Now that consumers are savvier about avoiding products containing trans fat, old staples like overly processed peanut butter just aren’t cutting it anymore. In other words, choosy Moms don’t choose plain old Jif these days; moms and all other peanut butter fans out there are increasingly opting for all-natural and organic varieties. Even companies like Jif and Skippy have gotten on the natural bandwagon; but considering their products used to be some of the worst trans-fat offenders, it might make you wonder whether all natural peanut butters are created equal.
To find out which natural peanut butter is the best of the bunch, we sampled six popular and nationwide brands to see which ones are worth your money and are worthy of your taste buds—and which ones should be left to collect dust at the supermarket.
There wasn’t one clear-cut winner in this tasting because each of us came into it with different expectations of what peanut butter should taste like. Some of us were already fans of the all-natural, whereas others still favored childhood favorites, like Skippy and Jif. And even among the natural peanut-butter proponents, salt levels and texture were divisive factors.
Santa Cruz Organic Light Roasted Creamy, $4.99
This brand had a strong, enjoyable peanut flavor; it’s probably as close to freshly ground, homemade peanut butter as you’ll find on a supermarket shelf. A few tasters found it a little lacking in the salt category, but I enjoyed the subtle saltiness.
Trader Joe’s Creamy Salted, $1.79
Whereas Santa Cruz’s peanut butter was a little thicker than usual and only slightly salty, Trader Joe’s was far more oily and salty. However, that liquid-like texture and rich flavor is exactly what some people prefer with peanut butter, which is why a few tasters liked this one best.
Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread, $3.89
Some members of the group vehemently disliked both the Santa Cruz and Trader Joe’s brands, claiming that Jif tasted the closest to what they’re used to when it comes to peanut butter. Here’s where the distinction between natural fans and processed fans comes into play. If you like regular Jif and are moving toward more-natural products, this might be the best “starter” peanut butter. Otherwise, you might find brands like Santa Cruz to be blander than what you want.
But tasters who regularly eat natural peanut butter found Jif to have an oddly dense texture and a sharp, almost burnt aftertaste. It also left our lips feeling especially oily.
Choosing a distinct winner proved impossible, but the losers were evident from the first spoonful. Santa Cruz Organic and Jif Natural lovers alike were united in their utter and complete distaste for the following brands:
Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Smooth Peanut Butter with Salt, $1.80
Despite having “smooth” in its name, this peanut butter was gritty, yet more soup-like, than any other brand. “It tastes like the sands of the Days of Our Lives hourglass have been poured into this jar,” said one taster, wrinkling her nose in objection. That pretty much says it all.
Laura Scudder’s Smooth No-Stir, $4.99
“AWFUL!” is the first thing I wrote in my notes about this brand; I even underlined it for emphasis. This was by far one of the worst of the bunch because it barely tasted like peanuts. One person likened eating Laura Scudder’s to having a mouthful of rubber. The consistency was overwhelmingly thick and the aftertaste was even less enjoyable.
Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread, $3.49
Note that Skippy, like Jif, includes the word “spread” in its name—probably because they both contain too many filler ingredients (like sugar and palm oils) to be considered simply peanut butter. As a result, neither Jif or Skippy taste remotely close to natural, but Skippy loses even more points by tasting exactly like the inside of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Should you have a need for rubbery frosting with a hint of peanut flavor, go with this brand.
Clearly, one woman’s Santa Cruz Organic is another woman’s Jif Natural—which is to say that the right natural or natural-ish peanut butter for you depends on what you enjoy to begin with. The transition from regular peanut butter to natural peanut butter can be too severe for some taste buds, which is why Jif Natural might be a good in-between. If you already prefer all-natural, opt for Santa Cruz Organic or Trader Joe’s (the latter of which is far less expensive). But regardless of where your loyalties lie, stay far away from Laura Scudder’s and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value peanut butters—nobody wins with either of those two brands.