The word "natural" is thrown around on food product labels but it's not a regulated term, so what does it mean when it comes to peanut butter? What is natural peanut butter?
After my visit to the peanut farm, I spent some time in the peanut butter aisle aisle to compare labels and figure out what all the jargon and ingredient combinations really mean for in my favorite brand of creamy peanut goodness.
Peanut butter is a pantry staple at our house and still my go-to for a fast snack or no-fuss lunch. I'll take it on bread, apple slices or just a big spoonful for a punch of power before a workout. I never pondered what was in my peanut butter besides, well, peanuts and oil.
After recently watching a full-blown peanut harvest in action, I got to thinking about what, besides roasting, made peanut products so delicious and what the rows and rows of options really offer to peanut butter lovers.
→ See the tour: How Peanuts Are Grown & Harvested in Alabama
What Makes It "Natural" Peanut Butter?
The major difference between conventional and natural options shows up in the number and list of ingredients.
Natural Nut Butters
Products labeled with both "natural" and "butter" generally contain at least 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives.
Conventional Nut Butters
Truly natural peanut butters on the market contain just peanuts and salt.
No-Stir Options: The Commercial Version of Natural
Natural peanut butters require stirring since they aren't homogenized. Commercial brands offering a natural alternative generally contain an added stabilizer like palm oil. Palm oil takes the place of hydrogenated vegetable oil to help prevent separation of the oil and to maintain the creamier, spreadable texture. Many of these products may also be alternately labeled as spreads.
Although they contain 90% peanuts and loosely qualify as natural, they are stabilized with palm oil, which is outside of the definition for regular peanut butter.
Is Natural Peanut Butter Better for You?
For the most part, the nutritional value between natural and conventional peanut butters is relatively the same, provided the conventional peanut butter doesn't contain any added sugar. All peanut butters contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which may reduce cholesterol levels. Products without an added stabilizer do have the advantage of being trans fat-free. Consequently, the peanut oil may separate from the peanut butter and collect at the top of the jar. It takes a little patience and often a little mess to get it all stirred back together.
Refrigerating these products can reduce the separation of the peanut oil, but in turn it may be more difficult to spread.
Often natural peanut butters can have a grittier texture. I actually prefer it for snacks and for baking, but not as a big, hearty spoonful. Specialty brands like CrazyRichards started well before natural peanut butter was on-trend to give consumers the best of both jars—natural ingredients and the delicious, spreadable goodness peanut fans love so much.
What's your peanut butter preference, natural or maybe it's still your childhood brand? Does anyone make their own? I'd enjoy hearing more reader-tested advice on which works best in what recipes or any favorite snacks with this yummy stuff.