Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Creamy No Stir Peanut Butter Spread



This is a brand-new item at Trader Joe's. I had not even heard of it until last week, when I spotted it on the new-stuff shelf at my local store. There is a similar chunky-style version, which I won't be reviewing, because they're essentially identical, and I prefer creamy to chunky.

I believe that all of TJ's peanut butters prior to this have required stirring to redistribute the oil before each use. As the name implies, this one does not. You'd think that that means they must be using some sort of emulsifying agent--but you'd be wrong. Nothing in the ingredients list except peanuts, oil, sugar, and salt. How do they accomplish this? Black magic, I reckon.

For as long as I can remember, my preferred peanut butter has been Jif. The classic one, not the reduced-fat crap they try to foist on the public these days. I happened to have an jar at home ("happened" is probably misleading there, since I virtually always have a jar of Jif in the cupboard), so I was able to taste them side by side.

I was amazed: They're very, very similar--much more similar than when in the past I have compared Jif to Skippy or other brands.

Two differences stood out after a bit of back and forth. First, TJ's is a little grainier, a bit less smooth than Jif--but I would never have noticed this if I weren't trying them at the same time. In a sandwich, I would never pick out that difference. It's a non-issue for me.

Second, TJ's tastes saltier. This is the more prominent difference. But, amazingly, when I checked the labels, it turns out that TJ's has less sodium than Jif--125 mg versus 140 mg in a 32-gram serving. This puzzled me. I went back for another taste, and got the same result--TJ's is saltier. How? My best guess is that the salt granules are less thoroughly dissolved. When I pay attention, I can feel little bursts of saltiness dissolve on my tongue. In other words, I think TJ's tastes saltier because the salt granules have a chance to hit the taste buds more separated from the rest of the ingredients than is the case for Jif.

Sugar, fat, and protein content are, for all practical purposes, identical to Jif.

The TJ's is $1.99 for 16 ounces. Jif at my local Wal-Mart is $2.48 for the same amount. Bargain!

If you're wondering why this is "peanut butter spread" and not just "peanut butter," well, so am I. My first guess was that there is some federal labeling standard for "peanut butter" that this doesn't comply with, so they had to call it a "spread." I was only interested enough to invest about 5 minutes of investigation. I found this history of the FDA's standards for peanut butter. It seems that to be "peanut butter," the product must have a minimum peanut content of 90%--i.e., a maximum of 10% other ingredients. The TJ's label claims that it's 90% peanuts. So my guess is that they're right at that minimum, and decided to add the word "spread" to cover themselves legally in the event that some randomly sampled jar is tested and falls a wee bit short. That could trigger recalls, bad publicity, lawsuits, regulatory fines, etc., so TJ's decided to just add a word to the product name and avoid the problem. This is pure speculation on my part. As they say, don't quote me on that.


Will I buy it again? 

Definitely. I like it every bit as much as the one I've been regularly using for several decades. It's not often I can say that about a food product. I don't think I need to replace Jif as my first choice. They're equal for me, so I'll just buy whichever I come across first when I'm in need. Because of the price advantage and because I make many more trips to TJ's than to other stores, it's likely that this will become, by default, my new staple.


Addendum 

Trader Joe's has now posted a description of the product, here.



6 comments:

  1. I suspect you are correct about the "spread" label issue. Most consumers won't know or care about the difference, and if it saves you millionss in legal fees, well worth it.

    A related hot new trend in class actions are "slack fill" cases. Slack fill is where there is excessive "nonfunctional" space in packaging (think chips, though it applies broadly to many non-food products as well). Quick intro for those wanting detail:

    http://www.sidley.com/~/media/publications/slackfill-article.pdf

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  2. All of trader joe's other peanut butters are only peanuts and salt. Since this one also includes oil it can be emulsified so that it doesn't seperate.
    I love the creamy organic salted peanut butter but it's rather thin so i use it for dribbling over yogurt or dipping apple slices and i use the make in the store from the machine natural pb from whole foods which is thicker for crackers and sandwiches. (Ok fine so my cupboard also has almond butter, cashew butter, and that justin's chocolate hazelnut butter)
    Ttrockwood

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  3. Replies
    1. Surprisingly i could care less about cookie butter... I had a jar for almost a year!
      Ttrockwood

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