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Peach Preserves

Published June 2014

How we tested

We like peach preserves on toast, with cheese, in desserts, and in a sweet glaze on smoky barbecue. We included both jams and preserves in our taste test because they are processed identically (preserves sometimes contain larger chunks of fruit) and we liked both in past tastings.

First off, tasters demanded strong, tangy, fresh peach flavor and marked down one product for being overly sweet. A perfectly ripe peach is sweet, but this bottom-ranking product went overboard. Yet when we checked nutrition labels, we found that it had the same amount of sugar as our top-ranking preserves—9 grams per tablespoon—so why did tasters find one product too sugary and the other just right? Sugar in jam comes from both fruit and added sugars. The overly sweet product is the only one that adds more sugar than peaches; the rest add more peaches than sugar and tasters found them to be more complex, tangy, and fruity, with a measured sweetness. Type of sugar was key, too—we preferred products made with granulated sugar to those sweetened with corn syrup or fruit concentrates, both of which tasters found cloying.

Texture was equally important; tasters liked preserves that were loose and spreadable and downgraded those that were superfirm or gelatinous. Here the culprit was pectin, a carbohydrate found naturally in fruit that makes jams thicken during cooking. Most manufacturers add powdered or liquid pectin, too, so we were interested to find that our top-rated product contains no extra pectin. When we asked its maker about its preserves, we learned that the company chooses peach varieties rich in natural pectin and processes them in a multistage, small-batch method to protect the fruit’s taste. The result of this careful process is not only a looser texture but also a fuller peach flavor. Among the products with added pectin, we preferred those that list it at the end of the ingredient list. Tasters liked the spreadable texture of these products and were put off by products with firm, Jell-O-like stiffness.

In the end, the supermarket peach jams we reviewed were overall very good: We can fully recommend four of the five jams we tasted. That said, one product was the standout winner. Tasters liked its bold, ripe peach taste and balanced sweetness, but at more than double the cost of any other jam in our lineup, we’ll splurge on it when eating it plain on biscuits or toast. When we used each product in baking and cooking, the differences weren’t as noticeable and we found all products suitable as an ingredient.

Methodology

To find the best peach spread, we gathered 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers and sampled five national products plain, and in both sweet and savory recipe applications.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*