For me, peanut butter is the staff of life. When I need a quick snack, I smear peanut butter on a banana. When I want a treat, I smear it on a graham cracker. When I was pregnant and battling morning sickness for months, the only thing I craved was a good ol' PB&J. Nobody in my house loves peanut butter as much as I do, and my deep love goes way back. What did I name my teddy bear when I got him in preschool? Peanut Butter, of course. And I still have him.
So it's safe to say I've tried a lot of peanut butter brands over the years.
When I first began living on my own I rejected the natural peanut butter of my childhood and bought the super-creamy, sugar-sweetened stuff, like Skippy or (even better in my opinion) Jif. Then I had kids of my own and went back to the natural options, like Adams and Kirkland Signature. That's when I realized how much more I liked the deep peanutty flavor of unsweetened nut butters.
Eventually, I got tired of stirring and getting oil all over the place so I tried the no-stir versions blended with palm oil to keep it emulsified. They're easier, but not quite as peanutty — and unless it's been sustainably harvested, palm oil can be problematic.
Go the DIY route: How To Make Homemade Peanut Butter
So I've come full circle and now the only peanut butter I buy is the no-sugar, stir-it-up kind. I just pop a beater in my hand mixer and it's blended in seconds with (usually) no mess.
Another reason why I only buy natural, no-sugar peanut butters? They're more versatile to cook with. From peanut sauce to peanut butter cookies, they offer a richer peanut flavor and don't throw off the sweetness of the recipe.
I recently tasted my way through a lineup of natural peanut butters, including Justin's, Wild Friends, Kirkland Signature, Peanut Butter & Co., CB's Nuts, and Trader Joe's, and this is my hands-down favorite.
Winner: Cream-Nut Smooth Natural Peanut Butter, $6.49 for 17 ounces
In a side-by-side tasting, this peanut butter was rich and peanutty, without the bitter notes of so many others I tried. It's deliciously balanced with a natural sweetness and deep peanut flavor that really comes through, even when slathered on toast with jam. It's like the Platonic ideal of peanut butter.
It also offers the perfect nut-to-oil ratio. There's not so much oil that the peanut butter is runny, and there isn't so little that it sticks to the roof of your mouth like pasty glue. I also like that it's mostly smooth but studded with teeny tiny peanut bits, just like you'd get if you got fresh-ground peanut butter in the bulk section at the store. Made by a 90-year-old company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it contains just Virginia peanuts and sea salt.
Runner up: Adams 100% Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, $3.49 for 16 ounces
This brand, found at pretty much every supermarket in the country (including Costco), comes in a close second for its deep peanut flavor and not-too-thin, not-too-thick texture. It's smoother than Cream-Nut and several dollars cheaper, but it's far saltier. In fact one serving has triple the amount of sodium as Cream-Nut. The salt adds lively brightness, but seems excessive. When paired with jam on toast the saltiness comes through a bit more than the peanut flavor. However, it's really quite delicious, so if salt isn't an issue for you, this is a great low-priced option.
What's your favorite brand of peanut butter?