Epicurean: John Lethlean

It all started when a young chef handed over this jar of ugly brown gloop and said “have a go”. “It” being The Great Personal Peanut Butter Renaissance of 2016, which has taken me from never-touch-the-stuff puritan to recreational user to junkie in less time than it takes to read this magazine.

Living under a rock, as I do, it had passed me by that peanut butter has in the past 40 years dragged itself out of the gutter of industrial multinational foodstuff – packed with thickeners, sweeteners, emulsifiers, bad fats and goodness knows what – and into the coterie of Fine Food. Or that peanut butter had become a super food for the fanatical orthorexic generation and the preferred spread of bearded, waistcoat-wearing, single-speed cyclists listening to Father John Misty on their retro headphones en route to craft breweries.

As it turns out, real peanut butter – roasted peanuts, salt and nothing else – is a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s also low in saturated fat and an excellent source of protein, fibre for bowel health and folate, which can protect against colon cancer and heart disease. Hence the upswing with the activated almond crowd.

So why was I still avoiding this stuff? Ignorance, in this case, was not bliss; put it down to lingering and obsolete perceptions about what peanut butter really is, lack of awareness of the new breed of PB out there and doubts over eating such an oily product when, in fact, it’s sugar that’s the real culprit.

I had a go. It was a paste made by Melbourne’s Matchless Goods labelled Peanut Butter Wattle Seed Macadamia Crunch. So, a peanut butter with aspirations. And it was insanely good. Like having consumed cask wine all my life and suddenly discovering burgundy. Like my childhood memories of peanut butter on toast, amplified tenfold.

It turns out amazing peanut butter is not only a thing, and plentiful on the shelves, but a subject of enormous passion and brand loyalty. An Insta call-out for favourites revealed plenty of contenders and very strong views. I brazenly solicited samples and gathered six crunchy PBs. So here are our thoughts, based on a blind tasting.

The winner: Old Fashioned Peanut Butter – Chunky Crunch by Aussie brand Ridiculously Delicious. Taster One: “Darker chook poo appearance with larger lumps. A much looser texture than most. Lovely salty taste, nutty texture, great consistency for glooping.” Taster Two: “More obvious roast peanut smell, more salt, good coarseness of nut, nice gloss, not cloying or sticky, salt brings out the flavour.” With an average sodium count of 488mg per 100gm, its competitors might call it Ridiculously Salty. We loved it.

Equal second: Matchless Goods Peanut Butter Wattle Seed Macadamia Crunch and Mayver’s Crunchy Peanut Butter. I’d be proud to put both on a crumpet. Ditto for cult favourite Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter – Crunchy, a lovely New Zealand PB made with Aussie nuts. Third: Chunky Dave’s Peanut Butter – “unique texture in this group; lighter roast, less salt”. Fourth: 99th Monkey Salted Natural Peanut Butter – “pale and a little sweet, less adult”. There are others (Darryl’s, Olde Spikey Bridge, Short Stop) with a strong support base. Some addictions are, it seems, as healthy as they are enjoyable.