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Peanut Butter

An “explosion” of peanut butter—the kind of explosion we’d like to devour. Photo by Nicolas Raymond | SXC.



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STEPHANIE ZONIS is Contributing Editor of THE NIBBLE. Having just tasted upwards of 100 strawberry jams, it is an appropriate next step to focus on peanut butter.



March 2006
Last Updated March 2012

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Jams, Jellies & Nut Butters

Peanut Butter Explosion

Page 1: Peanut Butter History


CAPSULE REPORT: A product developed for the poor becomes an American staple becomes a specialty food. Read about peanut butter, or PB as it is affectionately called: history, trends, health benefits, and some brands to look into. This is Page 1 of a three-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.



Ask yourself this question: is it really the case that Americans want innumerable choices for even the most everyday grocery item, or is it merely that there’s always someone who thinks he can somehow outdo products already on the shelves? Is it a matter of scenting potential profit, one of exercising creativity, or one of altruism, showing people that there’s a better product of this type to be had?

Probably, there are elements of all of those in the correct answer. If you’re wondering where peanut butter fits into this equation, perhaps you aren’t aware that the staple food item can have so many possibilities.

Peanut Butter History: Who Invented Peanut Butter?

Peanuts have been around for a long time. They were known as early as circa 950 B.C.E.; it is acknowledged that the ancient Incas consumed peanuts and made a paste-like substance from them. The first commercial crop in the U.S. was grown in the early or mid 1840s.

George Washington Carver is often credited with inventing peanut butter: the scientist developed 105 recipes using peanuts and more 100 nonfood products from cosmetics to dyes, paints and fuel. Carver’s intent was to enable poor farmers to grow alternative crops like peanuts, as a source of their own food and as a base for other products that would improve their quality of life.

But it is not clear who made the first commercial peanut butter. Some sources attribute this “invention” to Dr. Ambrose Straub, a St. Louis physician, who created it in 1880, crushing peanuts into a high-protein paste for his patients who couldn’t chew. George A. Bayle, a friend of the doctor, owned a food processing plant and soon started making this “nut butter” commercially. The product gained popularity later that year at the Chicago World’s Fair.

By the beginning of the First World War, a number of companies were making peanut butter; by World War II the inexpensive and shelf-stable product became part of the soldiers’ rations, along with jelly. Guess what: The GIs combined the two with their crackers and created the first PB&Js. Back home, with meat rationed, it was also consumed as a good source of protein.

These days, according to the website of one of the industry giants, American consumption of peanut butter is roughly six pounds per household annually, or 570 million pounds (and a lot of sandwiches!) per year. Over three-quarters of American households buy peanut butter. Americans spend about eight hundred million dollars a year on it; we’re the number-one consumers, but peanut butter is also popular in Canada, the Netherlands, parts of the U.K., Germany and Saudi Arabia.

As a kid, I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; I suspect I was not alone in this. At that time, the only choice was whether you liked your peanut butter creamy or chunky. But peanut butter options have multiplied spectacularly in recent years. You still have to decide if you like your peanut butter smooth or with chopped peanut chunks, but now there is a plethora of flavor variations. There are organic peanut butters, honey-roasted peanut butters, even peanut butter blends with added flaxseed and flaxseed oil for Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids.*
  Peanuts In Shell
Peanuts in the shell. Photo courtesy SXC.

And some consumers are deciding that what’s omitted is as important as what might be added. A quick survey of shelves will show peanut butters with honey, with added vitamins and minerals, striped with grape jelly or chocolate, whipped, and reduced in fat, sugar or sodium. And those are just examples found in one better chain grocery store. Natural food stores and the internet offer much greater depth for those who wish to expand their peanut butter horizons.

*Removing much of the peanut oil and replacing it with flaxseed and flax oil, also substantially reduces the total fat.

Continue To Page 2: Natural Peanut Butter

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