If someone had told me I’d be spooning peanut butter into my mouth from the eight jars in front of me I’d have doubted them. I say ‘end up’, but I hope this isn’t the end. I hope I have many years of spooning, peanut butter or anything else, in front of me. Although, I will concede, if I finish all eight jars in the next hour or so it may well be my last. How, I wondered, did I get here?
It all seemed so different, just a few months earlier. Things were simpler. I heard a song on the radio that caught my attention. It swung like London and it had hooks to catch the wiliest trout. The singer sang:
…Livin’ it up in the city
Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent
Got kiss myself I’m so pretty
I’m too hot (hot damn) Called a police and a fireman
I’m too hot (hot damn) Make a dragon wanna retire man
I’m too hot (hot damn) Say my name you know who I am
I’m too hot (hot damn) Am I bad ’bout that money
Break it down. Stop, Wait a minute.
Fill my cup put some liquor in it
Take a sip, sign a check. Julio! Get the stretch!
Ride to Harlem, Hollywood, Jackson, Mississippi
If we show up, we gon’ show out
Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy
Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson, feat. Bruno Mars was my new jam. You may not fully understand the lyrics (I don’t, anyway), but you can’t deny Mr Mars looks beautiful in a lilac-coloured jacket as he snaps through the video. I coveted that jacket, and I began to wonder, who is smoother, me or a jar of Skippy? I thought, to be thorough in my testing, and not to put everything on Skippy’s shoulders, I’d buy all the branded peanut butters I could find.
- Skippy £2.25, 66p per 100gm. Well, Skippy is smooth. It has that dryish peanut taste. I expected it to be sweeter. It says it’s 90% composed of peanuts, the other 10% made up from sugar, hydrogenated palm oil and salt. Palm oil is used instead of trans fats which is a good thing because trans fats are satanic. However, if you have environmental concerns, great swathes of rain forest have been cleared to grow palms for their oil.
- Reeses £3.49, 68p per 100gm. The joint best. As the label says, it’s creamy. There’s sugar in it as well as three types of oil, two from genetically modified plants. There’s emulsifier, molasses and corn starch. All adds up to some sort of gorgeous.
- Pip’s Nut £2.29, 43p per 100gm. The nicest, most modern-looking label and the cheapest product. There is a centimetre of oil at the top of the jar. You mix it in and then push a spoon into the oily paste. First your lips are stuck together. It tastes ok but then, improbably and unpleasantly, sticks your teeth to the inside of your cheeks. Just peanuts and salt. The label tells us that we can do so much more with it than in sandwiches. Oh, yes, tell me what? You can also, it says, spread it on toast. Fascinating. No stabilisers, no sweeteners. I won’t be buying this again.
- Jif £4.00, 88p per 100gm. My favourite. Not too sweet, but buttery, and possibly smoother than me. I am outraged by this thought. Sugar is the second ingredient on the list, followed by molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oil, mono and diglycendes of fatty acids and salt. I thought I should know what mono and diglycendes of fatty acids are. I googled. It is also known as E471. ‘…(E471) is a food additive used as an emulsifier. These synthetic fats are produced from glycerol and natural fatty acids, from either plant or animal origin. E471 is generally a mixture of several products, and its composition is similar to partially digested natural fat.’ Nice. So it’s an emulsifier. Eggs and mustard can also be used as emulsifiers so I can’t get too exercised about that, although E471 is not eggs or mustard. Still, E471 may be manufactured from animal products.
- Cream-Nut £6.50, 176p per 100gm. The first problem with this is that it’s crunchy. How could I not be smoother than it? You have to be quite alert to see that it says ‘crunchy’ in black script over the illustration of a peanut. Maybe it was stupid of me to expect something called ‘cream-nut’ to be creamy. The second problem is that it is very expensive. The third, and most important, is that the taste is so unpleasant I have no desire to seek out the smooth version. This is 99% peanuts, 1% sea salt and 100% not very nice. Don’t.
- Essential Organic £2.40, 65p per 100gm I tried this last and I’m still rinsing my mouth to get rid of the taste. There’s two centimetres of oil at the top of the jar which needs something industrial to mix it into the cement below. It was produced by a workers’ co-operative in a factory that receives its energy from sustainable sources. It contains no added sugar or, obviously, stabiliser. Tastes like a tramp’s hair.
- Sun-Pat £1.80, 53p per 100gm. What I grew up eating. My mother used to make sandwiches with slices of buttered Hovis. I remember thinking, even at six, that the layer of butter was a bit redundant. That should have told them that I’d grow up wanting to be a foodie, except the term hadn’t yet been coined. It still tastes good, not as sweet as Jif. It has a slight graininess. Also contains E471, but as its second listed ingredient, ahead of cane sugar, peanut oil and sea salt.
- Whole Earth £3.20, 70p per 100gm. Should be called Whole Urgh. Honestly, another unsweetened peanut butter and another reason to despair of humanity. There is palm oil in it, so even if you buy this because you take a moral position, it will be countered by that. And no amount of banana in the sandwich will ameliorate the hand-knittedness of this product. All this horrible peanut butter is making me angry. Unnecessary, so unnecessary.
This was the first time I’d tried Skippy and I liked it, but it’s pretty interchangeable with Sun-Pat. And once you’ve put it in a sandwich with a smooshed banana no one could tell the difference. My favourites are Jif and Reeses, the sweetest and the nicest to eat, straight from the jar, late at night. But so many of these pastes have been dry, unpleasant, borderline inedible. I don’t understand why peanut butter is a symbol of wholesome joylessness. What is the point of worthiness if your lips are stuck together? I hate puritanism at any time and food seems like the least appropriate time for it. Well, puritanical jellyroll might be worse. Did those peanuts really have to give their lives to taste of burnt chipboard?
But I’ve discovered something peanutty that give me more pleasure than any of the jars of hand-knitted gloop. Keep these in the fridge, eat one if you feel in the least bit miserable. Crisp, cool chocolate on the outside, soft, salty peanut butter on the inside. Heaven.
I’ve learned a lot from listening to that song, mostly that there’s not really any sort of fair contest; of course I’m smoother than a jar of Skippy, or any other brand. A man who matches his socks to the silk square in his top pocket has to be smoother than a jar of any sort of peanut butter, doesn’t he? Hot damn.