "That only gives manufacturers 10 percent of the total ingredients to play with," he says. Typically, that remaining 10 percent is only sugar and salt, he says.
Our tasters were armed with saltines and water and given up to onehour to sample the different peanut butters. The peanut butters were scooped into plastic cups to conceal their identities.
We compared creamy to crunchy and generic to gourmet. We tasted the old familiars, Skippy, Jif and Peter Pan against the newcomers, Reese's creamy and crunchy and also Skippy's new flavored honey nut peanut butters. For variety, we tossed in Polaner-brand peanut butter and jelly mix. Nobody liked it, and it received four of our lowest scores.
Simply Jif, a crunchy peanut butter billed as low in sugar and salt, was the only brand to receive three top votes. Jif -- the No. 1 peanut butter in the country -- introduced Simply Jif last summer.
The new brands, Reese's and Skippy's honey nut flavors, did not score noticeably better than the old favorites.
One "gourmet" brand, from the Peanut Store of Williamsburg, Va., ($4.79 for 18 ounces) was resoundingly snubbed.
The biggest surprise? The Value Creamy Peanut Spread from Klein's Super Thrift store in Aberdeen ($1.59 for 18 ounces) received high scores from three reviewers. Because it contains soy flour, it's a spread because it contains less than 90 percent peanuts.