Well, here goes. As you probably know:
- My favorite brand of peanut butter, the beloved Arrowhead Mills organic Valencia, recently changed their formula to pump out a vastly crappier pb which is unsuitable for my needs (making peanut butter cups).
- I whined about it, you had lots of suggestions.
- Thus: pb taste test!
I gathered up as much quality peanut butter I could find (and a few curveballs), had a few people over to the kitchen and we tasted and talked it all out.
First of all, I wish I’d ordered more pb on the internet to taste, because there are a ton more brands I didn’t get a chance to get. On the other hand, since this was a tasting to find pb that was suited specifically to my pb cups, having to order cases directly from a maker, though awesome in some ways (yay for small pb companies!) is sort of a pain in others (for instance, pb is ridiculously heavy and thus $$ to ship), so I can’t hide that I’m happy that the winner can be ordered through my natural foods distributor (United Natural Foods, who, just incidentally, I loathe for a million trillion reasons but I still order from because I can’t find anyone better because if there was someone better they have bought them and made them shittier.).
I’m still on the lookout though, and when the perfect pb knocks on my door, I’ll be there waiting to open that door up.
Thanks to your great suggestions, I’m still planning on trying: Marantha (my mom and Veronica both swear by this brand, but for some reason my health food store didn’t have it when I checked), Sweet Ella’s, Santa Cruz, Teddie’s (I saw it in the store, but not the org), and Saratoga (the supposedly “made in Ithaca” brand I was trying to think of….my NYS geography is not that great, OK?).
Also, since the tasting, I came across a jar of the much-discussed-at-the-tasting Smucker’s organic. Jacob & I are going to taste it tomorrow, I’ll report back. No, I wouldn’t use Smucker’s in my pb cups, no, no, no, but now I’m basically just a pb whore who can’t not put her mouth around any organic peanut butter she comes across.
Until then, here’s the skinny on what’s been tasted so far:
As I write this, Jacob is literally dipping giant gobs of the winner into a not-little container of chocolate bits I brought home from work labeled “bits for snacking” and stuffing them into his mouth. His verdict (he was on tour while the tasting took place, and I was eager to hear his verdict—you might recall that I hold his Palate in such ultra high regard that I feel the need to capitalize it) is that the winner is too salty. I can buy the unsalted kind, but I like the saltiness. I might have to add a bit less salt to the filling formulation, but I’m a big fan of salted peanut butter—grinding peanuts with salt creates a well-rounded pb that can never be achieved by just adding salt. It’s just like you can’t only add salt to your finished dish and expect it to be properly salted—you need to add salt throughout the cooking process. Plus, a ton of sugar is added to the pb cups filling too, let’s not forget that.
A note: with a few curveballs, I only tried organic brands. I market my pb cups as organic, so I didn’t really see the purpose of trying out non-organic brands since I can’t buy them. But I came across a few I thought would be fun to throw into the mix just for kicks.
From L to R, top row then bottom row:
- Homemade, with non-organic raw “butter-stock” health food store peanuts, which I then roasted and ground in the Cuisinart with some salt. The peanuts didn’t look too roasted when they came out of the oven, but clearly they were, because, seriously, this pb looked like red miso (I think I might have ground them before they were completely cool, which sort of cooked them in the cuiz a bit). And tasted like it too. The peanuts were terrible, the pb was simultaneously bitter and raw and too roasted and just dreadful. Brittany, however, loved it, as you can tell from this photo:
- Old perfect Arrowhead Mills with salt: people generally liked it, though one person said it was “sticky.” Um, WTF! In defense of The Perfect Peanut Butter, all I could scrape up (sort of a pb pun, that one) was the bottom of a very old jar, so this wasn’t the finest sample.
- Homemade, with roasted and salted (not organic, there were none) peanuts from the health food store. Not sure of peanut provenance, but there were no skins. I lightly toasted them (since they were already roasted) and ground them as finely as I could in the cuiz.* UTTERLY DREADFUL, which I figured they would be–the peanuts were half rancid and super old and it never got smooth enough. If I were to go the route of making my own pb I would obviously find a better solution than the trusty cuiz, but the idea of seeking out, paying dearly for, carefully storing, and constantly worrying about rancidity of peanuts worries me. For now I’m going to stick with boughten pb.
- Terrible new Arrowhead Mills “Valencia blend” salted organic pb: no one really loathed it, as I recall, but no one had anything great to say. (Because I would have kicked them in the shins if they had.)
- Woodstock Organic Easy Spread Organic (just peanuts and salt): THE WINNER!!!! Roasty, clean mouthfeel, no skins, no bitterness, smooth smooth smooth, nice tan color. My pal Sam, who manages the produce dept. at our local health food store, said that Woodstock is the private label of my (and his) supplier United. Knowing how United always tries to do everything in the most how-can-we-screw-over-small-companies way possible, I’m sort of blown away that I like their pb the best, but I think I need to let go, for now, of the idea of finding perfection in the political peanut butter jar and just focus, for once, on availability (easy), cost (literally cents cheaper than AM!), and, of course taste (A+++). And though I can’t seem to get it in a big bucket like I’d like, at least it comes in big jars. (Oh, and the jars? Useless plastic dudes with stupid green tops–on top to the left in the top picture above. You can’t have it all.) While we’re on the topic: how weird are the “easy spread” all natural pbs? They don’t have any added ingredients on the label to make them “easy spread,” so clearly they are just mixed up more. Sooooo….the technology exists to not make peanut butter all oily on top and some brands are choosing purposely not to use it? Fuckin’ hippies.
- Sunland Valencia: the highly anticipated brand! Yeah, Kris, the jar shape annoyed me right out of the gate–see bottom right of the photo above. How can they possibly have thought that was a good idea? Do they not understand the very nook-and-cranny-loving nature of their product? Everyone liked this one OK, but I could see the bits o’ skin, and, as you know, skin is a dealbreaker for me. It was also unsalted. Overall though, pretty nice.
- Skippy non organic natural: Curveball #1, just for kicks. It had palm oil and sugar sugar sugar, and everyone tasted it right away.
- Stop & Shop brand Organic: just peanuts and salt, and I liked it a lot, so did everyone else. I can’t really use a supermarket store brand in my anarchist peanut butter cups, organic though it may be.
- Quote unquote fresh ground pb from the health food store: dry, crunchy, bland, OK at best. Sooooooo drrrrrrryyyyyyyy. My mouth still remembers it. When I was telling my mom about the tasting that night on the phone she started freaking out about how dry health food store “fresh-ground” peanut butters are: “WHY??? Why is it always so DRY???? I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT!!” and I started saying how I think manufacturers crush or press the peanuts so the oil is ground more into it or something, whereas those machines just grind it, or something, and I could hear her exasperation. People are passionate about their pb, that’s for sure.
- Peanut butter & co white chocolate wonderful: Curveball #2. A few people guessed the seret ingredient. I expected to love this, since I am pretty much the only vegan in the world who misses white chocolate more than cheese pizza, more than Reeses, more than Breyers’ ice cream, more than anything, but it didn’t taste white chocolatey at all. It was…a bit plasticky.
So, for now: Woodstock Farms. But the search continues…
*A.k.a. Cuisinart food processor.