Food & Drink

Jelly's buddy branches out

Creamy, crunchy, reduced fat, natural, organic, omega-3-enriched and even one brand named for a candy bar.

Who knew choosing a jar of peanut butter could be so confusing?

"The peanut butter market is kind of crazy," agreed Valerie Bailes, a registered dietitian. "There are a ton of them out there."

So it goes without saying that it pays to read the labels. Some ingredient lists include nothing more than peanuts, while others include six to eight ingredients, including hydrogenated oils, molasses and mono and diglycerides, used as emulsifiers.

"The natural stuff is always the best way to go because the ingredient list is usually shorter. After that, it's what you're comfortable with," Bailes said.

The Kansas City Star's recipe for Cold Asian Noodle Toss features a delicious peanut butter sauce. We analyzed it using reduced-fat peanut butter: 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat Jif contains 190 calories and 12 grams of fat. But you're also getting 250 milligrams of sodium and corn syrup solids.

Compare that with Smucker's Natural Creamy Peanut Butter at 210 calories, 16 grams of fat, 120 milligrams of sodium and just two ingredients -- peanuts and salt.

Of course, some kids (and some adults) just can't stand oil floating on the top of their peanut butter. There are natural peanut butters on the market that don't separate, but they contain palm oil to keep the spread from separating.

"Personally I eat reduced-fat Jif," Bailes said. "I just can't get past the grittiness of natural peanut butters. It's what I grew up with, I guess."

Shopping tips: For testing purposes, we used Maggi Taste of Asia Sweet Chili sauce and Barilla thick spaghetti.

Barilla calls for cooking the pasta a total of 12 minutes, so for this recipe the broccoli would be added after the pasta has cooked 9 minutes.

Serving tip: If total calories are not a concern, sprinkle the noodles with 2 tablespoons chopped roasted salted peanuts as a garnish.