From creamy to crunchy to natural options, here are our spread-worthy picks.
Besides crunchy and creamy versions, you can find peanut butters labeled "low-sugar," "low-sodium," "no trans fats," even "made with Valencia peanuts." Regardless of the touts, most are made the same way: Peanuts are roasted, ground with salt and sugar, then mixed with an added fat component to prevent separation. During testing, we found some spreads so pasty we got an upper-body workout stirring them; other "spreads" ripped bread. A few had the aroma and flavor of just-ground glory―abundantly peanutty and perfect for spooning right out of the container. In the end, several staffers decided to ditch their household brand for these winners.
BEST CRUNCHY―TIE!: Jif Extra Crunchy
Price: $2.59 (18 ounces)
Testers said: Raters loved this not-too-sweet, not-too-salty crunchy spread. If you like a lot of peanuts, this is the one for you. Cookies made with this butter were chewy, but crisp on bottom with good peanutty flavor. Ideal for sandwiches, on crackers, in a nutty sauce for cold soba noodles, or as a base for a curry paste.
BEST CRUNCHY―TIE!: Skippy Super Chunk
Price: $2.75 (16.3 ounces)
Testers said: Raters loved the ultra-smooth butter portion and the pleasantly salty flavor. Besides the abundance of nuts, the peanut aroma and appealing caramel color won us over. All these components combined to yield a stand-out peanut butter cookie with good saltiness and crisp, appealingly crumbly cookie. Good for baking, ice cream, dessert sauces, satay sauce, or to thicken a winter vegetable stew.
BEST CREAMY: Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter
Price: $2.75 (16.3 ounces)
Testers said: The roasted peanuts on the ingredient list are evident in the heady aroma and balanced flavor. Testers thought this sample was a touch oily, but spread the best. The spread produced a tasty cookie with a short texture. Makes the perfect peanut butter sandwich, but can turn into a savory dressing when mixed with soy, vinegar, and crushed red pepper to serve over sugar snap peas, broccoli, or a stir-fry. For a sweet version, mix with honey and mayonnaise and use as a fruit salad dressing. Mix with chile paste with garlic (sambal oelek) or sriracha for an easy sauce for roast meats.
BEST NATURAL CRUNCHY: Krema Natural Crunchy Peanut Butter
Price: $3.29 (16 ounces)
Testers said: The label claims no added salt, sugar, or hydrogenated oils, and we didn't miss the sweetness or saltiness in this sample. Raters liked the hunks of peanuts, the crunch, and the real peanut flavor. The cookie sample was chewy and sweet. Serve atop toast, waffles, or pancakes drizzled with honey. Stir into ground chicken as a binder for meatballs or burgers. Use to make fudge or blond brownies.
BEST NATURAL CREAMY: Adams 100% Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
Price: About $4 (16 ounces)
Testers said: Even though you expect a little graininess from natural butters, with a good stir, this sample's consistency smoothed out nicely. Surprisingly, this butter produced an incredibly short-textured cookie with a mild peanut flavor. (The Test Kitchen chef reported that the cookies spread slightly and baked a bit longer than regular peanut butter cookies.) Substitute for tahini to make baba ghanoush, tarator, or hummus. Stir into hot oatmeal to boost flavor and texture.
From the Test Kitchen: Tips for working with peanut butter
- Keep it real. Full-fat peanut butters trump reduced-fat flavor, and they supply heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and 7 grams of protein per serving. (Choose butters without trans fats.) Reduced-fat spreads offer little calorie savings, and you're ditching good-for-you fats.
- Stir it up. The fat in natural peanut butters will likely separate. If you're a natural peanut butter junkie, you may want to shell out $10 for Grandpa Witmer's Old Fashioned Natural Peanut Butter Mixer (witmerproducts.com).
- Check the date. Fats are susceptible to spoiling, which leaves an off flavor. Check the "use by" date and store as directed by the label.
- Bake with care. Generally, the oilier the butter, the more baked goods spread. Add a little extra baking time when using natural butters.
HOW WE TEST
Method: We held four blind tastings of creamy, crunchy, natural creamy, and natural crunchy peanut butters (16 in all) on 4 separate days. To see how the samples fared in baking applications, we tested them in a standard cookie recipe.
Nutritional guidelines: We evaluated peanut butters that had 190 to 210 calories and 15 to 17 grams of fat per 2-tablespoon serving. None contained more than 3 grams of saturated fat, 150 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of sugars. We did not rate any spreads made with partially hydrogenated oils or palm oils.