Good morning class, and welcome to Peanut Butter 201. If you haven’t taken Peanut Butter 101, I strongly suggest you do so first. Otherwise, please take out your spoons and do some wrist exercises to warm up your stirring technique. Warmed up? Good. We’ll be going over a few advanced techniques today but whether your a peanut butter veteran, foraying into the all-natural world, or looking to solve some of the great mysteries of peanut butter – look no further. Today we’ll scour the land for the elusive “Natural No-Stir” claim, and dig deep into the hard layers of peanut butter at the bottom of your all-natural jar in search of answers. But what is the question? To refrigerate, or not to refrigerate, that is the question.
Natural No-Stir (or Low-Stir) Techniques
Natural No-Stir peanut butter has become increasingly popular in the past few years. This type of peanut butter is an attempt to combine “Natural” and “Standard” peanut butter. Instead of hydrogenated vegetable oils (which contain a trivial amount of trans fat), natural no-stir peanut butter uses palm oil to prevent the oil from separating to the top. Unfortunately, palm oil isn’t as effective as hydrogenated oils, so you will always have some oil separation. Some brands even use the term “Low-Stir” to more accurately describe it. As for the health aspect – hydrogenated oil contains trans fat while palm oil contains saturated fat, so by choosing natural no-stir you’re simply switching one for the other. However, the typical amount of palm oil in natural no-stir peanut butter is only 1-2%, so any negative health effects are likely negligible, even for a peanut butter addict like myself.
For those trying to go the all-natural route or for those sick of the oil separation in natural peanut butter, you may be disappointed with the small amount of oil separation of natural no-stir peanut butter. However, here are a few options to deal with this:
1. Store the jar in the refrigerator. Storing natural no-stir peanut butter in the fridge is a good way to slow the process of oil separation. Conversely, storing the peanut butter in a warm/hot location makes the oil separate faster. And it isn’t nearly as annoying as storing natural peanut butter in the fridge, since natural no-stir peanut butter is typically very finely ground and still spreadable right out of the fridge.
2. Stir the peanut butter before each use. This has the advantage of mixing the oil back into the peanut butter. Unfortunately, stirring will make the oil separate faster in the future. This is because during production, the palm oil requires an exact temperature to “set” and crystallize. By stirring, you’re undoing the crystallization process.
3. Dump the oil off whenever it gets too oily. This is the easy way out. The only downside is that the bottom layer of peanut butter in the jar will be much harder then the rest of the jar. However, it won’t be as bad as if you let a natural peanut butter jar sit for a while without stirring.
Shelf Life and Refrigeration
There are two types of peanuts used in peanut butter: regular peanuts and High-oleic peanuts. Peanut butter made from regular peanuts will typically last 1 year. Peanut butter made from High-oleic peanuts will typically last 2 years. How can you tell the difference? You can’t, except by looking at the expiration date on the jar. However, don’t believe everything you read. When peanut butter starts to go bad, it will start smelling a little “musty” or sour. Even at this point it’s safe to eat, and won’t taste much different. Once the smell becomes stronger, the flavor will change and begin to taste like it smells – slightly sour and bitter. At this point it’s still not hazardous to your health, but there’s really no reason to eat it since it won’t taste very good. In order for mold to develop it takes a good bit longer, unless you’ve been dipping apple slices or fingers directly into the jar – in which case it’s probably contamination. Rule of thumb for peanut butter shelf-life: If it looks fine and smells fine then it is fine.
*Disclaimer: Don’t actually store peanut butter in your oven, it will make a mess.
Refrigeration will extend the life of peanut butter and many jars of peanut butter even state “Refrigerate After Opening”. I’m here to inform you that refrigerating peanut butter is NEVER necessary. However, there are a few exceptions to that rule: specifically, if the peanut butter contains any ingredient that is perishable. There are only a few small companies that make peanut butter with perishable ingredients, and you likely won’t come across them in a store, but rather a farmer’s market. Even if you find fresh-ground peanut butter in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, it still doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Although, there are some pros and cons to refrigeration:
Pros: Longer shelf life; Slows the oil separation process.
Cons: Harder to spread; Rips up your bread; Warm peanut butter tastes better; You might forget about it buried in the back of your fridge.
Besides being unnecessary, my suggestion is to never refrigerate peanut butter, even if the label tells you to do so. Even if you only buy natural peanut butter where the oil separates quickly, you still don’t need to refrigerate it, and my Peanut Butter 101 course will help you manage that pesky oil on top!
Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips of your own? Let me know below!