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Making sure peanut butter is truly spreadable

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Have you ever set out to make the perfect peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich only to have the peanut butter rip the bread apart when you spread it?

Scientists have found a way to prevent such sandwich mishaps. They've developed a new method that will help manufacturers perfect the texture of their peanut butter.

"The texture of peanut butter is one of its most important properties," said Anna Resurreccion, a food scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Spreadable and tasty

"No one wants peanut butter that sticks to their mouth," she said. "A spreadable peanut butter that has a very good, peanutty flavor is something that is desired by most people."

For years, peanut butter makers have used a method called texture profile analysis to tell whether a peanut butter's texture meets consumer standards.

"Unfortunately, TPA measurements don't correlate with human judgments of peanut butter," said Resurreccion. "And humans are, after all, the ultimate judges of how good a peanut butter is. There have been very few instrumental tests that can correlate with human evaluations."

Resurreccion and her graduate student, Chow Ming Lee, set out to change this. In their labs, they created the modified TPA system, a way to test the texture that can get measurements food manufacturers can use.

Machines don't get tired

The new method doesn't test peanut butter texture any better than humans do. "But machines don't get tired," she said. "And people do."

Resurreccion says the texture-testing method will allow manufacturers to know whether their peanut butter has the qualities consumers need, like and want.

Half of the peanuts grown in the United States go into peanut butter. "You can see how important this test is," Resurreccion said.

The UGA research has been published in the "Journal of Food Science." The modified TPA method is now available for food industry use.

"We hope manufacturers will use the analysis when they find their peanut butter doesn't meet consumer standards," Resurreccion said. "They can run the test and then go back to the drawing board and modify their product."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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