Why do companies add sugar to peanut butter?

I don’t get it. I was at the supermarket the other day looking for a new jar of peanut butter to have in the house (though I’m rather partial to fresh ground almond butter, but that’s another story) and while I’m savvy enough to automatically skip all the regular peanut butter options on the shelf, I did look closely at the “natural” or “organic” brands.

Which is how I realized that Jif peanut butter is playing a classic bit of food misdirection. Look closely at the labels below, comparing Smucker’s Natural and Natural Jif:

Smucker's Natural vs Natural Jif

They both appear to be natural peanut butter, both better options than the “regular” peanut butter on the store shelf, but close inspection reveals that Jif isn’t actually selling peanut butter at all, but rather “peanut butter spread” since it’s only 90% peanuts.

Which begs the question: what the heck is the other 10%?

But wait a sec. What’s in the non-Natural Jif peanut butter spread? The label says: roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated oils (rapeseed & soybean), mono and diglycerides and salt. Every 32g of regular Jif has 3g of sugar. The Natural version, by comparison, has fewer ingredients — peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt, molasses — but still has 3g of sugar per 2 Tbsp serving. Huh? So what’s natural about this “Natural” product?

Meanwhile, Smucker’s Natural peanut butter has two ingredients: peanuts, 1% or less of salt. That’s it. And it has 1g of naturally occurring sugar and gets to use the name “peanut butter” without having the disclaimer of ‘spread’. Hmm…

I asked Jif’s customer service team the question of “what’s the other 10%” and their answer certainly doesn’t answer my question very well, but revealed a surprising fact:

Thank you for contacting The J.M. Smucker Company regarding Jif® Natural Peanut Butter Spread. We always enjoy hearing from consumers and are pleased to know you enjoy our products.

In response to your inquiry, the ingredients in Jif® Natural Peanut Butter Spread are as follows: peanuts, sugar, palm oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, molasses. The “2% or less of” in the ingredient statement means there is 2% or less of each individual ingredient.

Consumer Relations Representative

Um, okay. So maybe they don’t know what’s in the mystery 10% non-peanut ingredients, but what surprised me the most is that Smucker’s owns the Jif brand. So apparently the idea is that if you really want a natural peanut butter, you’ll buy Smucker’s, but if you want a “spread” that has added sugar (and do any kids need added sugar?) you’ll pick up the Jif brand peanut butter.

And that “Natural”? Yeah, that’s part of the misdirection. There’s not much natural to me when a peanut butter has to have 10% non-peanut ingredients, including adding both sugar and molasses.


Makes me wonder what other foods have been subtly tweaked from healthy to unhealthy without me paying sufficiently close attention to the label. Makes me glad I can get fresh ground 100% almond butter at the market too.

19 comments on “Why do companies add sugar to peanut butter?

  1. I switched to “natural” Skippy peanut butter recently. It’s far less goopy than other natural peanut butter brands.

    The whole faux healthy food movement deserves a bright light on it.

  2. Hi Dave! Hope all is well. My boyfriend and I will have a tendency of going crazy at the supermarket and looking at every ingredient in every product we are considering on purchasing. DO NOT DO THIS!!! Unless you want to go crazy too. It’s unreal the amount of ingredients in seemingly simple products. Not to mention unhealthy ones and ingredients you have no idea what they are. It’s something I’ve wanted to take the time to learn more about, but like everything it takes time. Thanks for bringing this up and sharing! More people need to realize this!


  3. Sugar and molasses are natural ingredients, right? I agree kids don’t need a ton of sugar, so we always try to find juice, canned fruit, etc that says “no sugar added.” But 100% peanut butter is… well…grainy and unpleasant to me. I like the little molasses and a little oil they add and think it makes it creamier, so we buy the Jif. I wish it didn’t have added sugar too though.

    I used to eat the all natural Smuckers because my grandfather ate it. It was kind of neat that you have to stir it up every time because the oil separates. 🙂

  4. Dave – I, like you, am a huge fan of pure, freshly-ground, completely unadulterated ALMOND butter. But sometimes, you can’t always make it to Whole Foods (or wherever) to get the fresh stuff and I don’t have a blender powerful enough for making my own at home. I do, however, sometimes miss the creamy and more spreadable texture of the old peanut butter I grew up on – somehow it just makes a better PB & J sammy than the gritty almond butter stuff I usually snack on. A couple days ago, I was craving a REAL PB & J and was short on time so went to my closest grocery store across from our house (which of course does NOT have fresh ground almond butter), and I started doing what Melissa does – reading all the labels of every jar of both PEANUT and almond butter, hoping to find at least one jar I could feel satisfied taking home that wouldn’t be complete junk. I got lucky I guess, because I found a new brand I had never triedbefore (new to me, anyway) and the only added ingredient that made me wary is “palm fruit oil”. I normally don’t like anything extra added to my nut butters, (especially not oil and/or sugar) but I was desperate, so I bought it. I was actually surprised when I got home how amazingly good it was! It reminded me of the peanut butter I grew up on as a kid because it had the ultra smooth spreadability like the processed fake peanut butter stuff I grew up on, but it also had some almond chunks in it as well (I bought the “crunchy”). What I think I loved the most was just that it has the same “mouth-feel” as peanut butter, except it’s NOT. I think anyone who’s a die hard peanut butter fan would have a hard time telling that it’s almond butter and not peanut butter – that’s how good it is! Anyway, it’s called Barney Butter “Bare”. I looked them up online after devouring my sandwhich and it turns out they make a whole plethora of different varieties of almond butter, some with sugar and other gunk added, but luckily for me, the only one my local store carried was the “Bare” version, which only has palm fruit oil added (no sugar or salt or other gunk). Needless to say, the jar is 3/4 of the way finished only 2 days out (what can I say, I’m a hormonal girl and I’ve REALLY been craving PB & J the last few days!). I’m still gonna stick to my freshly ground almond butter that I buy at Whole Foods for snacking with veggies/apples and whatnot, but as far as sandwiches, I’ve definitely been converted to Barney Butter.

  5. I think the sugar is naturally in the peanuts. 28g of regular peanuts have 1g of sugar. So one gram per the 32g (2 teaspoons) serving of the smuckers natural peanutbutter seems fine to me. Wish it didnt have palm oil tho, I’d be fine missing it myself.

  6. I made the mistake of buying the JIF rather than my usual Smuckers and doubt I’ll finish the jar. Way too sweet, it’s like eating peanut butter with maple syrup mixed into it. I love Smuckers, but could hardly finish the JIF… I guess it’s intended more for kids with a sweet tooth, in PB&Js or something.

  7. Over the last year, I’ve been working on adding healthier food to my diet. One of the things I ate as a kid was peanut butter. (before the added sugar) I was looking for a way to introduce more protein from non-meat sources and thought of peanut butter, BUT when I read labels with sugar and palm oil I was disappointed. During my research, I found an article about making your own peanut butter. I was game to try! Wow, what a difference. I just put dry roasted peanuts (the label lists peanuts as the only ingredient) in my food processor and whirred away. It took quite a while, as a matter of fact, I had to stop my processor to let it cool down. But the end result was delicious! It tasted just like real peanuts. Now I have my home-made peanut butter and some form of home-made vegetable as a go-to lunch several times a week.

  8. I find it a bit strange that you read the ingredients and then chose to contact the company about “the other 10%.” It’s right there, no mystery. The ingredients are peanuts and other stuff. Clearly the other stuff is the additional 10%. What are you even talking about?

    • I came here to say exactly this lol. The other 10% is listed…in the ingredients…on the label.

  9. I know this is older, but I thought I’d comment anyway, since I’ve looked into this. So here’s the deal, in a nutshell: the all natural pb’s that just have peanuts and salt are runny. You have to stir them up and store them in a refrigerator because the peanut oil will separate and it gives, to me anyway, a poor product because you can only eat the pb cold. You can’t have it, for example, on hot toast because it will melt and run off the sides. Even if it gets up to room temperature the texture seems off. What they used to do with peanut butter was to take the peanut oil off, and partially hydrogenate it (yikes) and then mix it back with the peanuts and add some sugar. This gave the creamy, shelf stable consistency that we were used to as kids (think Regular Jif). So if they want to make a “natural product,” that doesn’t require stiring and refrigeration, and doesn’t contain partially hydrogenated oil, they have to use an oil that is more solid at room temperature. For this they can use a Tropical oil, like palm. They actually have to remove some of the peanut oil, and replace it with palm oil, because it would be too oily otherwise. Then the add some sugar – not a great deal, because I think the taste tests do better with that. Hence you have a “natural peanut spread,” which they can’t call peanut butter, since it has more than 1% of other ingredients. In this case, it’s about 10%. I enjoy the texture of the shelf stable Jif spread more than the 100% peanut and salt peanut butter. But I dislike that they add extra sugar to the product. I can’t find a shelf stable product that doesn’t do that.

  10. I live in New Zealand so we have different brands and don’t seem to have spreads.

    I had two factors when looking for peanut butter, no added sugar and no imported peanuts (usually Chinese)(much of our food like this comes from Australia so Australian ingredients are treated as “local”). Not difficult I thought. Wrong.

    So many have sugar! Why? Peanuts are savoury. You don’t put sugar on nuts in a bowl so why put it in nut butter? Salt – OK in small amounts, oil – same. But sugar?

  11. This sort of thing drives me wild. I live in the UK and buy Meridian peanut butter,100% peanuts, that’s it.
    Sure it separates a little but it tastes great. My usual supermarket has stopped stocking the 1kg tubs in favour of another brand that adds salt, it’s ok but I don’t want added salt either so have to shop around a bit now.
    Sometimes it takes a while to get used to foods without added sugar etc but we should be able to add our own if we want it (isn’t that what the jelly is for?) personally i prefer it straight (or sometimes with Marmite, but that’s another story)

  12. It’s such a fun topic, because many of us are looking at labels these days and saying the same thing – what’s with all the sugar? Ben pointed out (ages ago) the consistency issue, but that has nothing to do with the sugar – and BTW, if you think the natural peanut butter is too runny, there’s no law against pouring off some of the oil before you mix it. Such a simple, obvious solution.

    The sugar is, as others have said, it’s blind taste test panels. They aren’t allowed to know what’s in the foods, they’re just supposed to pick the one they think tastes best. A lot of people are addicted to added sugar, so that foods that aren’t supposed to be sweet taste better to them when they are a little sweet. Luckily, we can thwart their panels and buy foods that don’t have added sugars, but you certainly have to look these days.

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