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Published January 2004

How we tested

Splenda is the brand name of a product sweetened by means of sucralose, a substance derived from sucrose, better known as table sugar. Making sucralose involves changing the structure of the sugar molecules by substituting three chlorine atoms for three hydrogen-oxygen, or hydroxyl, groups. According to manufacturer McNeil Nutritionals, part of Johnson & Johnson, sucralose provides no calories because the body doesn't metabolize it as sugar. McNeil also says that the granulated form of Splenda (the Splenda available in packets is not the same) can be used cup for cup to replace sugar. We tested this assertion in our recipes for sugar cookies and blueberry cobbler.

The sugar cookies made with Splenda had a texture that was markedly different from those made with granulated sugar, being so soft as to almost melt in your mouth in the way cookies made with confectioners' sugar do. The cookies made with regular sugar were more substantial and had a definite chew. The Splenda cookies also looked different; they didn't brown at all, and they were puffy. The "real" sugar cookies browned nicely around the edges and, compared with the Splenda batch, were fairly flat. Flavor-wise, the Splenda cookies tasted, well, sweet. On a negative note, they were lacking in the caramel flavor that developed in the regular sugar cookies as they browned. On a positive note, the cookies made with Splenda were also lacking the artificial flavors that just about every other sugar substitute brings with it.

Tasters noticed similar differences in the cobblers, although this time differences in the level of sweetness were more notable. As with the sugar cookies, the biscuits in the cobbler made with Splenda didn't brown, but they also tasted less sweet and were not as tender as the biscuits made with sugar. The berry filling made with Splenda also tasted less sweet, and it was more liquidy. Even though in this case the flavor differences were more marked, tasters were again pleasantly surprised at not being able to detect artificial flavors in the cobbler made with Splenda.

Overall, then, the cookies and cobbler made with Splenda were not on a par with those made with sugar—differences in texture and color were the most significant—but for someone on a sugar-restricted diet, we thought they would be better than no cookies or cobbler at all. We appreciated the fact that Splenda added sweetness without adding other, undesirable flavors. It bears noting, though, that Splenda does add another thing that most other sugar substitutes don't add: calories.

How can a product that calls itself a "No Calorie Sweetener" have calories? Because it meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's technical definition of a "no-calorie" food, which for sugar substitutes means having no more than 5 calories per serving. According to the manufacturer, 1 cup of Splenda contains 96 calories. In contrast, 1 cup of granulated sugar (the amount used in our sugar cookies) contains 768 calories.

But if the body doesn't recognize Splenda in the way it does sugar, as the manufacturer says, where do the calories come from? In the case of granulated Splenda, the answer is maltodextrin, a bulking agent similar to cornstarch. Without it, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

The Results


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.)*

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.)*