"Natural" peanut butter is loosely defined as a product that does not contain partially hydrogenated oil, the trans fat-laden ingredient that makes classic peanut butter so silky smooth. In a perfect world, natural peanut butter would contain only peanuts and salt (which three of the products featured below do have), but in reality the formula has been tinkered with a bit. So which natural peanut butters taste the best? Our test of natural, creamy, salted peanut butters will tell …
"Natural" peanut butter has been pushed by marketers over the past decade to accomodate America's sudden hyper-awareness of trans fats. Though most brands (such as Jif and Skippy) have recently eliminated trans fats by now using fully hydrogenated oils instead of partially hydrogenated oils in their classic recipe, they're also pushing "natural" brands for the more health-conscious consumer.
The problem with real natural peanut butter is that there's no emulsifying agent in the recipe (read: partially hydrogenated oil) to bind the peanut butter into a velvety texture. The result is often a mixture that eventually separates, leaving a thick, sludge-like goo at the bottom of the jar, and an unappealing, runny oil at the top that needs to be stirred. It's messy, inconvenient and unappealing, in most cases.
To counteract this issue, brands have been adding palm oil to their recipe (you'll see below that seven of the 12 peanut butters we tested contain it). Using this ingredient may be considered cheating a bit in the realm of natural peanut butter, and it's also a bit problematic in terms of your health and the environment's health. Not only is palm oil extremely high in saturated fat, but it's also controversial for the harm it causes to the environment -- rainforests and peatlands in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared out to increase production of the palm trees that produce palm oil. Weighing the tradeoff between eating creamier "natural" peanut butter and eating something that's potentially harmful is a decision you'll have to make for yourself.
Another interesting fact about natural peanut butter is that its nutritional label is almost identical to the label on a jar of classic peanut butter. Classic Jif, for example, contains 16 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, and 150 mg of sodium. Compare that to the numbers in the slideshow below, and you'll see there's basically no difference at all.
Check out our slideshow below to see which peanut butters tasted the best. Keep in mind that this was a blind test, meaning we judged purely on flavor and texture, without prior knowledge of the ingredients in each peanut butter. We were happy to see that the winner was a true natural.
What's your favorite brand of natural peanut butter? Leave us a comment below!