New types of peanut butter sweet, savory, sticky and good
Deciding which variety of PB lands on your PB&J used to be as simple as sorting out creamy vs. chunky.
But in an era when grocery aisles are a blur of choices, that decision seems downright analog.
Today, your crunchy peanut butter can come light or dark roasted. Creamy can be infused with chocolate (dark or white) or cinnamon and raisins (or just cinnamon) or molasses or coffee.
And there are savory options, such as hickory smoked or Thai ginger and red pepper. Or peanut butter blended with parsley and onions or with hot peppers or with sun-dried tomatoes.
We are a nation in love with this puree of roasted legumes, paying nearly $880 million a year to put at least one jar of it in 90 percent of American homes at any given moment.
Which partly explains the explosion of peanut butter varieties.
When a product has saturated the market as thoroughly as peanut butter, the only option for growth is to offer new – and companies hope exciting – varieties, says Harry Balzer of market research firm NPD Group.
The numbers bear that out. While overall growth for the nut butters industry has stagnated, many specialty blends and brands have seen double-digit growth, according to market research firm Mintel.
An increasingly international American palate also has spurred the profusion of peanut butter varieties, says Marie Fenn, president of the National Peanut Board, which represents the nation’s peanut growers.
Consumers want new and different tastes, but they also want foods they are comfortable with, she says. Peanut butters spiked with what in this country seem unlikely ingredients often satisfy that.
Which means consumers are less likely wonder what to do with a jar of hot pepper peanut butter, and more willing to toss some of it with their soba noodles and broccoli.
To help you make sense of the scores of new and unusual peanut butter varieties, we recently sampled more than 60 jars of peanut butter. Here are the highlights and some suggestions for using them:
Blending chocolate and peanut butter is a gimme. For rich, deep chocolate flavor, try Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread ($4.75/12 ounces) from Portales, N.M.-based Sunland Inc.
Also excellent were Dark Chocolate Duo and European Cafe Mocha (both $6.95/16 ounces) from St. Paul, Minn.-based P.B. Loco. The former is studded with rich chocolate bits, the latter blends in a bit of coffee.
Chocolate-peanut butter blends do fine in a sandwich, but also are excellent baked into brownies or melted into hot chocolate. Also try them pureed into smoothies.
These should have been a gimme, but were mostly unappealing.
Regardless of the brand or type of fruit blended with the peanut butter (which included raspberry, cranberry, cinnamon and raisin, and banana), these varieties tasted artificial or weak.
The lesson here was that if you want berries or raisins with your peanut butter, get some jam or a box of raisins. If you want a peanut butter and banana sandwich, peel a banana. Just don’t buy a blended spread.
While it bypassed the raisins, Sunland’s Cinnamon Peanut Butter Spread ($4.75/12 ounces) is appealing, and would be great on a toasted muffin.
Peanut butter and honey blends generally were tasteless. For real honey flavor buy some honey. Praline and caramel peanut butter varieties were even worse.
Sweet Molasses Smooth Ground Peanut Butter ($5/10 ounces), from Chatsworth, Calif.-based Peanut Better (which is owned by Sunland), was a pleasant surprise. The gentle hint of molasses complemented the peanuts.
Little was expected of the reduced fat peanut butters, and most lived up to that prediction. The exception was Reduced Fat Jif Crunchy, which sports 25 percent less fat than traditional peanut butter (though about the same calories).
Whereas other varieties were pasty and tasteless, the crunchy peanuts in Reduced Fat Jif ($2.21/18 ounces) gave it the taste and feel of the real thing. Use it as you would any peanut butter.
Organic varieties led the way here.
Peanut butter powerhouse Smucker’s took the creamy category. The company’s Organic Creamy Peanut Butter ($4.61/16 ounces) has a smooth consistency without the cloying pastiness of so many creamy varieties.
Too many of the crunchy contenders either lacked sufficient crunch or were so dense they were impossible to stir. And as a side note, don’t bother with the taste-challenged no-stir crunchy varieties.
The best crunchy was Santa Cruz Organic Dark Roasted Crunchy Peanut Butter ($4.49/16 ounces) from Chico, Calif.-based Santa Cruz Natural. This is what crunchy peanut butter should be – jammed with huge chunks of peanuts.
A close second was Arrowhead Mills Organic Crunchy Valencia Peanut Butter ($6.19/16 ounces), which had a slightly creamier texture, but still offered plenty of crunch and strong peanut flavor.
This is probably the toughest one for most consumers. But peanuts in appear in savory dishes throughout Africa and Asia (think pad Thai), and for good reason – they are delicious.
These peanut butters offer a one-stop shopping approach to this style of cuisine. A peanut butter blended with hot peppers is easily tossed with warm pasta and chicken for a spicy peanut noodle dish.
Too bad most of these varieties were inedible. Blends with sun-dried tomato or curry seemed like great ideas, but the former was littered with hard, dry bits (presumably the tomatoes) and the latter was bitter.
Several varieties of hot pepper-infused peanut butters might be good, but packed such intense heat it was hard to tell. Perhaps try them diluted with some soy sauce and vinegar for a spicy peanut dipping sauce.
Two savory (and unlikely) standouts were both from Peanut Better – Hickory Smoked and Onion Parsley. Both were luscious and subtle in their flavoring.
Either would be good tossed with noodles or blended with chicken or vegetable broth to make a simmer sauce. They also could be whisked into vegetable or chicken soups.
Arrowhead Mills: http://www.arrowheadmills.com/
P.B. Loco: http://www.pbloco.com/
Peanut Better: http://peanutbetter.com
Santa Cruz Natural: http://www.scojuice.com/default.aspx
Sunland Inc.: http://www.sunlandinc.com
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