Everything You Could Possibly Want To Know About Peanut Butter
Welcome to the history of peanut butter.
In the first episode of our new podcast, What the Food, Andy and Miles took a look into the fascinating history of the worlds favourite nut butter.
Either listen below or read the transcription of the episode to discover everything you could possible want to know about the history of peanut butter.
Listen To The What The Food Podcast
What is Peanut Butter?
Miles, just gonna open by getting you to say the following word
Arachibutyrophobia (pronounced A’-ra-kid-bu-ti-ro-pho-bi-a)
Do you have any idea what that is?
It’s the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.
Peanut butter is a spread or a paste made from ground, dry roasted peanuts.
It takes 540 peanuts to make 12 oz. jar of peanut butter. 12 oz in a proper metric is about 340 grams.
540 peanuts is a lot of peanuts. Hence why peanut butter is so calorie-dense.
I’m about to ruin peanut butter for you, possibly forever, but the next time you spread it on your toast, just imagine like 100 peanuts laying on your bread. Mad innit.
So a lot of modern-day, store-bought peanut butter contains added ingredients such as:
These guys improve the taste and just generally help preserve it.
Peanut butter is actually incredibly easy to make. Roast off some nuts until brown, throw them bad boys in a food processor, blitz until paste forms. Boom. Got yourself some nut butter boi.
Right before we jump into the history, here’s another little fact about PB to get you close to nutting. In 2014, a group of geo-researchers tested different materials they could make into diamonds. One of those materials was, yes, peanut butter.
Because peanut butter has a high carbon count, they were actually able to produce a very small diamond from their experiment. They created it after pressing it with immense pressure to replicate that of the earth’s own diamond creation process. The diamond was destroyed straight after due to an enormous hydrogen release but still, pretty mad stuff.
You can imagine a soundcloud rapper “Lil P-Butter” walking around with peanut butter diamonds on his neck.
Anyway, lets get into the history of peanut butter shall we?!
The History of Peanut Butter
The modern-day peanut butter we all know and love can be traced back to less than 1 ½ centuries ago. However, peanuts have been consumed as spreads for much, much longer.
According to researchers, the peanut plant originates in South America, most likely either Peru or Brazil. We know this as there are examples of peanut-shaped pottery found in the area dating back to 1500BC.
Do you have anything peanut-shaped in your house? Can you think of anything even remotely peanut shaped?
So, peanut butter is thought to have been first made either by the Aztecs or the Incas who were, of course, living it up in South America from around the 14th century. They would mash up peanuts into a coarse paste and enjoy it in all kinds of ways.
The Incans of Peru actually used peanuts as sacrificial offerings and entombed them with their mummies to aid in the spirit life. The Aztecs would mix it with maize and water to form a kind of smoothie – Reckon there was a handful of annoying, influencer type Aztecs that were like
“Um, Meztli? Are these peanuts organic? I only put dirty things in my mouth you see”.
But yeah, this Aztec or Inca peanut paste was similar to what we have today, but it would have been much coarser and would have tasted different too thanks to the evolution of the peanut plant.
The spread of peanuts
Whilst the Aztecs and the Incas were living it up in South America, eating peanut paste and sacrificing their uncles, a storm was brewing in the west.
A storm that would be so catastrophic, so calamitous, so cataclysmic, that it would change the very lives of every single person currently living on the continent of South America.
This storm was, of course, the Europeans. More specifically the Spanish.
Spanish explorers first landed in South America and met the Aztecs around 1519 and they later met the Incas around 1528.
The Aztecs thought the Spanish were messengers of God, sent by Quetzalcoatl (Ketz-ol- ko-at) himself.
Quetzalcoatl is the feathered serpent deity of ancient mesoamerican culture. He was a boundary maker between earth and sky. He was a creator deity having contributed essentially to the creation of mankind. Pretty big deal to the Aztecs basically.
Found this quote on Wilderutopia, a site about culture and coexistence:
“I am Quetzalcoatl, the Morning Star. Every morning, I lead the Sun back out of Mictlán to be reborn with the dawn. I know the way out of the Land of the Dead and will guide us back home to the sweet paradise Tamoanchan.”
This dude was a badass. Anyway….
The Aztecs thought the Spanish were good dudes and just invited them into their cities. They soon, as we all know, realised that the Spanish were in fact, not good dudes. In fact, I would say they were the opposite of good dudes.
The Spanish saw both the Aztecs and the Incas as primitive heathens that were in desperate need of some good ol’ Christianity.
A quote from Juan Gines De Sepulveda, a Spanish conquer in 1547 reads:
The Spaniards are perfectly right to govern these barbarians of the New World and adjacent islands; they are in prudence, ingenuity, virtue, and humanity as inferior to the Spaniards as children are to adults and women are to men, there being as much difference between them as that between wild and cruel and very merciful persons, the prodigiously intemperate and the continent and tempered, and I daresay from apes to men’
So the Spanish came to South America with guns, steel swords, lances, and daggers, strong sharp weapons that slaughtered thinly armoured natives. The blunt clubs wielded by the natives, while capable of battering and wounding Spaniards and their horses, but rarely succeeded in killing them.
The Spaniards’ steel or chain mail armour and, above all, their steel helmets usually provided an effective defence against club blows, while the Indians’ quilted armour offered no protection against steel weapons.
Anyway, they fucked both the Incas and the Aztecs up and in doing so, discovered peanuts. They quickly brought them back to Europe and that is how the peanut spread to the continent.
After arriving in Spain, traders & explorers spread the nut to Asia & Africa. It further spread when as the African slaves are thought to have been the ones that actually introduced the peanut to North America around the 1700s.
Records show that it wasn’t until the early 1800s that peanuts were grown as a commercial crop in the US. Peanuts were first grown around the Virginia area and the yield was used for oil, food and as a cocoa substitute. During this time, peanuts were regarded as food for livestock and the poor.
Peanut popularity grew in the late 1800s thanks to the travelling PT Barnum Circus wagons. Hugh Jackman is responsible for the rise in popularity of peanuts basically. They would sell “hot roasted peanuts!” that punters would queue up for and take in with them to the shows.
The nutty snack spread to baseball games, street vendors and more until the US was gripped by peanut fever.
Up Step Peanut Butter
With the popularity of the peanut continuing to rise, more and more people began focusing on the little nut. Looking at ways to consume it and make the most out of it.
One of those ways was Peanut Butter.
But it’s invention cannot be accredited to a single person. In fact, there is still to this day some dispute as to who invented the world’s favourite nut butter.
There are 5 different heroes who claim to have invented it. These are:
- Dr John Harvey Kellogg
- George Washington Carver
- Rose Davies
- Marcellus Gilmore Edson
- An Unknown St Louis Physician
1. Dr John Harvey Kellogg
Kellogg claims to have invented peanut butter or a version of peanut butter in 1895. He patented a process for creating PB from raw peanuts and immediately began marketing.
He advertised PB as a nutritious protein substitute for people who could hardly chew food any more. It’s likely that some form of nut butter was served to patients at the battle creek sanitarium where Kellogg worked. A letter he wrote to a lady named Ellen White reads:
“Some very excellent preparations from Nuts had entirely replaced butter”
Although he patented the process of making PB, he didn’t explicitly patent PB itself. He said that was intentional and was quoted as saying:
“Let everybody that wants it, have it and make the best use of it”
So, Mr Cereal, pretty decent candidate for the inventor of peanut butter.
2. George Washington Carver
This dude was an African-American agricultural scientist and inventor. He promoted alternate crops to cotton and was one of the most prominent coloured men during the early 20th century.
Before we get into his claim to PB, it would be rude not to read some of his incredible quotes:
“When you do common things in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world”.
“99% of the failures come from people who have the habit of maxing excuse”
A real OG Gary Vee type character with those quotes.
Born in the 1860s, Carver developed techniques to improve soils, promoted alternate crops such as peanuts & sweet potatoes and spent his life finding ways to improve the lives of farmers.
This dude absolutely loved peanuts. He wrote loads of things but by far his most popular thing was his 44 practical bulletins for farmers. In these bulletins, there were 105 food recipes for peanuts along with how to perfectly grow the peanut.
Speaking of peanut farms: Two peanut farmers have been elected president of the USA – Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson and Georgia’s Jimmy Carter.
Anyway, Carver discovered over 300 uses for peanuts during his lifetime.
He found peanuts could be used in chilli sauce, shampoo, shaving cream and more.
Despite all of this guy’s peanut glory, his pioneer attitude to the agriculture world and his many inventions, it’s thought it unlikely that he was actually the one to invent peanut butter.
3. Rose Davis
We don’t know much about this one but according to historian Elanor Rosakranse, a New York woman named Rose Davis was actually the one who invented peanut butter.
Rose Davis’ invention supposedly came in the 1840s after one of her children came back from a holiday in Cuba. Whilst in Cuba, the Davis kid is said to have enjoyed some kind of peanut paste that the natives were making by grinding peanuts together.
Bet that wasn’t the only thing he was enjoying in Cuba ey?
He enjoyed this paste so much that he asked if his mother could make it for him.
There isn’t really much else on this apart from Elanor’s word but I think it’s quite a cute story about a mother, a son, a lads holiday and some nuts.
4. Marcellus Gilmore Edson
Mr Edson is one of the more likely inventors of peanut butter out of the 6 on our list.
Marcellus was a Canadian chemist and pharmacist who lived from 1849 to 1940. Born in Quebec, Edson is said to have developed the idea of peanut paste as a delicious and nutritious foodstuff for people who could hardly chew solid food.
It’s properly worth mentioning that the number of people who could hardly chew food back in those days was quite high. Dental hygiene was not at the forefront of people’s minds. They had other shit to deal with.
Like bears and cholera.
In 1884, Edson was awarded the United States Patent Number 306727 for the invention of his peanut paste. His paste is said to
“Have a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment.”
Who’s eating ointment?
Edson is thought to have been the first one to add sugar to peanut butter too. He would add sugar to harden the consistency of the butter.
I think this is our guy, to be honest. You know he’s serious as his Wikipedia picture is literally a screenshot of the peanut paste patent.
Anyway, we will give the others their due.
5. An Unknown St Louis Physician
In 1890 an unknown St Louis Physician supposedly encouraged the owner of a food products company, George A Bayle, to process and package ground peanut paste.
The two are thought to have marketed their peanut paste as, as we have already seen, a nutritious protein substitute for those with poor teeth who couldn’t chew meat or other proteins.
The physician is thought to have experimented by grinding peanuts in a hand-cranked meat grinder before Bayle mechanised the process. Bayle would then barrel up the peanut paste and sell it for around 60 cents per pound.
60 cents in 1890 is around $17 in today’s money so this shit ain’t cheap.
Bayle and his unknown physician are thought to have made a fortune from selling their nut butter. In the 1920s Bayle ran several ad campaigns stating that his company was the original manufacturer of peanut butter, not that damn cereal guy.
So Who’s the inventor?
Honestly, we don’t really know.
Most think it’s Kellog and to be honest, I’d be inclined to agree with them.
But, as with anything cereal-based, the case is milky.
While Kellogg did much to advance the peanut butter cause, it was one of his employees who arguably made a much greater impact.
Resigning from Kellogg’s company in 1896 to follow his own business path, Ambrose Straub was granted a patent for one of the earliest peanut butter machines in 1903.
This machine made the process of converting peanuts into peanut butter far quicker and less tedious overall.
The importance of Straub’s machine became clear to all when peanut butter made its debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. In attendance at the fair was C.H. Summer, a private peanut butter vendor with a Straub machine. The only peanut butter vendor at the entire event.
Meeting the demands of a hungry public, Summer sold $705.11 worth of peanut butter. In today’s money, Summer sold $20,636.27 worth of peanut butter. Which given the time period and the fact that globalisation was only just kicking in, is fucking impressive.
Obviously, this was only the beginning of peanut butter’s mass popularity as the years following the Fair saw a number of companies emerge which sold the product. Of note was the Beech-Nut-Packing Company, established in 1904, which sold peanut butter for the next fifty years.
The Beech-Nut company would soon face Jif competition (see what I did there?!) as more and more producers entered the arena. Indeed within two decades of their establishment, Beech-Nut was up against Heinz, Jif and several other US companies.
As production methods changed, costs became cheaper and we the consumers continue to benefit from the wonderful peanut butter goodness.
Todays Peanut Butter
Today, it’s almost a given you will find peanut butter in somebody’s cupboards.
Americans are said to eat 3 pounds of peanut butter per person every year. That’s about 700 million pounds, or enough to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon!
There are 3 main brands in America that really rule the roost. They are:
- Store Brand Peanut Butter.
History of Jif Peanut Butter
Jif has been knocking around since 1956 and is still one of America’s favourites. According to one study in 2019, 112.87 million Americans ate Jif.
The name Jif was chosen simply because it was easy to remember.
Their tagline is
“That Jif’ing Good”
The Lexington, Kentucky Jif plant is the largest peanut butter producing facility in the world. On average, you can harvest nearly 3000 pounds of peanuts from one acre of peanut plants. 1 in 10 peanuts grown in the U.S. for food use ends up in Jif peanut butter.
History of Skippy Peanut Butter
Skippy has been on American supermarket shelves since 1933. It was actually released in slap bang in the middle of the great depression which is both a good and bad thing I suppose. For those that don’t have any money it’s bad as they can’t eat their sorrows away, but for those that do have cash they can gorge on tasty ass peanut butter.
Their tagline is:
Spread on the smiles
The story of how Skippy came to be is actually pretty nutty – see what i did there…
So a dude named Percy Crosby created a comic strip called Skippy between the years 1923–1945. This comic strip was then adapted into the 1929 novel Skippy, the daytime children’s radio serial Skippy 1932–1935, and the Oscar-winning 1931 film Skippy, had trademarked the name “Skippy” in 1925.
In 1932, the Alameda, California food packer Joseph L. Rosefield began to sell a newly developed hydrogenated peanut butter, and labeled it “Skippy” without permission.
Crosby was obviously pissed off.
Crosby successfully had the trademark invalidated in 1934 and things looked to have been finished. However, Rosefield was not done. He persisted using the name and after Crosby was committed to a psychiatric asylum, Rosefield was granted rights to the trademark.
Crosby was affected by the death of his mother, alcohol and lack of work. He died in the asylum.
Least we got some tasty peanut butter though?
Joseph L. Rosenfield was actually the dude that invented a churning process that made smooth peanut butter smooth.
Storebrand peanut butter is just your generic branded supermarket stuff. Nothing special but it ticks all the right boxes.
Peanuts are the 12th most valuable cash crop grown in the United States with a farm value of over one billion U.S. dollars, according to The American Peanut Council.
Yes, the American Peanut Council is a thing. Yes, we share the same initials. The APC’s mission is to:
Our mission is to support the long-term growth of the U.S. peanut industry. The American Peanut Council offers a forum and unified voice for everyone involved with peanuts. Whether you grow, buy, sell or manufacture, we’re here for you. APC is the only association that represents the entire peanut industry.
We’re peanut people helping peanut people.
Really doing the lord’s work.
So there you have it, the history of peanut butter right up until today.
I hope you’ve learnt something and if you haven’t, that’s your own fault for being a know it all isn’t it.
Ever since I started cooking I’ve been fascinated by how different people’s techniques are and how they best utilise the ingredients around them. Even the person living next door will have their own unique way of frying an egg or cooking a salmon fillet.
This fascination led me on a journey across the globe to discover the countless practices and traditions the world of cooking has to offer. I thought you’d enjoy and find value in sharing that journey with me so I created Cooked Best!