Product reviews: Natural peanut butters
Many of us grew up eating peanut butter. Its salty taste and strong aroma made a great midday meal or late-night snack. However, most of our peanut butter (to be referred to as traditional peanut butter in this article) contains much more than just peanuts. Ingredients often include additives and preservatives.
There was also the issue of trans fat, the latest fat to be discovered and arguably the most dangerous type. Trans fat were the result of hydrogenation, a process by which hydrogen molecules are bombarded against molecules of unsaturated fat in unnatural conditions. The resulting fat, trans-saturated fat, is added to traditional peanut butter to prevent separation. However, trans fat may or may not damage human DNA; more tests are needed.
The discovery of trans fat lead many to abandon foods with hydrogenated oils such as peanut butter in favor for their more natural versions. Traditional peanut butters usually contain refined sugars as well, which can be bad news to your arteries as simple sugars contribute to atherosclerosis.
As far as nutritional value, traditional and natural peanut butters have about the same fat (16 to 19 grams) and protein (7 to 9 grams) content. Both varieties also have B vitamins and vitamin E (the latter which may not be mentioned on the label).
Natural peanut butter, like the traditional type, is usually salted for taste like regular peanut butter, but unsalted versions are available. The basic ingredients are roasted peanuts and salt. The taste of natural peanut butter is often different from the common versions; the more intense flavor and scent may take some getting used to. Natural peanut butter also tends to separate and be more fluid. Rigorous mixing may be required upon opening a new container.
Smart Balance is one of the many brands that has capitalized on the departure from unhealthy fats. This brand focuses on the healthy fat, omega 3. In fact, Smart Balance Omega Peanut Butter is infused with enough flax seed oil to provide a whopping 1000 milligrams of omega 3s per serving! There is also a little molasses added as a sweetener, but no refined sugars. Smart Balance Omega Peanut Butter is more creamy and not fluid like many other natural peanut butters, but is still more prone to separation than traditional varieties. It is also more expensive than other natural peanut butter brands.
Despite the molasses and flax seed oil in the Smart Balance brand, it is the Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter that takes the cake. Voted by the American Culinary ChefsBest as being the most flavorful natural peanut butter, the Skippy brand is also a no-stir natural peanut butter. However, unlike most natural peanut butters, Skippy adds sugar and palm oil, two ingredients of questionable nutritional benefit.
Smucker’s is most famous for their jams and jellies, also sells natural peanut butter which is more like most other natural peanut butters than the Smart Balance or Skippy brands. It has the most basic ingredients, peanuts and salt. The Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter comes separated, with a layer of peanut oil about ” thick over solid ground peanut. Mixing for a few minutes temporarily homogenizes the peanut butter, but the result is somewhat fluid, making this brand and other like natural peanut butters kind of messy. However, mess is a price to pay for quality taste. Other brands of similar consistency to Smucker’s include Costco’s Kirkland Natural Peanut Butter and the Laura Scudder’s Old Fashioned Peanut Butter series.