Since its first patent in 1884, peanut butter has become one of the most popular nut spreads in the United States – and it’s not hard to see why. Between its great taste, low cost, and nutritional value, there’s a lot to love about this nut. Here’s what you should know about the history, varieties, farming, and recipes for this spread.
A Brief History Of Peanut Butter
Peanut paste has been used for a long time – records show the Aztec and Inca cultures harvested them, and some believe that a type of peanut paste was used by the Aztecs to address toothaches.
The modern form of peanut butter first came about in 1884, when Marcellus Edson of Canada got a patent for a cooled peanut product with a consistency much like butter. The original recipe involved milling roasted peanuts, then mixing them with sugar, and it was eventually produced and released as a snack food in 1894.
Shortly after that, John Kellogg – yes, from the cereal company – began using a different recipe at a health institute he owned. At the time, peanut butter was noted for being a high-protein food that didn’t need to be chewed, making it ideal for patients with a variety of conditions. Since it was served at an expensive hospital, peanut butter soon came to be seen as a food for the wealthy.
Kellogg’s would go on to dominate the peanut butter field until 1932, when Joseph Rosefield released the Skippy brand. Unlike Kellogg’s peanut butter, Skippy was churned to give it a smoother consistency. Rosefield would also add peanut fragments, creating the first chunky peanut butter. In 1955, Procter & Gamble launched the Jif line, which used sugar and molasses to create a sweeter taste.
As competition grew, prices dropped – and what was once a treat for the wealthy has become one of the most popular and affordable spreads available.
The Four Types Of Peanuts
Like most plants, peanuts come in many different varieties – but there are only four types that the market cares about.
Runner peanuts are the dominant strain and make up the majority of peanut butter produced in the United States. The Florunner strain is especially popular – between high-yield harvests and uniform kernel sizes, it’s easier to grow and process than any other strain.
Virginia peanuts have large kernels, making them a popular choice for roasting or processing in the shell. When it comes to peanut butter, Virginia peanuts are often used for premium brands. This offers their great taste at a somewhat higher price.
Spanish peanuts have small kernels and a high oil content. This makes them a popular choice for pressing and many types of peanut candies. In addition, their naturally small size makes them better for crushing and adding to chunky peanut butter, and a significant amount is used for exactly that purpose. Many brands that don’t use Runner use Spanish instead.
Valencia peanuts are the sweetest strain. Like Virginia strains, Valencia peanuts are often used for smaller batches of premium peanut butter – and with few additives. This strain, in particular, doesn’t need sugar, salt, or anything else to make it taste better – it’s fine on its own!
How Peanut Butter Is Made
Peanuts are planted and harvested in truly enormous quantities. Much of this is intentional as the major strains – and Runner in particular – have been bred for higher yields.
Planting typically starts in Spring, and the peanuts grow until being harvested in August, September, and October. Most harvesting is done when the weather is clear and the soil is dry – this stops the soil from sticking to the shells and makes for easier processing.
The most important part of the process for making peanut butter is the shelling. At this stage, machines work to extract the kernels with the smallest possible amount of damage. This starts by controlling the moisture in the air – too much or too little and they won’t come out right. Once the shells are ready, they’re sent through a series of rollers to crack them open and sort the kernels. Each batch is inspected to ensure no contaminants get through.
Meanwhile, the peanut shells are usually collected and recycled for other purposes. It’s common for them to find their way into plastic, abrasives, fuel, glue, paper, and wallboards – and the demands of these industries have helped keep demand for peanuts high.
The clean kernels, separated from their shells, are sent into a dry roasting process. They’re first heated at over 420 C, then transferred to a different oven to cook at 160 C for 40 to 60 minutes. A revolving setup ensures that the peanuts are roasted evenly and don’t burn during the process.
Once the roasting is done, the kernels are rapidly removed and air cooled to 30 C. Most processing plants use metal cylinders and suction fans to push through as much air as possible. After all of this, the peanuts are almost ready to be made into peanut butter – but first, they have to be blanched.
This process helps remove any seed coats that remain on the kernels. Processing plants tend to either use heat (where skins are removed with bristles) or water (troughs and canvas). When the skins are gone and the batch is deemed acceptable, the peanuts are ground down in two stages before being added to a stabilizer – and that’s when the peanut butter is made.
Small manufacturers may use a different process. While many of them use similar techniques, some manufacturers make the peanut butter entirely by hand before packaging it up. If you’re curious about their method or peanut butter contents, consider writing to the manufacturer and asking for more information.
The Best Peanut Butter For You
Peanut butter is healthy, but some brands are definitely healthier than others.
Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter (Creamy) is widely available and has less than 1% salt as an added ingredient. Simple and delicious, the fact that it’s so easy to find makes it a top choice for most households.
MaraNatha Organic Peanut Butter (Creamy or Crunchy) is actually a healthier than the Smucker’s – but it’s also more expensive and harder to find. If you’re looking for the healthiest option and don’t care about the price, we recommend ordering online or asking your local grocery store to start carrying it. That said, this product is known to be a little bland, so consider adding something else.
Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter is another relatively uncommon brand – but its low sodium count (just 28% of the Smucker’s) makes it instantly appealing.
Where To Buy Natural Peanut Butter?
Natural peanut butter is sold in many supermarkets and health-oriented grocery stores. It’s also widely available online. Since it only needs to be kept at room temperature, it’s safe to order peanut butter for delivery if you plan to buy in bulk.
Peanut Butter Recipe
There are so many recipes that use peanut butter – but few of them are better than making your own! This recipe is suitable for snacking, spreading, or sending in your child’s lunchbox – and you may just find yourself making it on a regular basis.
Homemade Peanut Butter
This all-natural nut butter recipe comes courtesy of celebrity chef Alton Brown – and it’s definitely worth trying. This is a two-step process.
In the first step, you’ll be roasting your own peanuts.
- 2 pounds in-shell raw Spanish peanuts
- 2 Tbsp peanut oil
- 1-2 Tbsp Kosher salt
- Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- Rinse all of your peanuts under cool water to remove extra dirt. Pat dry, then put them in a large bowl and toss with the peanut oil and salt until well coated.
- Spread the peanuts onto single layers in 2 half sheet pans.
- Roast for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.
- After cooling the peanuts, remove the shells and discard them.
- Loosen the skins by rubbing the kernels between your hands and letting them fall into a salad spinner.
- After the skin has been loosened for all kernels, spin until all of the skins are separated.
The Peanut Butter
Now that we have the roasted peanuts, it’s time to make the butter itself.
- 15 ounces roasted peanuts (see recipe above)
- 1 Tsp kosher salt
- 1.5 Tsp honey
- 1.5 Tbsp peanut oil
- Add the peanuts, salt, and honey to a food processor, then process for 1 minute.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Put the lid back on, then continue processing while slowly adding the oil.
- Keep processing until the mixture is smooth (usually 90 seconds to 2 minutes).
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This product should be safe for consumption for up to 2 months.