All I Know

The Truth about Peanut Butter

In the nutrition book I am currently reading [1], the satirical rogue suggests that peanut butter is an all-star among foods, provided that is composed only of peanuts and salt. So with the zeal of a zealot, I dashed out to the store to get my peanut butter made only of peanuts and salt, and thus know true joy.

I already knew enough about olde fashion peanut butter to know that ground peanuts and salt will separate over time, thus requiring stirring. In addition, I should have remembered what I already knew from Chemistry 10 (and barkeeping 101, for that matter): that if you want to mix something, you had better have some extra space in the container.

There is plenty of natural peanut butter out there, but every package is filled right to the brim with ground peanut dust on the bottom and peanut oil on the top. If you are able to stir it up to a homogeneous consistency, my hat is off to you. I lack the motor skills and patience, and end up with both a big mess and an unsatisfactory mixing.

So, reach for the ‘No Stir’ natural peanut butter, right? Well….

Ya gotta put an emulsifier in the peanut butter to keep it from separating. In natural peanut butter, producers use natural palm oil. It may be natural, but it isn’t remarkably healthy and some folks think it is an environmental risk [2]. More to the point, though: there is a lot more of it required for emulsification than the alternative (see below). Since Natural JIF is 90% peanuts and doesn’t taste like candy, my guess is it’s about 4-5% palm oil by weight (yuck!) [3].

By contrast, regular old peanut butter has less than 2% of emulsifier: partially hydrogenated oils (yes, I know: queue the horror movie music). But the recent buzz is that these fats may not be that bad after all [4], and certainly not worse than palm oil [5].

And regular peanut butter costs less. So the Truth About Peanut Butter is that the plain ole’ regular off-the-shelf peanut butter, preferably store brand, is the best bet. If you’re having peanut butter, chances are you aren’t having Kentucky Fried Chicken too, so be happy with that much improvement in your diet, and don’t sweat the trans-fatty details.

Other Observations

Crunchy vs. Smooth

Enjoy as you see fit, but be aware of this: If you use crunchy peanut butter, you will eat a lot more of it than if you use smooth. The crunchy peanut butter is a lot less viscous; more is required to cover the target. If you doubt, experiment. You will see a bigger dent in the crunchy peanut butter jar after compared to the smooth in just one serving.

Exotic Nut Spreads

If you have a ground-nut allergy, this issue is a no-brainer. I don’t, so on this topic, I find myself vacillating between these two positions:

  1. $8 per pound?!! I can get steak for less than that!!
  2. If $0.50 worth of cashew butter on a $0.20 banana keeps me from spending $5 at taco bell, it’s a bargain.

So for me it becomes a question of mood when at the grocery. I note that JIF cashew butter is delicious, but serves the same purpose as much cheaper peanut butter. More vacillating.


I checked this stuff out because it is popular with pro cyclists in Europe. I say that Nutella has triumphed in the marketing world, because it is nothing but spreadable candy purporting to be a food (hazelnut spread). I’ll bet the sugar and cocoa together outweigh the hazelnuts, never mind the palm oil which is ingredient two in the list (double yuck!). My kids like it (no surprise there), but I don’t care for the taste, the texture, or the composition. Or the misrepresentation.

[1] Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. Highly recommended, I hope to review it here soon.
[2] Wikipedia: Palm Oil, check the environmental section.
[3] JIF
[4] here
[5] Science Daily

3 thoughts on “The Truth about Peanut Butter

  1. Chris

    As a PB alternative, try the Biscoff spread. Don’t know about the nutrition, but it’s mighty tasty. N.B.: unlike peanut butter, I prefer the smooth to the crunchy, but not by much.

    Also does one “queue” the music, or “cue?” I would think the latter, but perhaps that’s a basterdization.

      1. medave Post author

        OK so the Biscoff is great. It really helps in choking down those whole-wheat bagels in the morning.

        Interesting stuff: It is essentially the Biscoff cookie flour converted into a spread.

        Thanks for the tip!

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