The best way to make a PB&J: Experts weigh in on whether grape or strawberry jelly is the best accompaniment to peanut butter

The average American will eat 3,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their lifetime, but which flavor of jelly is most popular?

Are you team strawberry or grape? Experts weigh in on which flavor of jelly works best in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Photo: Getty)
Are you team strawberry or grape? Experts weigh in on which flavor of jelly works best in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Photo: Getty)

Peanut butter and jelly go together as naturally as macaroni and cheese. Yet, nothing is as simple as it seems. PB&J fans are divided over which jelly flavor should be used to make this classic sandwich: Is the best jelly to use in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich grape, strawberry ... or something else altogether?

The history of the PB&J

According to Markita Lewis, a registered dietician who works as a marketing and communications associate for the National Peanut Board, John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented peanut butter in 1895. The newly-invented food quickly became a delicacy reserved for the wealthy: Those with the means to purchase peanut butter paired it with pimento cheese, celery, cucumbers and crackers.

Lewis says while no one is sure who first paired peanut butter with jelly, the first known mention of peanut butter and jelly together is in a 1901 culinary magazine. Even after the beloved pairing was first introduced, the peanut butter sandwich remained an expensive treat, usually reserved for teas and fancy affairs. That all changed in 1920, with the introduction of affordable sliced bread. Later, during the Great Depression and World War II, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches skyrocketed in popularity and became forever entrenched in American culture.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by Peter Pan Simply Ground Peanut Butter, the average American will eat almost 3,000 PB&Js in their lifetime. Yet, there still isn't a consensus on whether grape, strawberry or another type of jelly makes the best PB&J.

Lewis tells Yahoo Life there isn't any "scientific evidence to which type of jelly pairs best with peanut butter." Her "go-to is always strawberry jam or preserves," but she stresses this is only a matter of "personal preference."

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According to Scott Utke, chief marketing officer at Welch's, the company attempted to "let the internet settle the debate once and for all by asking [their] Instagram followers whether they preferred Welch's Concord Grape or Strawberry spread on their PB&Js."

"Surprisingly, the answers were split down the middle," Utke tells Yahoo Life, "proving there's no right answer to this question."

Is grape best?

Many think grape is the only choice for a true peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the statistics bear that out. According to IRI Worldwide, the company that handles analytics and sales for Welch's, consumers ate 9% more grape jelly than strawberry over the last year. Data from IRI also shows that Welch's sells seven times more grape jelly than strawberry jelly.

"I think, generally speaking, for a classic PB&J, grape jelly is the only jelly," says food blogger Alea Chappell, although she adds that strawberry is better for "just about everything else." Susan Anderson, a writer at The Worthy Goods, is also turned off by strawberry jelly. "Because the taste of strawberry jam is so distinct, I find that the flavor can be overpowering at times," she says. "Grape jelly is not as strong and the tart flavor goes well with almost everything."

Cooking blogger Helen Merritt says grape is the clear choice because it's not as prevalent. "Strawberry flavors are everywhere and grape flavor feels like something fresh and untypical," she tells Yahoo Life. Writer Hebba Gouda says her love of grape jelly is all about memories from her childhood. "I love the nostalgia of a PB&J with grape jelly on Wonder Bread," she says.

Is strawberry better?

It's hard to resist the nostalgia of a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with grape jelly, but overall more prefer strawberry. Samuel Campbell, owner of Indianapolis-based restaurant PB&J Factory sees this in action daily. "Grape is a classic flavor," admits Campbell. "Most people will lean on grape because it's what they know, but once introduced to other jams, many realize that they enjoy strawberry jam."

In fact, Campbell prefers strawberry himself "because of the fruit bits."

"It gives a more natural taste," he explains.

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Dee Broughton, a food writer and recipe developer says her love of strawberry jelly came from the grape jelly overkill she experienced as a child. "Growing up, my family only bought grape jelly, so I had no idea about the delicious possibilities out there," she says. "After the first time I had strawberry jam … it was love at first bite." Blogger Kelly Dedeaux also prefers strawberry. "I think strawberry jam is better because it has a stronger flavor and a more pleasant texture than grape jam," she says. "Grape jam tastes kind of like watered down fruit juice, while strawberry jam has a real fruity taste that I really enjoy."

Food blogger Vered DeLeeuw says there's a reason strawberry is superior. "Grape jelly is too sweet," she says. "It has no interesting notes to it. It's just thick, overpowering, sticky sweetness." In contrast DeLeeuw thinks "strawberry jelly is better because it [has] a mild sour note."

"Its flavor profile is more complex than that of grape jelly," she says.

What about other flavors?

Food blogger Jenny Hunter suggests branching out beyond the strawberry-or-grape debate. "If you're looking for something classic, go with grape or strawberry," says Hunter, "but, if you want to try something a bit more adventurous, don't be afraid to explore the world of wild and exotic jams."

Hunter likes "blueberry, fig, peach or something more unusual like watermelon [because] these jams will add a burst of flavor and a touch of sweetness."

DeLeeuw says "orange marmalade or preserves are marvelous," describing the variation as "complex ... and never overwhelmingly sweet." Food blogger Isabella Flint says her favorite jelly is "a little more left-field."

"Jalapeño jelly," she says, "It works brilliantly with any savory sandwich, or even just on its own with a cracker if you're tough enough."

Campbell's experience at PB&J Factory proves that options beyond grape and strawberry are great. "Our biggest signature sammies are the Cookie Monster, [made] with a cookie butter base, and our Pop's Bacon Butter Melt," he says. "[For that], we use our own in-house bacon jam."

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