Peanut butter is found in almost every North American household. It is a beloved, shelf-stable source of protein, Vitamin E, magnesium and folic acid. It also contains beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol which may normalize high cortisol levels during stressful times. But not every jar of peanut is equal. The USDA demands that peanut butter must contain 90% peanuts, and may not contain preservatives, artificial colors or sweeteners. The remaining 10% of ingredients could include sweeteners or salt to enhance the flavor, or oils to help stabilize the natural oils in the peanuts. The added oil acts as an emulsifier, creating a smoother product. Have you ever opened a jar of peanut butter and found a pool of oil? The oils of the peanuts tend to separate and rise to the top of the jar.
Peanut Pinnochios and Processing
Peanuts are not what they claim to be. They are not nuts at all! They belong to the legume family of plants, making them more closely related to a bean than a walnut. Peanuts grow underground and are actually seeds encased in a pod, like English peas or soybeans. Peanut butter is actually a paste. But “legume paste” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? We’ll stick with peanut butter.
According to The Peanut Institute, runner peanuts are the most widely consumed overall, and the first choice for peanut butter production. all the types. They need a warm climate and well-drained soil, and are grown in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Oklahoma.
After the peanut is grown and harvested, the farmer takes the peanuts to a buying point. “Between 80 and 90 percent of all peanuts go to a shelling processor, says Cathy Johnson, Marketing and Communications Associate for The National Peanut Board. “In some areas, a ‘sheller’ can be the peanut crop’s first stop. After cleaning, drying, inspecting and grading, the peanuts either go to commercial use or are accepted for storage.” From the sheller, peanuts can go to a food manufacturer, a peanut processor, a crushing facility, or exported to another country. About 5 to 10 percent of all peanuts go to seed companies to become next year’s seed.
Good, Butter, Best
If a peanut’s destined to become butter, the raw peanut is delivered to a company that processes peanuts. “These companies set up contracts with various peanut butter companies, confectioners or snack companies, and prepare the peanuts for the food company to use for their products,” says Johnson. Peanuts are sorted according to variety, uniformity of size or flavor, and prepared and sold to food manufacturers.
Peanut butter is the most requested item by food banks, and it can also be an important part of the drive to alleviate hunger across the world. Peanut Butter for the Hungry , a humanitarian initiative of the peanut industry in the United States (growers, shellers, manufacturers and allied industry members), helps malnourished children in places where resources are limited. Peanut Butter for the Hungry works with food banks across the U.S. and donates peanut paste for the development of ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF). A scientist named Dr. Andre Briend created this peanut-based product for the World Health Organization (WHO). Combining powdered milk, vegetable oil, sugar, peanut butter , vitamins and minerals, RUTF is shelf stable and transportable to locations of the world stricken by malnutrition. RUTF is classified as a medicine by the WHO and has a 90% success rate, treating malnourished children at home.
Way to go, peanut. You are a force of good in the world.
Sticky Peanut Butter Facts:
- November is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month. Celebrate by donating peanut butter to your local food bank.
- Combine peanut butter and whole wheat bread for a complete protein. But peanut butter marries well with a number of other ingredients, including jelly, honey, or bananas. What’s your favorite peanut butter sandwich combination?
- Approximately 2780 liters of water is used to produce one kilogram of in-shell peanuts, compared to 4330 liters of water to produce one kilogram of chicken. And peanut plants contribute beneficial nitrogen to the soil in which they are grown.
- Cereal king John Harvey Kellogg may have been among the first to create a version of peanut butter in 1895. Or was it Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson, with his 1884 patent? Peanut butter made its global debut at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904 (we also spotlighted candy corn, another World’s Fair favorite).
- The upper crust of society once dined on peanut butter. But when sliced bread came along, children could make sandwiches on their own without using a dangerously sharp knife. Peanut butter sandwiches became a Depression Era favorite.
- Are you afraid you will get peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth? If the answer is yes, you are Archibutyrophobic (pronounced A’-ra-kid-bu-ti-ro-pho-bick).
- Does that oil slick at the top of the peanut butter jar turn you to jelly? Simply turn the jar upside-down when storing, and you can spread the goodness without the oil.
Feature image by Radoslaw Prekurat of unsplash.