Peanuts are highly nutritious not least because they have an excellent nutritional profile. I’m sure we have all eaten peanut butter in our time and as a food continues to generate interesting formulation opportunities.
A number of brands have also been created in recent years to meet the needs of those of us with nutritional deficiencies, especially where protein and dietary fats are in short supply. If you are interested in a more comprehensive examination of how peanut butter is made then go to our sister article.
Where Do We Start? Typical Claims
Most producers will have at least a few claims to promote the quality of their product. It should not be surprising to see a claim such as:
- no preservatives, artificial flavors/flavours or colors/colours.
It’s almost a given nowadays but there are brands out there that simply cannot make these claims because in some countries it’s not possible to produce a spread without incorporating protection or dealing especially with very hot climates.
Other claims focus on the following:
- a good source of protein (usually 28.5 to 29 grams per 100g)
- no added salt,
- no added sugar
- no added palm oil
- 100% natural.
- suitable for vegetarians and vegans
- gluten free
- certified kosher
- tree nut free
- no trans fats
- no cholesterol
- no hydrogenated oil
- no high fructose corn syrup
Palm oil is often added to improve viscosity for spreadability, reduce the separation that occurs between peanut mass and its own oil.
Palm oil is no longer an ingredient of great popularity with those having strong environmental concerns and its reasonable to assert that many producers are looking at alternative ‘sustainable’ oil sources. The best alternative oils for addition so that similar ‘performance’ is possible nowadays are rapeseed and cottonseed oils, often in combination. There is no wrong or right way in terms of the mix of the two but it often means declaring them on the ingredient list.
A pure source of peanut in the form of peanut butter will usually claim a source of protein in and around the 29 gram amount per 100 grams.
Gluten free should also be a given. Any trace of wheat protein is an issue in these types of foods and it reinforces one of the historic problems of peanut products generally that allergens continue to raise their ugly head. Peanut is always declared as an allergen anyway but just take a look at some brands and check. Its one of the major reasons for other products being recalled because peanut has been spotted.
Glass is coming back into vogue because it is at least recyclable. Plastic which used to be all the rage is losing ground for environmental and recycling reasons although it should be possible to produce some biodegradeable plastic versions.
One other feature of appearance is the need to minimise separation. The peanut protein and the oil have a tendency to separate after a number of months. Use of good grinding systems to reduce peanuts to an oily mass in manufacture should remove this issue.
In terms of storage, separation over time will happen anyway but a good quality one should only show some separation after 3 months.
All peanut butters need to be stored at room temperature or below. Please do not freeze as this will break any emulsion.
Producers Of Peanut Butter
In the USA are some of the biggest and probably most famous brands of peanut butter known. General Mills, Jif, Happy Belly and Hormel are all famous purveyors but they are being chased by a number of own-label producers.
Take Amazon for example although their top format with their name on is also a Happy Belly product which is on offer in a 2.5 pound jar.
Hormel’s Skippy™ brand is famous in the USA and this brand has been around since 1933. The smooth peanut butter is thought to be one of the smoothest around. You can also find a chunky, a creamy and a reduced fat variant.
Peanut Butter & Co. started in 1998 and they have some interesting varieties including a flavour called ‘The Bee’s Knees’. This version contains honey along with added sugar in the form of evaporated cane juice (sugar) and palm fruit oil (i.e. palm oil).
The peanut Butter & Co brand have some interesting types. There are ones with white chocolate, dark chocolate, crunchy and so on.
We’ve noticed in the United Kingdom and indeed across Europe that Argentina is now a major supplier of peanuts to a wide variety of small producers. This country is the seventh largest producer in the world but potentially nudging on the sixth spot. One of the reasons is that they can grow high-oleic peanut which should be more widely grown elsewhere but not so. Odd to know why because these varieties in the high oleic acid group produce some f the healthiest peanut butters possible.
We had a good look at the producers operating at a small to medium size-scale.
In a few cases, the lack of salt is a flavour issue because salt helps to cut through the fatty imbalance of pure peanut butter. Likewise, sugar can be extremely valuable in reducing the bitterness of particular varieties used in butter.
First up is bulk.com which is a general sports nutrition and wellbeing supplier of high protein products amongst other foods. They’ve found that 1 kg tubs (reasonably large) of smooth peanut butter meet the needs of their particular customers.
Most of the sports producers look to peanut butter for bulking up and providing both high fat as well as protein. In the past Foodwrite has prepared ice-cream with lost of peanut butter as a way to create interesting sports foods. Eating a bowl though is not easy!
In terms of fats, a good source of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is what we’re looking for. In terms of monounsaturated fats expect 21 grams per 100 grams. There should be no trans fats.
Fibre: 7 grams per 100 grams is possible and that has some clear benefits in gut movement as well as serving as a probiotic.
It’s also extremely versatile as an ingredient in not just ice-cream but also with protein shakes, porridges and desserts.
Varieties Of Peanut Butter
In our general article on peanut butter we noticed that a number of producers will offer a variety. You would expect smooth and a crunchy type but then come the additional flavours to bolster the basic offerings. Freda’s which is made in Cornwall also play on the salt tradition by emphasising their county roots with a variety containing Cornish sea salt, there is a chipotle chilli and one with toasted coconut. Chilli of any sort is interesting because the heavy spicy heat lends a real point of interest. Chipotle is certainly one type of chilli to conjure with but there are some peanut spreads using ancho and even naga chillis which must blow people’s heads off (not literally). Toasted coconut is certainly an interesting addition.
Peanut butter is also good for adding to cakes and as a snack filling. So many bars use peanut for its flavour and creamy consistency. It’s also very versatile. All the main producers have web-sites showcasing a range of recipes that use their particular products.