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Organic v. Regular Peanut Butter ... can you really taste a difference?

For the life of me I cannot.

I can tell the difference between salted and non-salted, sugared and not, but organic versus regular? No.

I tried it today. I got suckered into buying a carton of freshly ground organic PB at the market. Took it home and did a blind comparo with my favorite jar of Jif.

Tasted them side-by-side it with bread, apple slices, celery sticks, crackers, and of course straight up. Nothing. No difference to this (untrained?) palate whatsoever.

Can you taste a difference? If so, what's the difference you're tasting?

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  1. Agreed -- can't taste a difference either. But that's not why I buy organic (certified) food whenever possible. It's a political thing. cf Diet for a Whole Planet.

    Taste-wise, though, fresh-ground is absolutely primo. I looove those machines in Whole Foods for just grinding your own. If you have a really powerful blender you can do it too. BTW, that and the chicken are the only things I'll ever set foot inside WF for. Also, I don't, frankly, trust their claim of "organic" on the peanuts they grind. I don't have much confidence that anyone in that store even knows what organic means. Though I've never tried them, I would be willing to bet that if you had a batch of freshly shelled (and/or roasted) organic vs similarly treated non-organic peanuts you might well be able to tell the difference. I bet those peanuts they're grinding in those supermarkets are so *old* that this determinant is most important to taste, not just organic-ness.

    Just guessing though. But I did once read that peanuts sit around in warehouses for years before ever going to market, typically.

    1 Reply
    1. re: aliris

      I grind my own at Whole Foods and the difference in taste is undiscernible. Like "love," the term "organic" has become overused and often inapplicable.

    2. I can't tell freshly ground organic to freshly ground non-organic but you can't tell freshly ground from Jif?

      3 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          I don't know what kind is your favorite but the regular Jif leaves an oily feel in my mouth, even after I've eaten it (kind of like a bad donut). It's also a lot sweeter and creamier.

          1. re: chowser

            Interesting. I actually find the freshly ground to leave a weird aftertaste.

            Maybe my mouth has been preconditioned for the synthetic PB. [Sigh.]

      1. Despite the fact that the meaning of "organic" has been diluted over time, it's still pretty much a good thing in my book, even if it doesn't always mean better taste. (Many people associate "organic" with "tastes better" because until recently, most organic products were also local, and local product usually tastes better because it is fresher, can be picked later, hasn't sat in a warehouse for weeks or months, etc.)

        As long as it doesn't taste WORSE it shouldn't bother you. If it costs a little more, well, that is the price you pay for not eating chemical-laden foods, not supporting a product that results in chemical fertilizers flowing into groundwater, etc.

        1. I can tell the difference between different brands of peanut butter (Jif vs. Maranatha), but not the difference between regular and organic within the same brand (Maranatha vs organic Maranatha). Jif is easily identifiable by the sweetness from added sugar and the oily mouthfeel from added hydrogenated oil.

          1. Are you comparing a freshly ground unsweetened peanut butter with Jif and not finding a difference in flavor?

            1. I'm not sure why you WOULD think you could taste a difference-that's not the reason to buy organic. It's to keep pesticides out of the ground water, out of your body or your kid's bodies (the USDA tests acceptable levels of pesticide residues for an 180 lb man, not for smaller women or children), out of the fields where workers pick and birds eat...

              I think grubbjunkie brings up a good point-a lot of people confused organic with tasting better because the organic products they were buying tended to be small, local producers. But what you are tasting there is the freshness and the fact it was probably a variety that didn't have to withstand thousands of miles of shipping. But now that there are some huge organic companies--you can buy organic strawberries from California year round, and they taste just as bad as any other commericial strawberry from California. But they are still better to buy for environmental reasons.

              12 Replies
              1. re: christy319

                I wasn't expecting that the organic version would taste better, just different.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I still don't understand how an unsweetened freshly ground peanut butter, whether or not it's organic, could taste the same as Jif. Jif has a good amount of sugar as well as other ingredients that would change the pure peanut taste. I just don't get this at all. Do you smoke cigarettes? Don't get me wrong, I like both Jif and the fresh ground kind, but I would never say they taste the same.

                  1. re: amyzan

                    No, I don't smoke.

                    But, honestly, no difference to me.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      With all due respect, I'd like to suggest you do this taste test again, properly blinded, with a friend giving you the spoons. Honestly, there is a *huge* difference between Jiff and even Skippy and anything freshly ground. Pretend the stuff's wine and roll it around in your mouth. Give it another whirl because it's hard to imagine how one carefully atuned to the fine subtleties of restaurant food could not distinguish these products.

                      1. re: aliris

                        Perhaps if I did as you suggest (e.g. "roll it around [my] mouth") I would probably no doubt discern a difference.

                        But, to be honest, is this really how one eats PB? Probably not. At least not for me.

                        And, even more importantly, is this how PB should be eaten? I certainly hope not.

                        I mean, for goodness sake, this is peanut butter, not artisan cheese or even wine (as you analogize).

                        Peanut butter is comfort food and should be eaten without trying to discern every single nook, cranny and nuance it has.

                        Just my 0.02.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          To be honest, this actually *is* how I eat peanut butter, which I adore! I just tried a new kind which was mega-yummy -- OK, I just got up to write down the name for you and ended up making myself a PB & J sandwich; couldn't resist. It's by a company called "Once Again" and they use blanched peanuts, which have the skins attached still, so you get a darker, spotty p. butter.

                          Beware the new bread of mass market peanut butters made to spread nicely like Jiff -- I think they add fat to the peanuts to get it to spread well. Places like Costco even carry there "organic" butters. The stuff's fattening enough as is without adding *more* fat?!

                          IpseD -- when you try that PB & J sandwich, try toasting it! Easier to roll the p butter around that way.

                2. re: christy319

                  Let's be very clear here: organic farming != no pesticides. It means no synthetic pesticides. There are many, many toxic natural pesticides. An obvious example is pyrethrin. After all, many plants that are, say, insect resistant are insect resistant because, well, they contain chemicals that kill insects.

                  Heck, plants like Walnut trees emit chemicals that actually kill other plants around them.

                  1. re: Shazam

                    Yes... Shazam makes a very good point! I have a good friend with a degree in agricultural studies. One of the foods she absolutely refuses to feed her kids is organic peanut butter.

                    As Shazam notes, there are naturally occurring substances which are very toxic for human consumption. Pesticides can help reduce or eliminate these risks. One such substance is a mould called aspergillus, which likes to grow in peanuts - and which can be very carcinogenic when consumed by humans. Without pesticides to kill this stuff, and without government regulation pertaining to this naturally occurring toxin, organic peanut butter can be prone to germinating a lot of this poison.

                    Here's a quick note on this stuff (not written by my friend, but it explains things in pretty clear terms) -

                    http://www.deanesmay.com/archives/007...

                    I do often buy organic foods, but I have been pretty appalled by the stories my friend has told me about the organic "industry" - sometimes these products are not at all healthier or safer.

                    Note: "natural" and "organic" peanut butter are not necessarily the same thing.

                    As for taste, I like "natural" peanut butter (that stuff that usually needs to be stirred up), versus regular Skippy/Jiff (which tends to contain more trans-fats) - these definitely taste different! But I only made the conversion after meeting Mr. Rabbit, who refuses to eat the sugar-y stuff.

                    1. re: Rabbit

                      My understanding is that organic peanuts are routinely tested for aflatoxin, which develops from the aspergillus mold, as are conventionally grown ones. Organically grown crops are some of the most highly regulated agriculture in this country. The paper trail on organics is much more complete than that for conventionally grown crops, even if they are imported. Our govt. doesn't enforce all its regulations, but organics are monitored. There will always be foods that slip through the system, but I don't believe there's any reason to fear organics more than conventionally grown crops. All this discussion about organics v. conventionals is just hot air. There aren't enough studies to confirm anyone's beliefs at this point. There are also lots of other concerns besides taste or healthfulness to human bodies that will govern people's choices. We can argue until we turn blue.

                      1. re: amyzan

                        On the one hand, you say that the gov't doesn't enforce regulations - this is one of the reasons repeated over and over again by organic proponents for lack of trust in non-organics.
                        Yet, you praise organic crops as "the most highly regulated," having "much more complete...paper trails," and being "monitored."
                        Why would you assume the testing on organics to be any more trustworthy? Water-soluble fertilizers and pesticides could easily be used by organic growers since their farms aren't visited daily and the chemicals could be washed off by rain or watering. Many products biodegrade within 24 to 72 hours and there are no traces at all. There is high profit in growing organics and the risk might be worth it for an unscrupulous grower.
                        You are correct that there are no scientifically valid studies as of now to confirm any significant differences.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          I prefer veggies out of my own garden to anything I can buy. Next I would chose the farmers markets, where I can buy from people whose farms I've visited, and who I trust. Out of season, or for items not available at the farmers market, I will chose organic over conventional when it's available, because I know that it's more likely care has been given to the soil, etc., and that there is more likely a paper trail to be followed. Other than than, yes, I do buy some items conventionally grown. MS, it's a crap shoot, food safety. I think this subject has been hashed enough.

                          1. re: amyzan

                            We agree far more than we disagree and probably use pretty much the same decision pattern in buying our own food.

                            I'm glad that you continue to participate as a reasonable poster in the certified-organic vs other-choices-of-foods-to-purchase debate. It gets hashed out regularly and sometimes beaten to death but there are always new people on CH looking for information.
                            The majority of Americans shop in standard groceries and purchase conventional goods. They don't have gardens like you and I do, winter is coming and farmers' markets will be over for most of the US, and the organic offerings can be pretty crappy and/or expensive in much of the country.
                            It's important for people to know what's true and what's myth.
                            Chowhound can be a valuable place for them to learn that, as you say, "food safety is a crap shoot."
                            People should have access to objective information, not PR spin. As long as people keep asking, please keep answering.

                3. Okay, look at the nutrition labels. I think Jif has a little less than a teaspoon of sugar in a couple tablespoon serving. The fresh ground shouldn't have any, unless you're buying something "honey roasted" or like marketed. If you can't detect the sugar, well, I'm glad you're not cooking for me! This is not rocket science, but maybe tasting foods like you would wine could help you, ipsedixit. Seriously, develop that palate my friend!

                  1. I'll chip in my 2c.

                    I bought a jar of organic peanut butter from Costco and it was terrible. Very flat, one dimesnional taste to it. I looked at the lable and it was 100% organic peanuts. Nothing else. So all it tasted like was unsalted peanuts. Even my dog didn't like it.

                    So I bought a Mara Natha with palm sugar and sea salt in it. Much better but not as good as good ole Kraft.

                    So yes, I can taste a difference. A big difference. I'm willing to sacrifice to not get the Hydrogenated oil though. MN is fine by me.

                    DT

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Davwud

                      This is going to be a bit off topic, but yes, much organic PB is disgusting-to me, the age of the peanuts is very easily discerned-I can tell stale food a yard away, and I'm willing to bet that plain organic Costco PB wasn't the freshest batch, given that it's mass produced for a huge corporation that thrives because it's bulk-based... So onto what I do tolerate...

                      For recipes, I use the 365 brand at whole foods... I actually find it pretty decent as a base ingredient, and fresh-ground doesn't work for, say, sauces for vietnamese or thai foods. So that is my pref. on that ... even though I grew up on Peter Pan and still think of that as how peanut butter "should" taste in many respects. There is, though, one great (to me, to my jiffy sister and my skippy housemate) product out there that I'm sold on for many many reasons: Sunbutter. Frankly, I like the stuff. A lot of schools are using it now because kids with peanut allergies sometimes can't even get exposed to tiny amounts without a rash or swollen lips, but they sell it at WF and similar stores (I don't do a lot of WF shopping aside from certain kinds of fish that our WF is amazing with getting just because of the fishmonger for this particular one)... anyway, maybe give it a go if the others aren't too pleasant. Its ingredients label for the "natural" (no hydrogenated oils) kind=Sunflower Seeds, Dehydrated Cane Juice, Salt, and Natural Mixed Tocopherols to preserve freshness. Cane juice and salt I can put alongside my jelly and be totally cool with, and actually, the seeds taste really nice, earthy and probably, as the product is pretty new anyway, ARE fresher than most peanuts going into jars. They supposedly have an organic kind now that is only ground seeds, but I'm not really feeling so eager to try that out after getting used to the natural version. I've also tried this "honey crunch" kind that is good for one thing, baked goods that you want some flavor and texture to-like breads, for example... since seeds are normal in breads, it fits, and hey, a sort of PB taste built in is good (and the honey is nice)... but I can't eat it straight on bread cause the crunch ain't peanuts and my mouth bites into a seed and starts cursing at me for ruining crunchy PB-can only fool the palette so much.

                      Anywho, their site claims the "creamy" version is the same ingredients, but my jar of the creamy says it has rapeseed and/or soybean oils in it, so they either changed the formula (my "creamy" is admittedly pretty old since I use the natural stuff most all the time) or they have an error on the site-I vote for site error since otherwise it won't be easy to spread without stirring first, which would make it really annoying to school workers making PB+J sandwiches! So all that said, I give it thumbs up and I think most stores give the money back guarantee :)

                    2. The mind boggles that you can't taste the difference, the sugar alone would be the big tipoff to me.

                      That said, I've had some pretty bad "fresh ground" PB. Stale rancid peanuts don't get any fresher when you grind them. I constantly find bad peanuts for sale in stores that don't turn over stock fast enough.

                      My favorite is the fresh ground from Berkeley Bowl, organic or not is indistinguishable as far as flavor, but I feel better about the organic.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                        i can't believe u can't taste the difference either...are you sure sure sure? to me regular (skippy, jif) tastes like pb-flavored crisco, while natural peanut butter made with real peanuts has the taste and texture of real peanuts.

                        i can't even eat the other kind anymore.

                        are you sure?? you should try a pbj sandwich taste test. or apples with pb.

                      2. While I can't taste the difference between "regular" and "organic", I can taste the difference between most "organic" peanut butters and regular peanut butter. That's because most organic peanut butters use a New Mexico peanut, and I can't stand the taste.