Why Isn’t Jif’s Natural Peanut Butter Spread Labeled Just ‘Peanut Butter?’

What would George Washington Carver do?

Kate was confused at the grocery store. Side by side on the shelf were regular old Jif peanut butter and Jif’s “natural” peanut butter. Only the “natural” stuff was labeled “peanut butter spread,” while the standard, presumably less natural, Jif got to call itself peanut butter. “It makes me wonder, what about ‘natural’ makes it less than true peanut butter?” she wrote to us. “Why does it need to be called ‘peanut butter spread’, when traditional, sugar filled, [Jif] can be called ‘peanut butter’? Shouldn’t the natural product version be truer to the genuine article?” That would be the intuitive answer, wouldn’t it? It’s the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration that keep the “natural” variety of Jif from being declared plain old peanut butter. Here’s the relevant part of the FDA standards for peanut butter:

(a) peanut butter is the food prepared by grinding one of the shelled and roasted peanut ingredients provided for by paragraph (b) of this section, to which may be added safe and suitable seasoning and stabilizing ingredients provided for by paragraph (c) of this section, but such seasoning and stabilizing ingredients do not in the aggregate exceed 10 percent of the weight of the finished food. To the ground peanuts, cut or chopped, shelled, and roasted peanuts may be added.

The “natural” peanut butter is more natural in that it contains fewer ingredients, but less peanuts by volume. Triglycerides out, palm oil in. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain three grams of sugar. Here are the ingredients for Jif Naturals’ creamy variety:

MADE FROM PEANUTS, SUGAR, PALM OIL, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: SALT, MOLASSES.

By contrast, here’s the ingredient list for regular Jif:

ROASTED PEANUTS AND SUGAR, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: MOLASSES, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SALT.

This is tricky because when you see a jar of peanut butter that says “Natural,” most people would assume it’s the kind that contains only roasted peanuts and salt, and has to be refrigerated. Another problem is the addition of that non-hydrogenated palm oil: the FDA standard calls for hydrogenated vegetable oils to be used as stabilizers to keep peanut butter nice and smooth on your shelf.

It’s not that the natural peanut butter contains much less peanut butter essence: it’s just that the slightly more natural ingredients don’t fit within what the federal government considers “peanut butter” to be.