I’m certainly not alone in my love for peanut butter. According to the National Peanut Board, we Americans spend over $800 million dollars a year on PB. Skippy and Jif have the lion’s share of that market, but natural brands have been growing in popularity in recent years. In fact, if you check the peanut butter aisle at the grocery store, you’ll notice that the shelves have become quite crowded with natural alternatives, including some with big brand names. But a quick glance at the ingredients can leave you wondering just how “natural” your natural peanut butter really is.
The big differentiator between natural and regular peanut butter is the fat. Because peanut butter lacks an emulsifying agent, the peanut oils naturally separate at room temperature. The big commercial brands add hydrogenated oils, which remain solid at room temperature and keep the peanut butter well blended. Due to the ill effects of trans fatty acids, manufacturers have largely abandoned the use of partially hydrogenated oils in peanut butter, and have replaced them with fully hydrogenated oils, which contain no trans fats. However, fully hydrogenated oils are high in saturated fats, which are known to raise LDL cholesterol levels.
To prevent separation without using hydrogenated oils, “natural” brand peanut butter manufacturers rely on palm oil, which also remains solid at room temperature but is not without its own set of problems. In addition to being high in saturated fat, palm oil has had a negative impact on the environment. Indonesia and Malaysia are the largest producers, and in order to meet a rising market demand, large swaths of forests in these and other countries have been cleared to make way for farming. Certainly palm oil is a more natural alternative to chemically modified fats, but I question the logic of adding any type of fat to something already rich in fat? There is also a matter of taste. I think palm oil dilutes the peanut taste and has a waxy mouth feel.
A Truly Natural Alternative
Once you eliminate brands that use palm oil, the field of natural peanut butters narrows quickly. From there, it’s just a matter of finding the one that tastes the best. Of the all natural options I’ve tasted, none seem to hold a candle to Crazy Richard’s, a brand out of Dublin, Ohio that is made by one of the oldest peanut butter companies in the United States. There is only one ingredient in Crazy Richard’s, and that’s peanuts. You won’t find anything else. No sugar. No salt. No added fat. And yet, it has a smooth, rich peanut taste that can stand up to the big guys.
The big reason Crazy Richards (a.k.a. Krema Peanut Butter in the western half of the US.) tastes so good is that they start with Georgia-grown Runner-split peanuts, largely believed to be the best choice for peanut butter. From there the peanuts are roasted and ground to perfection. If your idea of natural peanut is the gloppy gritty stuff you ground yourself at one of those old food coops, it’s time you came into the 21st century. A jar of Crazy Richard’s is a smooth and creamy as any jar of Jif or Skippy.
Crazy Richard’s and Krema brand peanut butter is largely available throughout the US, but if you can’t find it at your local grocer, you can contact them at 1-866-230-9069 or visit their website at www.kremaproducts.com.
If you decide to try Crazy Richard’s or another truly natural peanut butter, you’re going to have to deal with oil separation. However, there is something you can add to your natural peanut butter that will save you from having to constantly stir it. It’s called the refrigerator. After giving your new jar its initial stir, store your peanut butter in fridge. The cold temperature will prevent separation, and you won’t increase the saturated fat content one iota.
Spicy Indonesian Yam & Peanut Soup
I thought it wouldn’t be fair to follow a post on “natural” peanut butter with something as decadent as the peanut butter cup muffins in my last post. So I opted for something a little healthier. I adapted this recipe from Anna Thomas’ Love Soup. It shows off the savory side of peanut butter. Don’t let the large quantity of ginger scare you off. It’s what gives the soup its spicy edge but melds well with the earthy peanut butter. Makes an excellent starter or can stand on its own as a meal. Pair a large bowl with some nicely dressed greens and baguette slices topped with goat cheese and Red Pepper Chutney.
1½ lbs (700g) yams, about 2 large, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
12 oz. (350 g) parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
12 oz. (350 g) carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
6 cups (1 1/2 liters) water
1½ tsp. sea or kosher salt
4 oz. fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
½ cup (30 g) cilantro, roughly chopped
2 large yellow onions, roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1¼ tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbs. tamarind paste
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (95 g) smooth peanut butter, Crazy Richard’s or Krema recommended
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, preferably home made (See notes.)
Chopped dry-roasted peanuts
In a large soup pot, combine the yams, parsnips, carrots and water. Add 1 tsp of salt, the ginger and cilantro. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat, cover and allow to a simmer for about 30 minutes, until vegetable are tender.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and sauté for 20 minutes until soft and golden. Add garlic and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add the curry powder and cumin and stir for about a minute until aromatic. Add the onion mixture to the vegetable pot. Using a little of the broth, deglaze the skillet, scrapping up any bits, and add to the soup mixture.
Add the tamarind paste, 1 Tbs of the lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne and the peanut butter to the soup and stir thoroughly. Remove from heat and stir in two cups of the broth. Working in batches, puree the soup mixture with a blender , or use an immersion blender. Use the remaining broth, as needed, to get a silky smooth consistency much like a heavy cake batter. Finish with a little more of the lemon juice and taste for salt.
Garnish each bowl with additional cilantro and chopped peanuts.
Makes 8 Servings.
Winner of the James Beard Foundation Book of the Year, Healthy Focus: delicious recipes for vegetarian soups from the author of “the most influential cookbooks in the history of modern vegetarian cuisine” (Chicago Sun-Times). Love Soup also provides recipes for breads, hummus, pesto, salads, and homey desserts—and simple menus that put soup at the heart of the meal. Throughout, Thomas offers expert advice on shopping, seasoning, tasting, becoming a cook. With soups that delight and nourish, Thomas invites us all into the kitchen, to the most old-fashioned food and the newest, to the joy and good sense of home cooking.
This is not a paid endorsement for Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter or Krema Products. I do not accept paid endorsement. The opinions expressed are unsolicited and purely my own.