Peanut Butter 101
Peanut butter is an American classic. From peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eating it by the spoonful out of the jar, peanut butter is widely popular among all generations. Other than those with a peanut allergy who cannot eat peanut butter, I do not know many people who do not eat peanut butter.
However, how much do you know about peanut butter? What is your favorite type and why? As a dietitian in a regulatory position, I wanted to share some interesting and fun facts about peanut butter beyond just nutrition. Let’s start at the beginning!
Standard of Identity:
Peanut butter has a standard of identity that was established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1977. The link to the citation in 21 CFR 164.150 can be accessed here. A standard of identity outlines the minimum and maximum requirements for various food products, as well as optional and prohibited ingredients. Essentially, for a product to be labeled “peanut butter,” the following criteria must be met:
Consist of at least 90% peanuts
The fat content must not exceed 55% of the finished product
The following optional ingredients may be added:
Stabilizers: hydrogenated vegetable oils
Seasoning: salt and sweeteners (ie sugar, molasses)
The following ingredients are prohibited:
Different Types of Peanut Butter:
Within a grocery store, you can find many brands and types of peanut butter and similar products. Here are some of the most common:
Creamy or Crunchy Peanut Butter: Peanut butter ingredients do vary by brand. Therefore, it is not uncommon for products to look or taste differently. For example, one key difference between JIF and Skippy peanut butter is that JIF products contain molasses whereas Skippy products do not! Personally, Skippy is my favorite, but I am fond of most peanut butter. Many private-label/store-brand products are also delicious! The inclusion of peanut chunks in crunchy peanut butter is the only difference between creamy and crunchy.
Organic Peanut Butter: Products labeled organic must meet standards outlined by the National Organic Program (NOP). Additionally, organic products bear the name of the organic certifier immediately below the distribution statement. Additional information about organic requirements can be accessed here. This is the USDA organic seal:
Natural Peanut Butter: These products often do not contain added stabilizing ingredients, salt, or sweeteners. In most cases, they include peanuts as the only ingredient. Since they do not contain stabilizing ingredients, these products typically need to be stirred because of natural oil separation (as in the photo below). Be aware that natural peanut butters may taste or perform differently than conventional peanut butter.
Peanut Butter Spreads: If a peanut butter type product contains any other ingredient (ie chia seeds, flavors, chocolate, or palm oil), it should not be called peanut butter. I say “should not” because there are mislabeled products in the market. Instead, these products should be labeled as a “peanut butter spread,” even when the product contains 90% or more peanuts.
Reduced Fat Peanut Spreads: Products that contain less than 90% peanut content, such as reduced fat products, also cannot be called peanut butter. Instead, those products fall under “Peanut Spreads,” which are outlined in regulation in 21 CFR 102.23.
What is best—for eating or baking? Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself since price and taste preferences are important. I also challenge you to read the Nutrition Facts Panel and ingredients. Keep in mind that most peanut butter contains about 7 grams of protein and 2 grams of dietary fiber per 2 Tbsp serving. Though high in total fat, peanut butter contains predominately unsaturated fats. Additionally, fat is an essential macronutrient for your body. Lastly, peanut butter is shelf-stable, convenient, and inexpensive, which are other noteworthy benefits.
If you ever have questions about peanut butter, I encourage you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, if you have questions about a specific product, contact the manufacturer for additional information!