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Salted vs. Unsalted Chicken Stock

Published March 2015
Update: January 2015
Since our 2013 chicken broth tasting, Swanson slightly changed the ingredients of our favorite Swanson's Chicken Stock; having tasted it, we still recommend this product. Swanson is also in the process of changing the packaging: the 24-ounce stock containers will match the standard 32-ounce cartons already used for its broth products.

How we tested

Our favorite chicken broth is Swanson Chicken Stock, which we appreciate for its “rich,” “meaty” flavor. This broth stood out because it’s made with
 a relatively high percentage of meat-based protein compared with similar products and a moderate amount of sodium for the broth world—510 milligrams per 1-cup serving. Still, since many people monitor their sodium intake, we wondered how the “unsalted” version of this product would measure up.

Swanson Unsalted Chicken Stock has 130 milligrams of sodium, which is just under the United States Department of Agriculture’s 140-milligram ceiling for “low-sodium” products. (In fact, “unsalted” means only that no salt was added during processing, so some unsalted broths can contain much more sodium per serving.) When we compared ingredient lists, we found that the company didn’t simply omit the sodium in the unsalted version but reformulated it from the ground up. While both products begin their ingredient lists with “chicken stock,” the regular broth adds salt next, followed by vegetables and an herb. In the unsalted version, the vegetables disappear, replaced by more chicken-centric ingredients, including dehydrated chicken and chicken fat. Despite these differences, both contain
 4 grams of protein per cup, identically low levels of sugars, and trace amounts of fat per 1-cup serving.

To compare how each tasted, we sampled the broths side-by-side 
plain, in vegetable soup, and in a simple Parmesan risotto, rating them on flavor, saltiness, off-flavors, if any, and overall appeal. We weren’t that surprised to find that our tasters preferred the regular chicken broth in 
all three tastings, but the unsalted broth fared surprisingly well. When we need to restrict sodium, we won’t hesitate to reach for Swanson Unsalted Chicken Stock.

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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.)*