Flavour Feud – Peanut butter: smooth

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Originally published in the Other Press, June 2, 2015

By Eric Wilkins, Assistant Editor

Peanut butter is one of the staples of the snacking and easy sandwich world. Along with frozen waffles and instant noodles, it’s a mainstay in students’ food arsenals. But with so many to choose from, how’s one to know which protein boost will go down easiest? Sure, you may be the betting type, but in this case, you just genuinely want the spread. So, without further ado, Flavour Feud this week presents the peanut butter edition. To keep things even, we’ve restricted the choices to smooth PBs and made exclusive use of Wonder Bread as our neutral pairing. Now stop deciding which cup you’re going to use and pour the milk already. 

Kraft Smooth (retail price $4.57/500g): This has always been my grandparents’ go-to PB. If I wanted a sandwich, I knew that modestly designed green label with a teddy bear or two on it would be staring back at me momentarily. The product itself is much like the label. No muss, no fuss; doesn’t try to do anything fancy. You take a hefty chomp out of your simple combo and you know it’s a solid PB. Kraft is your second-line centre. It may not be the top dog, but it’s more than capable of carrying the load and with some star power to boot.

Skippy Natural Smooth (retail price $4.97/500g): Until this article, I’d never had a jar of Skippy in my life. I did know, however, that the logo bore their iconic squirrel. And for that reason, I’d always felt in the back of my quality-advertising-driven mind I would grab Skippy’s if I ever felt I needed to make a switch. That day has never come, but the opportunity to grab it has, and lo and behold when it did, I was horribly disappointed. The one reason: that delightful cartoon squirrel wasn’t upon the label; in its place was a messy collage of branding and cartoon peanut butter, as if consumers weren’t already blatantly aware of what they’re purchasing. It was like showing up to a pre-2005 Falcons game with Michael Vick not playing. Sure, it’s still peanut butter, but now its main draw isn’t there. To make matters worse, my childhood hopes for the brand were further shattered when my mouthful revealed Skippy to be nothing more than another mediocre PB. It has slightly less buttery texture than Kraft. Not that different to be honest, but enough of a step down to notice.

Planters Smooth (retail price $3.47/500g): Planters is a fairly new player on the market, coming out in 2011. It should come as a shock to all that it took the peanut giant that long though, seeing as it was a match seemingly made in heaven. That in mind, it would have been quite easy for the company to fail to meet the high expectations set by PB lovers everywhere. Fortunately for Planters, they met those expectations. It’s a richer peanut butter, but without being overbearingly so. It’s a tad thicker but it washes down easily with the standard beverage pairing of milk.

Adams Creamy (retail price $4.97/500g): I grew up primarily on Adam’s Crunchy, so naturally, I felt this could be the one for me right from the start. I wasn’t wrong. Adam’s is the only true natural peanut butter in this lineup and it makes for a distinctly different experience. Ninety-nine per cent peanuts with no added sugar, colour, or preservatives, zero trans fats. And then that gorgeous thick layer of oil that lets you know you’ve got the real deal on your hands. My mother always used to turn the jar over to deal with the oil but I’ve been a fan of mixing it in myself; there’s something deliciously enjoyable about watching the PB change before your eyes. It’s like cooking for those who have no cooking ability. Getting back to the peanut butter itself, it’s a fantastic gooey mess. Despite the initial oily topping, it mixes surprisingly well for an excellent texture. It tastes like a quality peanut butter and each bite was left wanting only by the fact that the consumption of this nutty goodness had to temporarily be halted as the previous scarfing was downed.

Great Value Smooth (retail price $2.97/500g): I feel the need to state here that none of these are bad choices. That said, to my exceptionally refined peanut butter palate, Great Value (Wal-Mart’s brand) comes up short against the competition. It’s good, not great. Tasty, but not exactly leaving you lusting after more. There’s a bit of a frosting feel to Great Value and it comes off a bit cheap.

Kraft Peanut Butter with Chocolate (retail price $4.57/500g): This selection really has no business being here. It’s not really a peanut butter. You’re not going to amble down the aisle looking for nutty brown goodness and pick up this little number. PB with chocolate is Kraft trying to be Nutella. And in a contest to see which product is more like Nutella, Nutella will obviously take the punch. Not that chocolatey, not that peanut buttery. A very disappointing product trying to compete in a niche already dominated by a brand that’s got it down pat.

Verdict: Although it was a true challenge discerning the different tastes initially, by the end of it, my stomach knew what it wanted: Adam’s. The natural PB brand just brings something unique to the table, and that uniqueness is of the good variety. Planters draws a close second, with Kraft in the middle, Skippy fourth, and Great Value bringing up the rear.

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Kraft Smooth: Everybody loves those two cuddly bears on the packaging; we’ve grown up with it after all. In almost every household there is Kraft Peanut Butter, an easy-to-get, mediocre option. Peanut butter is hard to differentiate. They’re all good. But I fear this taste test may have inspired me to migrate away from it as the go-to choice. Kraft, in fact, sets a pretty low bar.

Skippy Natural Smooth: Terrific consistency, but lacklustre taste. Often recognized as a big player in the mid-tier of the peanut butter, it’s surprising to see that the price is as high as it is. Skippy is an apt choice for those who want a nice feeling of peanut butter as it melts in their mouth, but it’s hard to consider it a first choice.

Planters Smooth: Not surprising that a brand known for its peanuts would in fact do peanut butter so well. What is surprising was that it existed at all. Not easy to find, but worth looking for, Planters’ authentic peanut taste and savoury consistency makes it a worthy and noticeable contender.

Adams Creamy: Highly touted, but often messy, Adams doesn’t win the battle with flavour, but with an experience. The 100 per cent natural selection is anything but hoity-toity. The peanut butter does not stick in your mouth, it lingers allowing the subtle taste to fade on your tongue.

Great Value Smooth: If you are in Wal-Mart, with a budget, looking for peanut butter, don’t hesitate to get the Great Value. Indeed, it is. For a fraction of the other peanut butter choices, you are getting an unpredictably delightful taste of peanut butter that goes down as easily as many of the other selections.

Kraft Peanut Butter with Chocolate: The wild card, Kraft Peanut Butter with Chocolate is as much peanut butter as Nutella is peanut butter. For those who like to jump around with spread, Kraft Peanut Butter with Chocolate is worth trying—however, it is not peanut butter. The taste is not as sweet as peanut butter and fainter than Nutella. If you are yearning for a chocolate spread, it really is a one horse race—but that is for another Flavour Feud.

Verdict: This was one of the toughest taste tests of my life. You literally cannot go wrong picking a peanut butter. There is good and there is great, sure, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re all great. As you know, many elements that go into peanut butter; a lot of the preference has to do with personal taste. For me it all comes down to flavours, the taste of peanuts. So the winner is Planters.

Lend a hand and a liver

Photo of Eugene Melnyk via Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Celebrity status is fair game in organ donation

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. June 2, 2015

How can you tell whether or not the world cares for you? You know when people are willing to band together and offer a critical part of themselves to keep you alive.

When the owner of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk, was diagnosed with liver complications and needed a new one to survive, he and his supporters reached out to the public. Crowd sourcing for an internal organ is in many ways taboo—shameless even—but realistically there is no shame in wanting to stay alive. With one in three people dying during the donor-waiting process, time was a luxury he didn’t have.

The criticism was that Melnyk used his celebrity status to leapfrog other candidates awaiting transplants. Such behaviour was unethical. But how can you blame a dying man for using what he had created his whole life—his status—to stay alive. Placed in the same life-or-death situation, you would do the same. You should do the same.

The matter was that Melnyk was never a part of the general waiting list. He created his own list from people who would have otherwise not have become donors. Five hundred people came out of the woodwork to save this man. Only one volunteer was needed, but more than 20 said they would continue the process, donating their organs to someone else in need. It was not Melnyk’s intention, but for a small moment he was able to place the spotlight on an often-forgettable circumstance.

I don’t believe any person is more deserving of life than anyone else. But if I were diagnosed with any organ complication and needed a donor, I would like to think that I would do more than wait patiently. I would pull out your liver and use it as my own if I could. I would pull out your liver and give it to someone I love if I could. We are designed to care about those who are most close to us and those who have influenced us positively. It’s not that we idolize or worship these people, it’s because they matter to us. Let it be our way of thanking them for enriching our lives.

Thinking of asking for such an important aspect of someone’s life—an organ—to stay alive really makes me rethink the way I treat those I love around me. Should I become ill, will I receive such an outpouring of love? Will 500 volunteers come forward to save me? Will they for you? Then pause, really ponder, and ask yourself: why wouldn’t they?

O ‘it’s not a big deal’ Canada

Image via AP / Petr David Josek

Russians walk off the ice, Canadians should shake it off

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. June 2, 2015

We won. They acted like poor sports—or as they put it, they made a “mistake.” After the annual World Hockey Championship, with the Canadians beating the Russians 6-1, the majority of the losing team skated off the ice as “O Canada” began to play. Whether it was an act of disappointment, bad sportsmanship, or political displeasure, it didn’t look good for the organization and the individual players. Still, there is nothing more awful than being forced to watch someone else celebrate, especially after getting plastered.

I have played hockey games—not at the international level, but still competitively—and I know how it feels to want something and then have someone beat you for it. Fuck them, right? I’ve shaken their hands, I’ve congratulated them, and now you want me to stand patiently while they sing their silly national song? We lost. Let me leave. What more do you want?

I get it. There is a patriotic aspect to international sports; that is why the Olympics and World Cups are so popular. But we don’t need the opposition to look sad while our song plays. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of national anthems at sporting events altogether. I’ve heard “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” so many times they’ve lost all meaning.

The act made the team look like they had “no class” as Don Cherry would say. We all know what type of player Ilya Kovalchuk is, and the fact that he led the way was no surprise. But let’s not forget about the players that stayed on the ice, including superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Hockey is a team sport, but sportsmanship is an individual game. If you are going to punish anyone, punish the players individually, not the whole organization.

Then again, what punishment would fit, especially during this heated tumultuous time between North America and Russia? Hockey may be the glue that keeps people together, but it is not a Band-Aid for international problems. Punish players, but don’t punish the game of hockey. It’d be a shame to see Russia banned from the tournament next year. It would be a shame if we couldn’t beat them again next year.

For now, I’m happy giving the Russians the benefit of a doubt. In the heat of the moment, people do things that are in poor taste, but in the long run, nobody was hurt. So whatever, our national anthem wasn’t for them anyways.

Screw the pooch

Image via mirror.co.uk

Johnny Depp’s dogs do not deserve death

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. June 2, 2015

Many dog lovers and fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean series were holding their breath in mid-May when Johnny Depp faced threats from the Australian agricultural minister. The two-time Sexiest Man Alive was caught smuggling his Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, into Australia. The country has strict animal security laws that are put in place to prevent spread of rabies among domestic dogs. This meant that Depp’s beloved pets faced threats of euthanasia, and he himself, jail time.

No dog deserves to die because of their owner’s folly, and certainly not ones that have no legitimate case of rabies. You think Depp’s cutie little dogs are going to hurt anyone or anything? If you do, then it might be better to put you down.

Obviously I understand the severity of the case: Australia is not located far from countries where stray dogs run rampant, such as Indonesia. And with such a rough history of animal infestation—remember the Rabbit Proof Fence erected to keep pests from invading Western Australia?—it is natural to take caution with such an event.

The government is mighty powerful, but I believe this event was more of an opportunity for the Australian government to assert its might and alert travellers that the law is not to be trifled with. Threatening a celebrity’s pet—or anyone’s pet—is akin to threatening their children. It’s a big deal. They want people to remember the threat next time they are tempted to smuggle pets into the country.

Still, it ultimately comes across as a farce. Politicians killing little dogs sounds like the first scene of House of Cards, doesn’t it? The government handled the situation tastelessly. It made them appear like bullies rather than the cautious obedient mutts they are. I agree that Depp should not have any higher form of treatment than us normal people, and with that being the case, just fine him. Why resort to murder? Why does something need to die just because you want to teach a celebrity and the world at large a lesson?

It’s understandable for the government of Australia to feel undermined by a big-shot movie star—yes, the one from Mortdecai—but no one was harmed and animals deserve to be with their owners the same way children deserve to be with their parents. Perhaps Depp should have known better, but thanks to his folly, we all know how uptight the Australian agricultural security is.