So, I have this problem with peanut butter: I'm addicted to it. Only within the last year or so, though, have I really started to notice the differences between brands; it started when I ate a spoonful of Jif right after eating Kraft and was shocked that these two commercial, mas-produced brands could be so very different. Shouldn't have come as a surprise, really, but I guess I'd never thought about it before.
So for the past few months I've been collecting peanut butters in order to taste several of them side by side and compare directly. I decided to forego store brands as I've generally found them to be mediocre in the past (i.e. I didn't want to buy a whole jar of garbage, knowing full well that it was garbage, and then be stuck with it.)
Ended up with six brands: three the emulsified kind, and three "natural" (the type that tend to separate.)
1. Picard's: This is a local product, Ontario peanuts, produced here. Dry-roasted peanuts, sugar, veg oil, salt.
2. Jif: Had to bring this in from Buffalo, as sadly it's no longer for sale up here. Roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses, rapeseed & soybean oils, mono and diglycerides, salt.
3. Skippy. Roasted peanuts, soybean oil, maltodextrin, icing sugar, salt, veg oil.
All three had similar amounts sugar and sodium as labelled: 65-70mg sodium/tbsp, and about 1.5g sugar/tbsp, except for Skippy at 1g/tbsp.
Protein, similar. Picard and Jif around 3g, Skippy weighing in at a measly 2.
All three were smooth; Jif smoother than Picard, and Skippy smoother and creamier than both.
Picard was "not too sweet" and a little "vegetal." I got a hint of olive-oil taste near the finish. Definite real peanut flavour.
Jif was "really smooth" with "in your face" peanut flavour, saltier and sweeter than Picard. If Picard was more vegetal, Jif was more fruity. Not fruity, really, and I don't want to use the word "candylike" because it's got negative implications... but the Jif was the closest to what I consider to be the ideal for a mass-produced, homogeneous, emulsified peanut butter.
Skippy... we said "Wow, it's definitely something-butter, but where's the peanut." Like the Cool Whip of peanut butter. Almost ethereally creamy compared to the other two, less peanut flavour, compensated for by more sugar and salt. Reminded me, texturally, of being a kid and sticking a finger into a bowl of creamed Crisco and sugar when my mom was making cookies.
Verdict: Jif > Picard, in terms of what a stereotypical peanut butter should be, but Picard tastes more like actual peanuts. Skippy a distant third (distant, like, the horse never left the starting gate.)
1. President's Choice Blue Menu Just Peanuts. Loblaws-chain house brand. Ingredients: Freshly roasted peanuts. Fair degree of separation in jar.
2. Smucker's Natural Creamy Peanut Butter. Also came from Buffalo, never seen it up here. Ingredients: Peanuts, salt.
3. Nuts To You Nut Butter: Valencia Peanut Butter. Local Ontario company making all kinds of expensive organic nut butters (peanut, cashew, macadamia, sunflower seed, et cetera...) Ingredients: Dry roasted Valencia peanuts.
Smucker's had 0.5g sugar/tbsp; the other two, 1g. PC and Nuts To You were free of sodium; Smucker's weighed in at about 50mg/tbsp. Protein-wise, PC rang in at 3g, Smucker's 3.5 and Nuts To You 4.
All three had some degree of separation, Nuts To You least of all (was just "runnier" on the top than the bottom, no layer of oil.) Smucker's was really difficult to stir together -- really didn't want to emulsify. I ended up taking some oily part and some solid part and mashing them together in a bowl. And this was at warm room temp.
PC was the most granular and the most discernibly oily, though not in a bad way. It tasted just exactly like a bag of real peanuts put in a food processor. Nothing more to it. Real good, real peanut taste. Not overly roasty, compared to the other two. Very fresh-tasting.
Smucker's was a little granular in texture as well, and tasted "more roasted" and with "a little salt."
Nuts To You was the smoothest of the three and tasted "very roasted", "less salty" and "peanuttier" than Smucker's.
Verdict: Tough. We decided it was hard to compare PC to the other two, certainly, because it tasted exactly like lightly roasted peanuts straight out of the shell, and the other two not so much. If true peanut flavour is the goal -- in a peanut sauce, or African peanut soup, etc -- PC is the clear winner.
Got a little tough between the other two. Smucker's tasted closer to the Jif-type butters, while Nuts To You was deep and roasty and more peanutty. The lack of salt in Nuts To You was noticeable, and it was much improved, in my opinion, with a few grains of salt sprinkled over. Both would be good situationally, though just for eating off a spoon, we preferred the Smucker's -- that 50 mg of salt makes a hell of a difference!
I wouldn't bake with the PC, at least not in recipes tested with conventional PB. I did try baking with it over the holidays, and the results were fine, and certainly peanutty, but they just didn't taste the same as they would have if I'd used a standard PB, nor was the texture the same.
Long story short, it was a really neat exercise, and not a bad way to spend an evening!
Incidentally, I'd also bought a little jar of Nuts To You's pumpkin-seed butter. Interesting. Really did taste like pumpkin-seeds, but... that said, I have no idea what I'll do with it. Maybe, like its peanut cousin, it'll be improved enough by a little salt to be good as a spread.
Anyone else have as unhealthy a passion for peanut butter as I do? What are your favourite brands? Why?