Natural? Not so much.

Natural?

IMPORTANT FACT: there is no official government/FDA/USDA definition of the word “natural” as used on food product labels or in advertising.

RESULT: food companies and marketing departments are free to invent their own definition, and just throw the word around, however they like, to attract your attention and give their products a Health Halo.

EXAMPLE: Skippy’s “Natural” peanut butter.  Now what can be called “old fashioned” peanut butter has been around for awhile.  Actually it was the original form: peanuts ground into a butter consistency, with maybe added salt.  Period.  But peanut butter has a habit of separating over time, with the oil rising to the top of the non-fat solids.  In order to use your jar of old fashioned peanut butter, you had to get out a fork and mix it up, at which point you were good to go for several weeks.  Peanut butter makers decided Americans had to be spared the awful drudgery and mess of mixing up peanut butter, so they created a homogenized product years ago, processed with added solidified vegetable oils, and usually sweeteners.  Since then, those peanut butters have dominated the market.

One might mistakenly think “Natural Peanut Butter” equates with “old fashioned” somehow – just peanuts and maybe salt.  That sure sounds “natural”.  But a there’s a little clue on the label that indicates otherwise: “No need to stir.  No oily mess”.  Meaning this peanut butter has been homogenized, with added vegetable oil, and processed to prevent separation.  In fact, it contains palm oil.  Palm oil is a saturated vegetable fat, which stays solid at room temperature, as opposed to corn oil or peanut oil or any of our common vegetable oils.  And because it stays solid, it prevents the “natural” peanut butter from separating.

Well, technically, palm oil is a natural product.  It comes from palms, grown in large plantations in tropical climates, where rain forests used to be.  Peanut butter isn’t the only food containing palm oil now.  With the bad PR about trans-fat-hydrogenated vegetable fats (grown in the US), food manufacturers had to find some other non-trans-fat-containing ingredient for their products.  Palm oil fits the bill.  It’s naturally solid; no hydrogenation needed.  Great.

But do you want technically natural or old-fashioned natural?  I personally want old-fashioned.  Peanuts, salt, period.  I don’t mind mixing the oil up for a few seconds.  But if you can’t stand the hassle, maybe Skippy Natural is for you.  By the way, if you do choose old fashioned, don’t just pour the oil off.  You’ll end up with a dry lumpy mess, unspreadable and inedible.

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