Is there a more beloved, classic sandwich than a good ol' PB and J? We think not! And it turns out, peanut butter's been around for quite some time. Apparently the Ancient Incas and Aztecs used to grind their nuts into a paste, and in the late 1800's, Dr. Kellogg (of the cereal fame) patented the actual process for making peanut butter.
Today things have come a long way, and there's certainly no shortage of nut butters on the market. In fact, you could say they're having a real moment. There's everything from crunchy to creamy peanut butter, honey-roasted to dark-roasted, "adult" varieties, drizzly varieties, dried peanut butter powder, collagen peanut butter. Phew, the list goes on.
So how does a busy, peanut butter-loving person find the diamond in the ruff? You know the one: a peanut butter that makes our kids smile, but that we'd also love to eat off the spoon late at night (not that any of us would ever dream of such a thing). We decided to do a taste test to find out for ourselves!
How We Chose the Brands
We, the editors at Simply Recipes, knew we wanted to test creamy peanut butter in particular but soon came to the realization that comparing more conventional peanut butters (like Skippy or JIF) along with natural peanut butters (most with that layer of oil on the top) was really like comparing apples and oranges.
Many conventional brands have added sugars, and some have hydrogenated oils and other ingredients that we all agreed we'd love to avoid if we were given the choice, so we narrowed down the field to natural creamy peanut butters. How'd we choose the six we tested?
With a team (and a readership: YOU) scattered all across the country, we wanted these brands to be accessible. So you should be able to stroll into a mainstream or natural foods grocery store or hop online to purchase them all. We also took price into consideration and ruled out the brands with more exclusive, premium-priced peanut butters. Last, we looked for brands with no added sugar.
- Justins Classic Peanut Butter: With their "proprietary grinding technique" and thick texture, Justin's has taken the supermarket by storm. We were curious about the buzz.
- Smucker's Natural Creamy Peanut Butter: Smucker's has been around forever and is made with just two ingredients: peanuts and salt.
- Wild Friends Classic Creamy Peanut Butter: A newer brand, Wild Friends, is dry roasted and double ground to create their characteristic "smooth and drizzly texture."
- Adams Natural Peanut Butter: Founded in 1922, many tout Adams as a no-frills classic peanut butter. We wanted to see for ourselves.
- Santa Cruz Organic Dark Roasted Peanut Butter: We love Santa Cruz's focus on light and dark roast for nut butters, and dove right in with the dark roast for our taste test!
- 365 Organic Creamy Peanut Butter (No Sugar/No Salt): An affordable option and Whole Foods' house brand (but available online as well), we were curious to see how this sugar-free, salt-free peanut butter stacked up.
How We Judged 'Em
Most of our team has young kids at home and we all have our favorite peanut butter brands, so we knew this one had to be a blind taste test. We're all scattered remotely so we tasted them at home on our own, then hopped on a call (ahhh, the modern world) to discuss. Here's the criteria we used:
- Consistency & Texture: If you're a fan of creamy peanut butter, you're likely pretty conscious of texture and consistency. Even if you're not, we all want our peanut butter to be relatively spreadable, making your morning toast or lunchtime sandwich a reality. This factor is even more important with natural peanut butter as most have to be stirred to incorporate the oil.
- Flavor: Flavor was one of our top concerns, obviously. We looked for a classic super peanut-y taste without any rancidity, oily or off flavors.
- Aroma: One of the things I love the most about making peanut butter toast is the way the peanut butter smells as it spreads atop the warm bread. Aroma certainly affects flavor, so we considered this, too!
The Overall Winner: Smucker's!
Smucker's Peanut Butter for the win! I have to say, I was shocked. I've been buying more expensive peanut butter for years now and...why?!
Our team unanimously loved the flavor of Smucker's. Contributing Editor Cambria Bold said that it's got a really "strong peanut flavor... it felt really balanced" and Editor in Chief, Emma Christensen, agreed that the flavor was "SOLID! The way PB should taste!" Andy Christensen, Art Director, described it as having the perfect level of saltiness, while our Community Manager, Claudia Cash, loved the deep, bold peanut aroma. We all agreed it'd be perfect spread onto a sandwich.
Carrie Havranek, Associate Editor, summed it up best by saying that it's a great choice if you're just looking to get into natural peanut butters, as it's easy to stir and has a likable flavor.
First Runner-Up: Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz was a very, very close second. Senior Editor Summer Miller loved the roasted flavor, how smoothly the oil incorporated into the rest of the jar and appreciated how easy the jar was to open (didn't have all kinds of fussy plastic wrappers). Carrie agreed on the flavor front, calling it "deeply peanut buttery," and Emma chimed in that it had a "nice roasty aroma."
While our team loved the flavor, we were split 50/50 on texture: I found it quite difficult to stir, while others ranked it the easiest. Goes to show you that factors like expiration date and storage temperature can really affect the consistency of a product like peanut butter. All in all, Emma found the texture gritty (but also didn't mind it!), and Andy agreed, calling it "grainy."
Second Runner-Up: 365
The 365 brand peanut butter rated high on texture and got mixed ratings on flavor. It had probably the lightest flavor in terms of roast, and I actually found it to taste slightly sweet with notes of honey despite the fact that it doesn't contain added sugar. Claudia and Emma also loved the flavor, although Cambria felt it was "one note" and could really use some salt. Andy agreed that salt would help the flavor, and he also noticed an odd aftertaste.
In terms of consistency, it spread really well for most of us and was easy to stir. Summer said she "loved the consistency and texture of this one the most." Carrie put it best that this is like the classic peanut butter you grew up with. We all agreed this would be a great one on a peanut butter sandwich.
What About the Rest?
We're not in the business of peanut butter shaming, but I will say that Wild Friends, Justin's, and Adams weren't our favorites. Each had their high points for sure, but we found Wild Friends to be oily and liquid-y (maybe good for smoothie bowls?), Justin's to be lacking in flavor and gritty in texture, and Adams to be just all around ho-hum.
It definitely raises a good point that some peanut butters are better depending on your purpose. If you use it to add to your smoothies, a peanut butter that veers more on the liquid-y side would be best. If you're a sandwich aficionado, texture and consistency would be really important. If you like eating it off a spoon, well, flavor is pretty important.
What's your favorite kind of natural peanut butter? Do you have other criteria that you use to judge each jar? Have you tried our pick for #1? We'd love to hear from YOU, our readers, on your go-t0!