Test Kitchen

Peanut butter: a natural choice

October 11, 2006|By Renee Enna | Renee Enna,Chicago Tribune

Because peanut butter often is the go-to grub for school lunches, we decided to put it center stage in a tasting of natural, crunchy peanut butters.

Emphasis on natural. The eight contenders' ingredient lists included just peanuts, and maybe salt and / or peanut oil. Unlike regular peanut butter, these nonhydrogenated spreads are devoid of sugar as well as additives that prevent the oil from separating from the solids. This means that oil rises to the top and the contents have to be stirred prior to first use.

Our panel was seeking true peanut flavor with a nut-studded yet spreadable texture. The top pick, Whole Foods Market's private-label 365 brand, also was among the least expensive. Still, the tasting earned respectable scores for all the brands tried. Second place went to a familiar supermarket brand, Smucker's, followed by an organic brand, MaraNatha, also purchased at Whole Foods. We list the top three with judges' comments; the rest are listed in order of finish.

Renee Enna writes for the Chicago Tribune.

1st

365 EVERYDAY VALUE ALL NATURAL CRUNCHY

7.9 POINTS

Whole Foods private label

18-ounce jar, $1.99

11 cents per ounce

Judges' comments:

VERY PEANUTTY --NICE, ROASTED FLAVOR.

THICK BUT EASY TO SPREAD.

LOVE THE PEANUT CHUNKS.

2nd

SMUCKER'S NATURAL CHUNKY

6.9 POINTS

16-ounce jar, $2.83

18 cents per ounce

Judges' comments:

GOOD, SALTY, RICH FLAVOR.

ROASTED DELICIOUSNESS! A LITTLE HEAVIER WITH THE SALT, BUT IT WORKS!

PLEASANT PEANUT FLAVOR, BUT WISH IT WERE STRONGER.

ALSO TASTED

3rd

MARANATHA ORGANIC CRUNCHY & ROASTED

6.6 POINTS

16-ounce jar

$4.99; 31 cents per ounce

Judges' comments:

FRESH PEANUT FLAVOR AND NOT TOO SALTY.

DEEP, NUTTY FLAVOR LINGERS; VERY SATISFYING.

BLAND.

4th: President's Choice All Natural "Just Peanuts" Crunchy Jewel private label 6.2 POINTS

5th: Trader Joe's Crunchy Salted 6.1 POINTS

6th: Santa Cruz Organic Light Roasted Crunchy 5 POINTS

7th: Arrowhead Mills Organic Crunchy Valencia 4.7 POINTS

8th: Woodstock Farms Organic Crunchy / Salted 4.3 POINTS

Products are scored on a scale of 1 to 9, with 9 being highest.

STIRRING NEWS

Natural peanut butter tastes great -- but what a pain to stir. The top two winners in this tasting, 365 and Smucker's, were among the hardest to mix. (MaraNatha was a breeze.) After stirring the contents of eight jars -- a task that took considerable bicep strength and more than a half-hour, here's what I learned: Turn the jar upside down for a few hours to let the oil settle at the bottom. Upon opening the jar, poke a butter knife up and down through the peanut butter; this breaks up the solids and lets the oil infiltrate, which will make it easier to stir. Do all this slowly to avoid oil splatters.

OR CHEAT

Buy Grandpa Witmer's Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Mixer, a contraption that screws onto standard jars and lets you mix the contents by turning a crank. We had no oil splatters, and your bicep will thank you. It's $10 by mail (kitchenkapers.com or 800-455-5567).

Fortunately, chilling stabilizes the blend, so when you store the peanut butter in the fridge after opening, you won't need to stir again.

[RENEE ENNA]

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