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The Peanut Butter Legend

CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Lauren Braun Costello
About the author: Lauren Braun Costello
The competent cook; food stylist; cooking instructor; graduate French Culinary Institute. To die for dish? Maple glazed bacon wrapped roast turkey. Yep, bacon wrapped.
Peanut butter as we know it today is undoubtedly an American creation. Other cultures have been eating ground peanuts long before Skippy and Jif hit the shelves in U.S. grocery stores. For example, ground peanuts have been a staple in stew on the African continent for centuries. The Chinese have been making creamy peanut sauces for many more years than our country is old. But these uses do not resemble the protein-packed spread we know and love.

What is Peanut Butter?
Peanut butter is not made of butter, but it sure is made of peanuts. In its most basic form, peanut butter is simply peanuts ground so fine that the result is a creamy paste (hence the "butter" reference). Commercial peanut butter contains peanuts, plus some fats, sugars, salt and stabilizers to avoid oil separation and enhance flavors. According the FDA's Standard of Identity, peanut butter must consist of at least 90 percent peanuts with no more than 10 percent by weight of seasoning (sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils, etc.) and stabilizing ingredients.

The nutritional composition of peanut butter depends on the ingredients used. Homemade peanut butter (recipe below) is high in protein and unsaturated fats. Almost 30% of homemade peanut butter's nutritional value is derived from protein. Peanuts themselves are also a good source of fiber, folate, vitamin E, copper and magnesium. Commercial peanut butter is undoubtedly less nutritious since it is made with added saturated fat and sugar.

How It All Began
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Surprisingly, peanut butter was first made for medical reasons. In 1890, an unknown St. Louis physician invented peanut butter as a high-protein, easily digestible food for patients with poor teeth unable to chew meat. He experimented by grinding peanuts in a hand-cranked meat grinder. He then supposedly convinced George A. Bayle Jr., the owner of a food products company, to process and package the protein substitute. Bayle mechanized the process, selling peanut butter out of barrels for about six cents a pound.

In 1903, Dr. George Washington Carver began his peanut research at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (today known as Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama. Erroneously credited with inventing peanut butter, Carver did develop more than 300 uses for peanuts ranging from glue to printer's ink. His impact on the peanut horticulture was so revolutionary and everlasting, that he is widely considered the father of the peanut industry.

It was not until 1904 that peanut butter was introduced to the world when it was sold at the Universal Exposition of St. Louis. By WWI, there were several dozen brands of commercial peanut butter in the United States.

Cooking with Peanut Butter
Homemade peanut butter is certainly more healthy and wholesome than its commercial counterpart. However, there are instances when cooking with store-bought peanut butter is preferred to the freshly made version. At its smoothest state, homemade peanut butter has a mildly grainy texture compared to the velvety spreads sold next to the jelly. Salt content is also a factor. The store-bought versions are sweeter and therefore better for baking, whereas the homemade variety has a texture and flavor more suitable to savory dishes, like chicken satay.

Storing Peanut Butter
It might seem wrong, but it is most definitely true that store-bought peanut butter may be stored at room temperature for up to six months once opened (up to one year unopened). That's right. It need not be refrigerated. Homemade or fresh peanut butter, on the other hand, must be refrigerated and should be consumed within a few weeks. The oils likely will separate a bit and should be reincorporated before serving with each use. In all cases, peanut butter will not freeze well.

Virtually all the foods we eat today are loaded with chemicals and stabilizers. Making peanut butter is as easy as can be. It is a real delicacy to consume such a familiar food as a whole food. Follow the recipe below and you will never go back to the jar again!

Chef Lauren's Peanut Butter

photo of Chef Lauren's Peanut Butter

Made with canola oil, peanuts, salt, sugar

get the recipe

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       I found this article to be very informative and direct, without a lot of unwanted words. Thank you for your expertise. I want to make home made peanut butter for my child's classroom product which is a speach on the invention of peanut butter, but I don't own a food processor. I'm wondering if I can get away with just manual crushing and stirring??? I am finding that many people were involved in this process. I am desparately trying to find out what were the 300 inventions that Carver derived at from peanut butter. Thus far, all the sites I have visited have not included this information. Maybe no one really knows. Can you help me locate this infor, where can I look for it, how can I put it in words to do a search. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Project is due this tuesday January 24th, 2006

    Comment posted by Chairpie

       Try using a rolling pin.

    Comment posted by Bart Simpson

       Owning a food processor (even an inexpensive small $30 device) is essential is today's kitchen. The result you want cannot be achieved manually. As for information on Carver, try an old-fashioned library. In Carver's day, these kinds of facts were recorded in books and they are surely still there. Good luck.

    Comment posted by Chef Lauren Braun Costello

       Most of the 300 peanut products on George Washington Carver's list were existing products or recipes. None of the relatively few products that were original to Carver was ever a commercial success. Thus, Carver's impact on the peanut industry was minimal. Check the Wikipedia articles on George Washington Carver and Peanut for more details and links. The following article addresses the Carver peanut products myth: Mackintosh, Barry. 1977. "George Washington Carver and the Peanut: New Light on a Much-loved Myth." American Heritage 28(5): 66-73.

    Comment posted by Mr. Peanut

       Good notes and they have more info and good history

    Comment posted by Daep

       I am ready to pull out the food processor and make some super Creamy peanut butter!

    Comment posted by LaLa

       I have been making homemade peanut butter for years. I do not add any sugar or oil. It is just peanuts and salt. I grind them in an ordinary food processor. I make about a pound at a time, but if I add the entire pound all at once, the processor will overload. Add about a third to half the peanuts. Let is grind until totally smooth. Then add the rest of the peanuts and grind until just smooth. If you grind too long, the butter will be too soupy and the oil will separate.

    Comment posted by Gary


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