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Processed Egg Whites

By Cook's Illustrated Published February 2013

How we tested

When you need a lot of egg whites for a recipe, it’s tempting to grab a carton of egg whites sold in the supermarket dairy case or a canister of powdered egg whites in the baking aisle. But do these taste the same as fresh egg whites, and can you cook with them with comparable results? We bought four products (three liquid and one dehydrated) put out by national brands and made egg white omelets, meringue cookies, and angel food cakes, tasting them blind alongside samples made with egg whites from eggs that we cracked ourselves.

All four products were more or less acceptable in omelets (although the powdered whites were slightly grainy). But when it came to baking, fresh eggs produced taller angel food cakes and delicately crisp meringues, whereas egg white substitutes yielded shorter cakes and slightly harder, denser meringues.

Given that these products contain nothing but egg whites, what made the difference? The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that liquid egg whites be pasteurized, a process that heats the whites enough to kill bacteria without cooking them. Powdered egg whites are made by evaporating water in a spray dryer. The substitutes can be safely added to uncooked frostings and drinks. But pasteurization changes the nature of the egg proteins enough to compromise their structure, especially in baked goods—a limitation that isn’t always mentioned on product labels. The heating process prematurely links the proteins so that they unfold and stretch less readily when whipped. As a result, they cannot hold the same amount of air or achieve the same volume as fresh egg whites. That’s why when we whipped the whites, one product needed 22 minutes to reach soft peaks, compared with just 6 minutes for fresh whites. Our top-ranked product is a convenient substitute for fresh whites in omelets, scrambles, and frittatas, and it makes satisfactory baked goods. Just keep in mind that it costs more than fresh whole eggs.

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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.)*