Natural peanut butter bounty put to the test

All the major brands of peanut butter have natural varieties including Jif. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Peanut butter is never an easy purchase. Allow your mind to wander for a split second and poof! You’re bringing reduced-fat crunchy home to a full-fat smooth crowd. There was a time when unwittingly grabbing the “natural” stuff could send certain households (mine) into fits of wailing. The oil! The stirring! The no taste!

No more. All the major brands have natural varieties now: The upside being somebody discovered a way to reduce the ingredients while eliminating the layer of oil that used to sit on top. The downside being peanut butter shopping is more time-consuming. How does one choose from such a bounty of peanut butter riches?

For starters, let’s discuss what “natural” means. The ingredients list for regular peanut butter usually reads like this: peanuts, sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, rapeseed and soybean), mono and diglycerides, salt. On natural labels, the ingredients list is peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt.

Sugar remains the second ingredient in natural varieties, but adds up to just 3 grams per 2-tablespoon serving in every major brand, which is the same amount found in regular. (Natural brands whose only ingredients are dry roasted peanuts have 1 gram of sugar.) Sodium doesn’t change much either: 150 milligrams per serving is almost universal, natural or non. Jif Natural is the exception, with 80 mg sodium per 2-tablespoon serving, compared to 140 mg in its regular creamy and 115 mg in its regular crunchy.

The all-important question then is: Which one tastes the best? We set out to find an answer and, unfortunately, one eluded us. But the good news is they’re all pretty darn good.

We presented a group of five 6-year-olds with four brands of natural: Skippy, Jif, Planters and Peter Pan. We spread a taste-size portion of each on graham crackers and asked the kids to rank them on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 is best).

First place: Jif, Skippy (tied)

(5 points. 18-ounce Jif, $4.49; 15-ounce Skippy, $4.49)

Jif: “It’s perfect.” “I give this 100 points.” “Not super salty.”

Skippy: “Tastes the most like peanuts.” “Way better than the other ones.”

Second place: Peter Pan (4.2 points. 16.3 ounces, $4.49). “I think it needs jelly.” “It’s a little bit, like, not thick enough.”

Third place: Planters (4 points. 15 ounces, $4.69)

“Too salty. I still like it.”