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.

4 of 6 people learned something from this entry.

  1. A life-long scholar said,

    March 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Ah, you are braver than I–I haven’t been willing to eat pre-packaged peanutbutter in years–the addition of all of those oils and sugars changes the falvour as well as the texture as compared to the kind one can buy from any health food store with a grind-it-yourself machine. Give me peanut butter made of pure peanuts, every time! I don’t think that it even needs salt, just the nuts. Sure, the oils do separate out, but they can easily be stirred back in. Or, if you are lazy, do what a friend of mine does, and store the jar up-side down half of the time, so that the oils percolate back through the peanutbutter to rise to the “top”–he rarely needs to stir it in.

    My favourite vehicle for peanutbutter is carrot sticks–there is something in the carrot which keeps the peanutbutter from sticking to the roof of my mouth.

  2. Eric Engle said,

    March 22, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Substitute real peanut butter with something less satisfying? Never! Something differently satisfying sure, but corn syrup solids belong in peanut butter like glass cleaner belongs in wine.

  3. Susan said,

    March 23, 2009 at 12:24 am

    (Knew it already.)

    This is lovely analysis :). I’ve essentially given up on low-fat alternatives. For a while, I was reading food labels fairly obsessively. Not only do low-fat versions not taste as good in general, the usually have the same caloric content or possibly more. Usually, you’re trading fat for some type of carb. These days, the health benefits of a low fat diet are falling out of favor, and corn syrup is pretty out of favor also, so it’s just not clear that you’re gaining anything for the flavor sacrifice.

  4. wkiri said,

    March 23, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Scholar, I haven’t tried much “pure peanut” peanut butter, but that would be a great test as well. I go through my jars slowly enough that they end up separating anyway, and as you note, it’s not a big deal to stir it back together. I like the trick of turning the jar upside down!

    Eric: I like the glass cleaner analogy. :)

    Susan: Plus, there’s the issue that many times, a low-fat version is (naturally) less satisfying, so you’ll end up eating *more* of it to get the same full feeling — thus defeating the purpose (and as a result consuming all the extra carbs or whatever filler is used).

  5. LearningNerd said,

    March 23, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Interesting! I guess I’m a minority here… I actually prefer the taste of reduced-fat peanut butter! I don’t know why, but I just can’t get enough of it! I’m talking about the Jif brand, which is by far my favorite. My guess is it’s because the reduced fat has more sugar to compensate, and I loooove sugar.

    Real peanut butter with no added sugar or anything has a completely different taste, so I consider it to be in another category altogether.

  6. Jim in PA said,

    March 24, 2009 at 6:23 am

    (Knew it already.)

    Once in a while I’ll crave a dollop of peanut butter, either with some carrot and celery sticks or in a traditional PBJ. I couple of years ago, my wife discovered this retailer on a conference trip to Minneapolis. We have been loyal customers ever since.

    The Dark Chocolate Duo is awesome!

  7. wkiri said,

    March 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Wow, I had no idea this PBLoco company existed! What fabulous (but expensive) peanut butters! I particularly like their recipes.

  8. Kayla Hernandez said,

    September 14, 2010 at 1:10 am

    i love the taste of peanut butter but i have peanut allergy so i cant eat it*;”

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