Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups

Justin's Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter CupsI am a huge proponent of improving upon classic candies. The peanut butter cup is so simple, yet there are a few weaknesses in the most commonly found ones on store shelves.

So could a company known for it’s amazingly fresh tasting peanut butter (and other nut butters) make something like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup even better? The new Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups have a lot going for them in their lists of specs. They’re all-natural, organic and gluten-free, they use fair-trade chocolate, contain no preservatives and are packaged in compostable wrappers.

Justin's Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

They’re also about $2 per package of two cups. Premium has a premium price. But I was on board, I wanted to see if eco-awareness would make the actual candy tastier (and possibly limit my other candy consumption because of the pricetag.) So after I got them home and took a few pictures I turned over the package to see some serious trash talk from Justin himself:

Think of your favorite peanut butter cup. How would you feel if I told you that compared to ours it tastes like chocolate covered sawdust? That’s right, I said it. Imagine what happens when I take the best tasting organic peanut butter in the world and delicately place it into the highest quality organic and fair trade chocolate available. Yup. Peanut Butter Cup Perfection. [signed] Justin

I don’t mind a little puffery in sales copy, but I don’t like it when my preferences are insulted. Why would Justin start out our relationship by exhibiting such contempt for my predilections? (For the record, my problems with Reese’s have never involved the peanut butter, it’s about the lackluster chocolate.) It took me a while to shrug this off, but I think I managed to center myself back to zero on the predisposed opinion scale.

Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

There are two cups in the package, which weighs 1.4 ounces (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are 1.5 ounces per two cup package). Each cup is exactly 100 calories.

Justin's Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

I picked these up at Whole Foods within a week or so of them being placed on store shelves (I frequent the one near my office for lunch and I always cruise by the chocolate shelf). The “best by” date was 5/11, so they’re are definitely fresh. Yet there was a slight bloom on all of the cups. This is the opposite of the issue I usually have with peanut butter cups, which tend to get a greasy sheen as the peanut butter oils migrate into the chocolate.

They smell wonderful, mostly like grassy, fresh peanuts but with a light note of milk and cocoa.

What I noticed first when biting into the cup was how sandy and dry the center was. Most peanut butter cups will bend first, this crumbled and broke into chunks. Not a bad thing, just different. The chocolate is silky smooth and like a silky not-to-sweet chocolate butter. The peanut butter center is salty and sweet with strong roasted peanut notes. The texture is odd, it’s not pasty or buttery, it’s crumbly. It’s not grainy either, it’s a very fine sort of powdery texture. The chocolate really makes up for a lot of that with its silken texture and consistent melt.

The other thing I noticed, as the photo shows is that it’s not a coherent block of peanut butter filling. It has some swirls of milk chocolate in it and a rather thick chocolate reservoir on the top. This was the same with all of the cups that I got (see the dark chocolate one below as well).

Justin's Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter CupsSo after the milk chocolate version, I was definitely curious how the dark chocolate would fare with the different texture style for the peanut butter center.

The Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are also gluten free, organic, use fair trade chocolate, Kosher and packaged in biodegradable wrappers. They’re also vegan. I consider this a pretty big deal, lots of dark chocolate bars are considered vegan but very few “candy” bars are. (But note that they are processed on shared equipment that has been used for dairy ingredients, so they’re not for folks with dairy allergies.)

Justin's Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

Many all natural products have brief ingredients lists, but Justin’s is quite elaborate, mostly because each ingredient needs a qualification:

Organic Dark Chocolate (Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, Organic Chocolate Liquor*, Organic Cocoa Butter*, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla), Organic Peanut Butter (Organic dry roasted peanuts, Organic palm fruit oil), Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Sea Salt.

* denotes Rainforest Alliance Certified products

I don’t know what the status of Palm Fruit Oil is on the list of palm oils these days. Palm plantations displace rainforest, but then again this is organic. Maybe some free range, wild-foraged palm fruit oil would be preferable.

Justin's Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

The chocolate is silky smooth, just as the milk chocolate version was, but much more intense. In this case the chocolate flavors overpower the peanut butter flavors in many bites (mostly because of the inconsistent distribution of the chocolate, both of my cups had a full chocolate center). The cocoa flavors are woodsy with a slight acidic burn and tannic, bitter bite. It balanced well with the lightly sweet peanut butter center.

I liked the chocolate but I bought these because I thought they were peanut butter cups. Where’s my peanut butter!

I like that the peanut butter is less sweet than many other peanut butter confections, but I wanted it to be more buttery, it was like they used peanut flour instead of actual ground peanuts with all their glorious native oils. For this price I need a cup that delivers consistent ratios of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a new product and maybe they don’t have things worked out, but the fact that the same swirling and high chocolate ratio occurred in both versions leads me to believe that this is either intended or permitted. Some folks might prefer it that way, so there’s a unique selling proposition for Justin’s. But it doesn’t rise to the level of Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.

Justin’s Nut Butters makes a variety of nut butters, like Honey Almond (which I love) and also a Hazelnut Chocolate (which I haven’t tried yet) ... so once they get their inconsistencies settled, I think that should be their next product developed. An Organic, Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cup. Then we’ll talk about chocolate nut cup perfection.

UPDATE 3/14/2011

I picked up some new samples of Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups at ExpoWest. They were given to me directly by Justin himself. The packaging is identical, but the cups are greatly improved.

Justin's Peanut Butter Cups

My main complaints about the cups were that the peanut butter was too dry and there was too much chocolate. New versions hitting store shelves addressed this. As you can see from the photo above, the peanut butter is more consistently distributed in the center and appears less crumbly and dry. The chocolate shell still has a crisp, well tempered bite to it, but the peanut butter portion is well defined and flavorful. It tastes like a little darker roast as well and perhaps even a little saltier.

On the milk chocolate version I have to update my rating to 9 out of 10. Justin really did rise up to the challenge he made on the wrapper, this is better than a Reese’s.

The dark chocolate version also gets an upgrade, but only to 8 out of 10. It’s vegan, so that’s a huge thing, but the chocolate is still bitter and has a strong olive and grassy taste to it that overpowers the peanut flavors. The textures were excellent and the ratios dead on perfect.

My last hesitation on this product line is still the price though, but they’re definitely worth it now.

I was a bit overwhelmed when talking to Justin that I forgot to mention my desire for the Hazelnut Cup (though he said he’d read the review). Instead of pitching that I told him I wanted someone to make an all-natural peanut butter that had an additional bit of cocoa butter in it instead of hydrogenated tropical oils to keep it emulsified. The cocoa butter would keep it from separating but also add that inimitable texture, (and if you used un-deodorized) a light malty taste and keep it spreadable.

Related Candies

  1. World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  2. Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Koeze Cream-Nut Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cluster
  4. Colt’s Bolts
  5. Factory Fresh Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  6. Boyer Smoothie

Name: Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Brand: Justin’s Nut Butter
Place Purchased: Whole Foods (Park LaBrea)
Price: $1.99
Size: 1.4 ounces
Calories per ounce: 143
Categories: All Natural, Candy, Justin's Nut Butter, Chocolate, Ethically Sourced, Kosher, Organic, Peanuts, 9-Yummy, United States

Name: Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Brand: Justin’s Nut Butter
Place Purchased: Whole Foods (Park LaBrea)
Price: $1.99
Size: 1.4 ounces
Calories per ounce: 143
Categories: All Natural, Candy, Justin's Nut Butter, Chocolate, Ethically Sourced, Kosher, Organic, Peanuts, 8-Tasty, United States

POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:57 pm Tracker Pixel for Entry     All NaturalCandyReviewJustin's Nut ButterChocolateEthically SourcedKosherOrganicPeanuts8-Tasty9-YummyUnited StatesWhole Foods

  1. Ooo! I can’t wait to pick these up. I love their maple almond butter smile I always pick up the little snack pack at Target when I go.

    Comment by Elizabeth on 10/27/10 at 4:48 pm #
  2. Wow.  those look…terrible.  and it’s kind of funny that he compares Reese’s to sawdust, and his own pb center looks dry and crumbly to me in a way that I’ve never seen in a Reese’s.

    My favorite PB cup ever used to be made by Sam’s Club.  I have no idea if they still make them, but in college, my roommate used to eat entire bags while we were watching tv.  they were mini-cups with really, really smooth and creamy pb centers, and they tasted like heaven.

    Comment by Mae on 10/27/10 at 6:35 pm #
  3. This was an excellent post!  Loved your detailed descriptions, even though the supposedly perfect Justin’s peanut butter cups sound like they would be disappointing if eaten after a Reese’s.  But I still want to swing by Whole Foods and grab a pack, haha! 

    I’m s glad I discovered your blog—props for getting the NY Times bump! 


    Comment by Jasmin on 10/27/10 at 7:51 pm #
  4. Not a fan of the trash talking myself. Looks like I’ll be skipping these, they don’t sound like they’ve surpassed reeses. Great review!

    Comment by Rodzilla on 10/28/10 at 6:06 am #
  5. Oh No! It looks like you got a bad batch. We were having trouble in the hot summer months resulting in dry peanut butter cups. No worries now though, all is fixed!

    Comment by Justins Nut Butter on 10/21/11 at 2:28 pm #
  6. My favorite candy was Reese’s until I tried these! I like both the milk and the dark but prefer the dark. I think that probably depends on what kind of chocolate you’re used to eating though. I used to not be able to stand dark chocolate. Then I started eating it for the health benefits and now milk chocolate is too sweet for me! These cups are amazing!

    Comment by Cortney on 2/01/12 at 11:39 am #
  7. I must have just had old ones dry sawdust horrible!  July 2013 not sure when he made the change..I decided I would never buy them again. Peanut butter is gluten free vegan whatever why is he filling them with gross dry tasteless crap. I do a lot of gluten free cooking people can’t believe my baked good are Gluten free.. Its NOT that hard and these are Horrible!!!!!!!

    Comment by Kelly on 7/13/13 at 6:53 pm #
  8. I just had the dark chocolate peanut butter cups and they were dated ‘best by 11/20/14’ and tasted great. Nothing crumbly, just good creamy peanut butter and a nice thick coating of dark chocolate. I get mine at Vitacost…(milk chocolate, and dark chocolate).
    We have always left our Reeses brand in the freezer cuz they tasted better that way. But these are best at room temperature.

    Comment by Mary on 8/05/14 at 12:21 pm #
  9. Ooh! The dark chocate PB cups are nothing short of amazing!  I eat a dairy free diet and used to crave from time to time the Hersey Reeses we had when we were kids (because they owned the market) but after eating Justin’s ...I am like Reeses who??

    This product is something to rave about!!


    Comment by Lyndsay B on 2/09/15 at 11:29 am #
  10. Since my experience with Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups comes so long after your blog was posted, I’ll have to assume the ones I tasted reflected the “improved” recipe. Well they still need some improving, at least the peanut butter part. It’s still chalky and really, if I didn’t know what I was eating, I would not guess it was peanut butter. Definitely not worth the price!

    Comment by khars on 4/29/16 at 5:25 pm #
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