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Crunchy Peanut Butter

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2011

How we tested

We selected 13 brands, eliminating six in an initial pretasting: Arrowhead Mills Crunchy Valencia Peanut Butter; Arrowhead Mills Organic Crunchy Valencia Peanut Butter; MaraNatha Natural with Salt, Crunchy & Roasted Peanut Butter; MaraNatha Natural No Stir Crunchy & Sweet Peanut Butter; Jif Regular Peanut Butter, Extra Crunchy; Skippy Super Chunk Peanut Butter. We then sampled the remaining seven crunchy spreads to figure out which ones had the best peanut flavor, texture, and balance of sweetness and saltiness.

Not surprisingly, our favorites—and least favorites—tracked almost identically with the results from the creamy tasting. The losers all suffered from texture flaws, with tasters condemning them for “grainy,” “gritty” consistencies and, particularly in the case of one, for being so “soupy” and “viscous” that it was “hard to eat.” In some instances, their flavors were no help either; the hints of “fishiness” that we picked up on in the creamy version of one were just as present in this chunkier batch.

Likewise, tasters gravitated toward the crunchy versions our two favorite palm oil–based peanut butters from the creamy tasting. In fact, both of these spreads beat out their conventional equivalents (eliminated after the pretasting), with tasters praising their sweet-salty balance, “strong roasted flavor,” and “really good crunch.”

(Our peanut butter taste test has received an overwhelming response from passionate peanut butter fans. We’ve also received so many questions that we have decided to share our responses to the most frequently asked questions in the related how-to-cook, FAQ: Peanut Butter Tasting.)

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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.)*