How we get reduced-fat peanut butter

I adore peanut butter. It’s tasty on toast, on celery, on bananas, on Ritz crackers, on chocolate, and pretty much most other things. But of course, it is also high in fat, so I try to rein in my peanut-butter tendencies when possible. Low-fat versions of most foods are available, but I always wonder about the impact on taste.

The other day at the store I noticed a sale on Skippy peanut butter, my favored brand. In fact, the 16.3-oz containers were cheaper, per ounce, than their 32-ounce brethren that I normally buy. So it was the perfect chance to pick up a sample of both regular Skippy and the reduced-fat version for a side-by-side taste test.

As I opened up the containers, I wondered how exactly you could, in fact, reduce the fat in peanut butter. Although commercial peanut butter does have added oils “to prevent separation”, most of the fat actually comes from the peanuts themselves. How do you get a low-fat peanut? Answer: you don’t! While of course I don’t have the recipe that Skippy uses, perusing the ingredient lists of the two products suggests that you reduce the fat by… diluting the peanuts. The same non-separation oils are used, but reduced-fat peanut butter also comes with “soy protein” and “corn syrup solids” not present in the regular variety. The total protein per serving is the same in both products, so I can only imagine that the soy protein is there to make up the balance after diluting the peanuts (and their protein). The corn syrup solids are apparently there to make the product sweeter — and in fact the nutrition label reports more sugar (4g vs. 3g) in the reduced-fat version (cf. the regular version).

But numbers aside, what of the taste test? I grabbed a banana and spread one swath of peanut butter per bite, as I normally do, but alternated which peanut butter I used. There is definitely a difference. I worked my way through the whole banana to ensure I had enough samples to convince myself that it wasn’t just my imagination. I also did a pure test with no banana to evaluate them in isolation. Both products are equally creamy (thank you filler oils!), but the flavor in the reduced-fat version is slightly wrong. It’s blander, and I’m left with a certain after-taste that reminds me of the after-taste I get with food containing artificial sweeteners. It really isn’t as satisfying, which is what you’d expect based only on the fat difference — but there’s a definite taste difference as well.

So, yes, to a first approximation, the reduced-fat peanut butter still tastes like peanut butter. But after finishing a reduced-fat peanut butter banana, I don’t find myself tempted to go back and eat more peanut butter all by itself like I usually do. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing.