Good News and Bad News About Peanut Butter

Good News and Bad News About Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a must-have for many people’s breakfasts. The latest issue of the Consumer Council's "Choice" monthly magazine evaluated 20 peanut butter varieties, of which 12 were found to contain aflatoxin, which can damage liver function, and 19 were classified as "high fat" foods. (Courtesy of Consumer Council)
Many fans of peanut butter agree that the rich spread, be it either smooth or crunchie, is a “must-have” on every breakfast table. But, although peanut butter has many healthy qualities, attention should be paid to the levels of quality and nutritional value that are available in today’s marketplace. Your jar of peanut butter may have a few surprises in store for you, even if you do need to occasionally mix in the separated oil.

Banning PHOs Protects Against Heart Disease

In 2021, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council placed a ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) which comes into effect on Dec. 1, 2023. It will be illegal for manufacturers to add PHOs to foods such as cookies, snacks, and peanut butter. Hong Kong people will have more protection against cardiovascular diseases after the main culprit of industrially produced trans fatty acids (IP-TFAs) in foods is removed. Many traders have already begun sourcing non-PHO ingredients to comply with the healthier oils or fats recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO.)
(Courtesy of Consumer Council)
(Courtesy of Consumer Council)

60 Percent of Peanut Butter Samples Contain Aflatoxin

The Hong Kong Consumer Council’s (HKCC) latest “Choice” monthly magazine evaluated 20 peanut butter products on the market and found that 60 percent of the samples contain aflatoxin, a naturally occurring byproduct of mold that can damage liver function. Among them, the aflatoxin B1 levels of 2 samples exceeded the upper limit of European Union (EU) standards.

The Consumer Council took ten coarse-grained and ten smooth peanut butter samples for evaluation. The selling prices ranged from HK$3.9 to HK$21.3 (US$ 0.5 to US$2.7) per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

The three samples receiving the highest overall score of 4.5 points (Mother Earth, Pic’s Crunchy, and Sun-Pat Crunchy) have their selling prices between HK$9.5 to HK$$19.7 (US$1.2 to US$2.5) per 100 grams. The one rated with the lowest overall score of just 2 points (Fuyuan) was said to sell for HK$20.3 (US$ 2.6) per 100 grams, which shows that there is no direct relationship between the selling price and product quality.

12 Samples Contain Aflatoxin

One of the main objectives of this evaluation was to detect the presence of aflatoxin, which is highly dangerous to the human body. It has four major components, namely, B1, B2, G1 and G2. The B1 component is even listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a substance that causes cancer in humans. The test found that aflatoxin was detected in 12 samples, as numbered in the picture below: number 2 (0.24㎍/kg), number 4 (1.26㎍/kg), number 5 (0.61㎍/kg), number 6 (0.23㎍/kg), number 8 (1.49㎍/kg), number 9 (2.38㎍/kg), number 10 (4.94㎍/kg), number 12 (0.32㎍/kg), number 17 (1.19㎍/kg), number 18 ( 0.43㎍/kg), number 19 (1.60㎍/kg), and number 20 (2.61㎍/kg). However, all samples are within the requirement of Hong Kong legislation, which states that every kilogram of food cannot contain more than 10㎍ of aflatoxins.
The Consumer Council stated that ingestion of aflatoxins by humans and animals can cause acute and chronic poisoning, and can also lead to acute liver damage, cirrhosis, cancer, and even death. As aflatoxin itself is not easily decomposed during normal cooking, the public is reminded to pay close attention to the expiry date when purchasing peanut butter. Always place it in the refrigerator as soon as possible after it is opened. If you detect any oily smell, it should be discarded immediately.

Only 1 Sample is Low-Fat, ‘YOWE’ Tops the List of Total Fat Content

According to the Centre for Food Safety, any food containing more than 20 grams (0.7 ounces) of total fat per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is considered “high fat.” Of the 20 samples evaluated this time, only one (Topvalu Bestprice, number 6) was said to meet the definition of “low fat,” with a total fat content of 12.9 grams (0.46 ounces). The total fat content of the remaining samples ranged from 37.9 grams (1.34 ounces) ​​to 52.8 grams (1.9 ounces) per 100 grams.

Among them, “YOWE” creamy peanut butter (No. 9 in the picture above) was said to rank top, with 52.8 grams (1.9 ounces) of fat per 100 grams. It means that eating two tablespoonfuls of YOWE, about 32 grams (1.1 ounces), is like taking around 16.9 grams (0.6 ounces) of fat, accounting for about 26 percent of the recommended daily intake for adults, and about 35 percent of the recommended daily intake for a 6-year-old girl.

Next on the list is “Jif Creamy Peanut Butter” (number 5), with a total fat content of 52.3 grams (1.85 ounces) per 100 grams, followed by “SKIPPY” Super Chunk peanut butter (number 15) which was said to contain 51.4 grams (1.8 ounces) per 100 grams. Most of the other tested brands were said to have a total fat content of more than 40 grams (1.4 ounces) per 100 grams.

In addition to exceeding the safe amount of aflatoxin, the “Hsinchu Fuyuan” (number 10) sample was said to contain the highest level of trans fatty acids, which can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body, at 0.19 micrograms per 100 grams. The second highest level was found in New Zealand-made “Pic’s” (number 11) with 0.18 micrograms per 100 grams. For saturated fatty acids, the “YOWE” sample also scores the highest, with 13.62 grams (0.48 ounces) per 100 grams, followed by “COLES Crunchy Peanut Butter” (number 19), at 11.32 grams (0.4 ounces).

Sodium Content of Some Samples Does Not Match the Label

As for the sodium content, “SKIPPY” smooth peanut butter (number 3) ranked highest, said to have 470 mg of sodium per 100g, while its coarse peanut sample (number 15) was said to contain 460 mg per 100 grams; “Delifornia Peanut Butter Creamy” (number 2) and “Jif Creamy Peanut Butter” were said to have as high as 430 mg and 420 mg respectively.

The test also revealed that the sodium content of some peanut butter samples was inconsistent with the information provided on the label. “YOWE” smooth peanut butter was said to contain 410 mg of sodium per 100 grams, which is 6.5 times more than the 63 mg listed on its label. “COLES Crunchy Peanut Butter” was reported to contain 310 mg of sodium per 100g, which is almost double the 168 mg figure listed on the label; the “Select Crunchy Peanut Butter” sample had 290 mg of sodium per 100 grams, which is nearly 1.5 times the listed 204 mg.