Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature “Taste Tests.” Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s hard to fuck up peanut butter.” That was one of the first things the Taste Test Lab technicians told us when we offered them a table covered with peanut-butter flavors from P.B.Loco. And they had a point. There are enough minor variations in peanut butters (how grainy, oily, or sugary they are, for instance) that everyone who remotely likes the stuff probably has their own preference and considers other peanut butters fucked-up by comparison, but the basic peanut-butter concoction is, well… pretty basic, and hard to completely ruin.
It’s been done, though, most notably in the form of Smucker’s Goober, an unholy concoction of peanut butter and jelly presented in stripes in the same jar. Such is the unappetizing quality of this splintery, cheap stuff that a jar of it sat untouched in the kitchen of The Onion’s Chicago office for well over a year before someone finally disposed of it. And our kitchen is the kind of place where ravenous, invisible hordes normally devour any food left unattended, so rapidly that we theorize they could beat out a school of Amazonian piranhas in a skeletonize-a-cow speed contest. What did we learn from this experience? Mostly that while peanut butter goes well with a lot of things, those things don’t necessarily belong in the same jar with it, at least not for people above age 8 or so.
Because face it, peanut butter is essentially for kids. It’s an efficient protein-delivery system, but it’s also a samey brown paste loaded with fat and calories, even in its “natural” form. (Processed commercial peanut butters generally add a lot more sugar or corn syrup.) It’s tasty, but simplistic, lazy comfort food, the kind of thing we treasure when older largely because it’s so easy to work with that for a lot of us, peanut-butter-and-whatever sandwiches were the first thing we learned how to make on our own. Peanut butter tastes like proud childhood independence and freedom. But even in this age of gourmetified, high-end everything, is there a place on the market for fancy peanut butters aimed at adults?
Apparently so. When a friend of mine informed the world (via Twitter, chosen platform of such benignly minor revelations) that he was trying a chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-flavored peanut-butter sandwich, I had to ask whether it was a commercial product, or if he’d just run out of bananas and tossed a hunk of Pillsbury’s best on his toast instead. He pointed me to the website of P.B.Loco, a Minneapolis-based company making fancy flavored PB concoctions, and advertising them in a low-key, tongue-in-cheek way. From their site:
Some P.B.Loco flavors may be too intense for younger taste buds. If you have parents or guardians, they should be looking over your shoulder.
P.B.Loco is peanut butter for adults who already know the scintillating pleasures of cold microbrews, left-of-the dial bands and independent movies. It’s for grownups who aren't completely grown up and who are averse to button-down shirts, closed-toed sandals, and life without a dog.
Off-color jokes about a twin dependence on dogs and peanut butter aside, that sounded pretty good to us. So we ordered up a sampler for the labs: six flavors (Asian Curry Spice, Chocolate-Chip Cookie Dough, Dark Chocolate Duo, Cocoa Banana, Sumatra Cinnamon Raisin, and Caramel Apple) plus a bonus jar of Raspberry White Chocolate.
We didn’t think we’d get particularly nuanced reactions from the Lab staff if we just handed them seven jars of peanut butter and told them to cram down a mouthful of each; if nothing else, we assumed all the “office reactions” quotes would consist of “If fthck to vuh roov ov mah mouf,” followed by sugared-up hyper grunting. We also figured that no matter how good the flavors, everybody would be sick of peanut butter by three or four jars in. So we tried these over the course of several days, with graham crackers and celery sticks as conveyances. I also took home four jars of the peanut butter and made peanut-butter cookies with them, to see whether the flavors would come out and produce extra-gourmet cookies. The results were largely disappointing, though it was a worthwhile chemistry experiment to see how the different PB textures resulted in different textures of cookies. And at least one of the cookie flavors came out unusual enough to win a bunch of ardent fans.
Asian Curry Spice: This is the oiliest of the peanut butters we tried. It’s noticeably yellow, and it leaves behind the bright-yellow stain of tumeric or yellow curry. The spice blend isn’t particularly complicated: It largely tastes like yellow curry and peanuts, which by the way is a delicious combination. The office didn’t have much to say about it: It’s essentially ready-made Thai peanut sauce, in thick spreadable form. It’d make a good condiment for a limited number of things, but isn’t really meant to be converted directly into sandwich filling.
Raspberry White Chocolate: Tastes pretty much like a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. There are visible white-chocolate chunks in the blend, though they’re very soft and spreadable. In the cookies, they disappeared entirely. These made for a crispy, bready cookie, though the added flavors didn’t survive the baking process, and only a few discerning or deluded individuals seemed to think there was even a whiff of fruit flavor to the cookies. There was also a pretty big gap between Taste Testers who thought the peanut butter itself was strongly flavored and fruity, and those who thought it wasn’t flavored at all.
Chocolate-Chip Cookie Dough: There’s a sort of generic “chocolate chip cookie” flavor that stretches across a bunch of commercially available chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-tinged products, from Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream to Cookie Dough Bites candy. This more or less tastes like that, plus peanut butter. It’s a blend of egginess, vanilla, and really prominent white sugar. The chocolate flavoring is infused; the peanut butter doesn’t actually have chocolate chips in it. (Nor does it have cookie-dough chunks in it, which was the first thing everyone asked.) And frankly, the chocolate doesn’t come out at all. This largely tastes like raw Toll House cookie dough with a lot of peanut butter mixed in. I made cookies with this almost as a gag: cookie-dough-flavored cookies, my friends informed me when I previewed the cookies on them, are a lot like sushi-flavored grilled fish, or steak-tartare-flavored hamburgers. It’s no real surprise that they didn’t really come across as different from normal peanut-butter cookies. In fact, these were the most average cookies of the bunch, a little bready and a little crispy.
Dark Chocolate Duo: In its undisturbed state, this looks like a parfait with a layer of chocolate-chip peanut butter under a layer of somewhat greasy chocolate swirl. When stirred, it turns into a dark, sticky, smooth fluid the color and relatively smooth, thin texture of Nutella. As appealing as peanut-butter Nutella may sound, though, this was our biggest disappointment: the mild bitterness of the dark chocolate cancelled out the mild sweetness of the peanut butter, and it honestly winds up not tasting like much of anything at all, except a vague whiff of peanut oil.
Cocoa Banana: The cocoa flavor in this is completely overwhelmed by the mixture of banana and peanut butter, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In the first moment after it hits the tongue, it tastes artificial, almost chemical. Then the peanut flavor hits, and the taste broadens; a few seconds after the first bite, it tastes exactly like a good peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich. It’s mildly miraculous, like something Willy Wonka would invent. The flavor mostly disappeared in the baking process, though they retained a distinct minor banana taste. This is one of the thickest of the P.B.Loco peanut butters, with a grainier texture (more like the natural peanut butters we’re used to) than most of the other selections, and seemingly less oil. Which made for some weird issues during cookie baking. The first batch of cocoa-banana cookies came out flat and hard, and the bottoms scorched before the rest of the cookie was even cooked through. But after the rest of the batter sat in the fridge overnight, it dried out a bit and made the best cookies of the batch.
Sumatra Cinnamon Raisin: While a lot of tasters were dubious about a peanut butter with actual raisins in it, either because of personal tastes or over irrational concerns with freshness and spoilage, this flavor was the surprise winner at the tasting board. Texture-wise, it’s about average for a commercial smooth peanut butter; it’s a little darker, with visible flecks of spice thickly dispersed throughout. The taste is very rich and very complicated, with different stages of sweetness, spiciness, and richness; more than any of the other flavors, it benefits from being savored over time instead of wolfed down. A lot of tasters laughed over the product name being so specific—not just any cinnamon, mind you, but Sumatran cinnamon—but after a few tastes, they were saying things like “You can really taste the Sumatra!” This is a strange but delicious mix of peanuts and spices, more than—as one taster put it—just “ants on a log in jar form.”
Caramel Apple: It’s possible that this flavor is meant more as a dip than as a spread, or maybe we just got a weird batch, but our jar was extremely fluid—basically pourable peanut butter. But what would you dip into it, since the apple flavor is already in there? The taste isn’t all that complex—for instance, we couldn’t tell if the apple flavor was supposed to be like any particular type of apple—and the caramel doesn’t really come out, though this was sweeter than the other flavors. Imagine apple juice and peanut butter thoroughly blended; that’s what this was like.
- “This is awfully runny. But interesting.”
- “That’s actually quite good! Delicious, even!”
- “That’s just such a bizarre taste combination. It’s a really juicy apple, apparently.”
- “It reminds me of packaged Archer Farms apple cookies.”
- “It just tastes really salty to me.”
- “The apple is too tart, too fake, and too overwhelming, but the caramel tinge is nice. Maybe this should be just caramel peanut butter, to dip apples into.” “Yeah, they flew too close to the sun on this one.”
- “The sweetness cancels out the peanut butter, and leaves nothing but a weird salty-apple aftertaste.”
- “This tastes the least like peanut butter of all of them. And the gooey, runny consistency really bothers me.”
- “It’s like melted peanut butter, but at room temperature. I’m assuming the caramel additive changed the texture. This is kind of weak in all areas—the fruit taste isn’t nearly as strong as in the banana.”
- “No, this is really terrific. The only thing missing is the crunchy texture of a crisp apple.”
- “I’ve made this kind of thing with caramel and Granny Smith apples before.” “Is this as good?” “Well, it’s a hell of a lot easier.”
- “I’m not picking up on any chocolate here.”
- “This is all delicious! Well, good at least.”
- “This tastes the least artificial of all of them.”
- “The banana is very strong in the peanut butter. This is the best combination.”
- “Wow, that’s a lot of banana. It really takes me back to my childhood days of peanut-butter banana sandwiches.”
- “This one is incredible. I’m all about this.”
- “If you put that in a malt, it would be absolutely fantastic. I could literally just sit here and eat that out of the jar all day.” [Leaves kitchen, returns five minutes later demanding more.]
- “It’s shockingly close to the real thing.”
Sumatra Cinnamon Raisin
- “Oh! That’s not bad at all! It’s got just a little spicy kick to it.”
- “Yeah, that’s really good. It’s the one I’d be most likely to take home.”
- “It doesn’t even need the raisins. It’s delicious as is.”
- “This tastes the fanciest. I’m just tasting ‘Oooo, gourmet.’”
- “It has a real complexity to it, like a Thai dish.”
- “This by far is the most different from normal peanut butter. It’s really good.”
- “The idea that there are actual raisins in there is pretty gross.”
- “It’s a very savory cinnamon, which isn’t a flavor I encounter often.”
- “I don’t like cinnamon-raisin combinations at all, normally, but the cookies are terrific. These are my favorite things on this table. The flavors meld in a really good way.”
- “This peanut butter tastes really strange on its own, like it’s been burnt or something. I think these work best in the cookies, where it’s paired with a big ol’ pile of sugar.”
- “This smells amazing. I would just sit around and smell this for the rest of the day.”
- “Definitely the best of the lot.”
Dark Chocolate Duo
- “That starts out with really strong chocolate, and then it just dissipates. It’s like a Kurt Vonnegut truck. Where’s the chocolate? Where’s the peanut butter?”
- “That is pretty foul. I’m not a fan.”
- “This sort of just tastes stale.”
- “It’s pretty disappointing, really. By far the most disappointing.”
- “You get just a little hint of dark chocolate, and then the peanut butter hits and ruins the whole thing.”
- “The bitterness of the dark chocolate really makes a mess of the flavors.”
- “There’s a brownness on my fingers, and that’s all I’m tasting, too. Vague brownness.”
- “This suffers most from the saltiness. It doesn’t make a good pairing with the chocolate.”
- “The texture and the flavor are all wrong. They just don’t combine well.”
- “That literally tastes like nothing! How can this combination possibly taste like nothing?”
- “It should taste like a Reese’s product, and instead it’s like everything cancels out, and you just end up with the sense of having eaten a peanut five minutes ago.”
Asian Curry Spice
- “It’s chicken satay sauce.”
- “Yup, that sums it up. Nothing more to say.”
- “The most disgusting thing is that it’s not that bad.”
- “I can see it being really good on Thai food.”
- “It’s good. Not spicy at all—it’s really mild—but pretty good.”
- “Mostly it’s amazing just how yellow it is. It’s really bright. It’s a nice kitcheny, morning color. Too bad you wouldn’t want to eat this in the morning. It’s more a dinner, dip kind of thing.”
Raspberry White Chocolate
- “I would damn well eat a sandwich made of that.”
- “It tastes like raspberry Fruit Roll-Up.”
- “It’s a pretty faint taste.”
- “This tastes like Goober, except all mixed together.”
- “Looking at the ingredients, there’s actual raspberry and raspberry juice in the peanut butter. It should come across more strongly.”
- “In the cookies, it’s subtle. Maybe too subtle. But there’s something faint there, and it’s good.”
- “I can taste the white chocolate, definitely. This is really good.
- “I can’t taste the white chocolate at all. Not even a little bit.” “That’s because white chocolate has no taste whatsoever.”
- “The raspberry is there, but it isn’t a natural flavor at all.”
- “You guys are seriously underrating this. It really does just taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
- “I can taste the raspberry in that, but it’s a pretty unpleasant aftertaste.” “Really? I think everything about this taste test is pleasant.”
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
- “The idea of cookie-dough-flavored cookies is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of.” “It’s kind of like an egg-flavored chicken.”
- “It tastes like messed-up Nutella. Like Nutella went bad. This is my least favorite of everything we’ve tried.”
- “I think this is too much. After a couple of bites, I would really want something else. There’s just too much sugar in this.”
- “The flavor doesn’t come out in the cookies at all, given that it’s baked out. It seems redundant somehow.”
- “This stuff is way too sweet. Like extra sugar in already sugary peanut butter. Like something Calvin would eat that would repulse Hobbes.”
- “Whatever. I’m in love with this.” “Yeah, me too. It’s cookie dough with peanut butter in it, legitimately for breakfast. How could any Grinch not love that?”
- “It tastes too much like candy. I mean, I like it, but it’s really intensely sweet.”
- “That’s definitely the best, though.”
- “I like ’em all. I like ’em all a lot. I would seriously eat like six pieces of toast every morning if I had a bunch of these at home.”
To sum up: As we were cleaning up, our HR rep Shannon—the kindly lady who usually runs in either to gripe that we’re stinking up her office with dried baby crabs and microwaved pork rinds, or reminds us that The Onion’s health-care policy will not cover us if we make ourselves ill while cramming down pickled pig lips—returned to inform us that she’d been thinking over this taste test at her desk:
Shannon: “These are the first products I’ve ever tasted at one of your Taste Tests that I would actually buy. I would actually pay money to have more of this stuff.”
Josh: “Well, I guess that’s the end of Taste Test right there.”
Shannon: “Yep. It’s all over. I quit. Goodbye.”
Where to get them: Online at PBLoco.com or at one of the half-dozen P.B.Loco cafés nationwide. See the company website for locations, and for the cafés’ menu, which suggests some interesting ways to use these peanut butters.