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The Invention and Evolution of Peanut Butter

March is National Peanut Month, a time to recognize one of America's beloved foods! Whether they're roasted in the shell for a baseball game snack, crushed and sprinkled for desserts, or tossed in a stir-fry, peanuts are quite a versatile food. Although these forms of peanuts are popular, the most common is actually peanut butter! Many people enjoy peanut butter and the average American eats about three pounds of the stuff every year. That's enough to cover the floor of the Grand Canyon!

Throughout history, peanut butter has evolved many times, and the Incas were believed to have the created the first form of it. This version was a pure roasted peanut paste which was not very smooth, hard to spread and had a bitter taste – probably not something you would want on your PB&J sandwich!

Many years later, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg began experimenting with peanuts to find a protein alternative for vegetarians like himself. In 1895, Kellogg patented a "Process of Preparing Nut Meal" using peanuts. Kellogg's patent described "a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter." His brother, W.K. Kellogg, was business manager of their hospital, the Western Health Reform Institute. He soon opened Sanitas Nut Company, which supplied foods like peanut butter to local grocery stores. However, their peanut butter was not as appetizing as today's, since the peanuts were steamed instead of roasted prior to grinding.

Invention of peanut butterDr. George Washington Carver is credited for creating the peanut butter taste that we know and love today. In 1903, Carver began his peanut research at Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama. He added sugar and molasses to preexisting peanut butter formulas, which gave it a sweeter taste and better consistency (although it was still somewhat gritty). Carver developed more than 300 other uses for peanuts and greatly improved peanut horticulture. He is considered by many to be the father of the peanut industry. Some of his peanut developments include peanut oil shampoo, wood stains and printer ink.

Later, in 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield began selling numerous brands of peanut butter in California. These peanut butters were churned like real butter, so they were very smooth compared to the previous versions. Rosefield received the first patent for a shelf-stable peanut butter that would stay fresh for up to a year, because the oil didn't separate from the peanut butter.

One of the first companies to adopt this new churning process was Swift & Company, for its E.K. Pond peanut butter, which was renamed Peter Pan in 1928. Rosefield created the first crunchy-style peanut butter two years later by adding chopped peanuts into creamy peanut butter at the end of the manufacturing process.

Procter & Gamble entered the peanut butter business in 1955 by acquiring W.T. Young Foods in Lexington, Kentucky, makers of Big Top Peanut Butter. They introduced Jif in 1958 and now operate the world's largest peanut butter plant, which manufactures 250,000 jars every day!

Peanut butter has had quite a journey since the days of the Incas, but it still remains a staple food in most households today!


Back to March 2011 Newsletter

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