Sunday, September 16, 2007

TASTE TEST: Peanut Butter

In this first of a new feature, the taste test, I'll be testing and rating various brands of something to determine a winner. In this case, I'll be testing peanut butter. My rating scale is slightly different in taste tests. I'll be dispensing with the star rating in favor of a 0-100 scale to better gauge the differences in quality and to accommodate a dynamic scale. Notes will be provided on every product tested. So on with the test!

Choosy moms choose Jif. Or so we've been told. But Skippy fuels the fun. We certainly want to have fun. And Peter Pan has repeatedly been portrayed by a woman, so I assume his peanut butter is made from avocados. All the brands have some shtick by which to lure us into their web, but who's really selling what they say? It's something I had never thought about before. When I bought peanut butter, I did just that. Good ol' pee-bee never garnered much criticism from me, just so long as my PB&J sandwiches didn't taste like gasoline, or avocados.

That changes today. I recently made a trip to the local grocery store and purchased every variety of peanut butter they had the shelves. I avoided the organic ones that I suspect hippies use as a face cream and any varieties that were pure, natural peanut butter. I only rated the sweetened, whose group includes the arch nemeses Jif and Skippy. So, the big question, which is better?

Well, as I discovered, it's not that easy. I found that Jif and Skippy were both excellent products with different takes on the same concept. They tasted different, but better or worse? I'm not so sure. Some surprises included me not liking Peter Pan and the store brands, in this case IGA, Stop & Shop, and Wal*Mart.I also disliked Skippy's Honey Nut variety. I was also surprised when I found no brand to harness all positive characteristics into a whole. I rated each variety on texture, primary taste, secondary taste, and aroma. Testing was done in the ideal environment of my kitchen counter.

Skippy Natural90
Peter Pan80
Skippy Roasted Honey Nut70
Stop & Shop60
Fun Cuisine Spongebob Squarepants55
Wal*Mart Great Value45

Skippy Natural: 90
I liked Skippy Natural's toned-down sweetness compared to ordinary Skippy. It's a much more natural flavor. As far as strength goes, this one was average for both the primary and the secondary taste. There was little aftertaste to speak of. The flavor of the peanuts is allowed to come out nicely with the limited ingredients. It's nice and smooth, but not quite as creamy as ordinary Skippy. It's still creamier than Jif, though, and much more creamy than the cement-like IGA and Wal*Mart. Skippy Natural also gets huge props for tasting better than other brands while not using any hydrogenated oils.

Skippy: 85
Skippy is very good. A good peanut flavor that's somewhat overpowered by its sweetness. It's easy to see why this brand is so loved by children; because they need everything to be at the very least 1/3rd sugar. While this isn't that sweet, it's the closest to that mark than any of the others save for the atrociously sweet Honey Nut Skippy.

Jif: 85
Jif is also very good. It's similar to Skippy, but has a darker, more mellow flavor that speaks of peanuts longer roasted. This is also the only variety to use molasses as a sweetener and that adds a distinct depth in flavor that the others lack. That dark flavor gets big props, but it's not as creamy and satisfying on the tongue. Jif is also the highest in calories, at 190 per serving. It's got the most protein, though, with a startling 8g per serving.

Peter Pan: 79
Peter Pan is a difficult rating for me. It's a bit lighter and more astringent than Skippy or Jif. It's got a stronger flavor than Jif or Skippy, but it's very light and doesn't stick around too long. It also has a smokey bite in the aftertaste indicating a dark roast to the nuts that's balanced with more sugar. Still, it's not as sweet as Skippy. I liked it well enough, but found that aftertaste to be less pleasing than Jif or Skippy.

Skippy Honey Nut: 70
The initial flavor of this was like a punch to the face. The honey over-powers the peanuts right through the palate. It's all you can taste initially, subsides a bit while chewing, and then again dominates over the peanuts in the finish. I found it cloying and unpleasant at first blush, and it just doesn't recover. I want peanut butter to taste like peanut butter, not dark honey. The very end is pleasant, though, with a wonderfully mellow flavor of darkly roasted peanuts brought out by the honey, which is the way the entire experience should have been. It's so startlingly sweet, I'm sure your kids will freaking love it.

Stop & Shop: 60
The varieties take a nose-dive after the big brands. Most of the time, I don't notice a difference between name and store brands. Apparently, in peanut butter, there is a difference. A HUGE difference. Stop & Shop is the best of the discount brands. It's flavor isn't as good as Fun Cuisine's Spongebob variety, but its texture is way better, although it's still not creamy enough to prevent surface breakage when you pull some out with your finger. The fact that this is sweetened with corn syrup and not sugar is quite apparent, but at least not to the degree as IGA.

Fun Cuisine Spongebob Squarepants: 55
Spongebob should keep his day job, because he sucks at cooking. It has a smoother flavor than Stop & Shop, something I credit to the molasses and sugar, but it's got the same paste-like consistency of IGA and Wal*Mart.

IGA: 49
What terrible peanut butter! It's edible, and it's cheaper than the others, but I'd nevereverever buy it. It's creaminess was far and away the lowest of the bunch. Its consistency was somewhere just above dried concrete. Flavor was serviceable, but the fact that IGA was sweetened with corn syrup shone through loud and clear. Its sweetness was cloying and unpleasantly fake. Its primary flavor was decent, but the closing flavor was weak. Overall peanut flavor was inadequate.

Wal*Mart Great Value: 45
Wal*Mart was even worse. It was sweetened with sugar, but I don't know what the hell happened to it. Its color is the palest of the lot. Were peanuts actually involved? I don't know! What's strange is that both this and Peter Pan are manufactured in the EXACT same facility by ConAgra foods. I guess they use the waste from Peter Pan manufacture to make this. They at least managed to make it non-poisonous, so I guess they deserve kudos for that. Just bad. Very bad.

No comments: