Whether you are a chunky or creamy fan, peanut butter and its many forms comprise one of America’s favorite foods. Are you a new loyalist, make sure it Skippy, Jif, Peter Pan, Smucker’s, or an organic-only consumer? Normally, Americans consume more than six pounds of peanut products each year, worth more than $2 billion at the retail level. Peanut butter accounts for about half of the U.S. edible use of peanuts-accounting for $850 million in retail sales each year.
The peanut plant can be traced back to Peru and Brazil in South America around 3,500 years back. (Along with the French just never quite got it.)
History tells us that it was not until the early 1800s that peanuts were grown commercially in the USA, and undoubtedly showed up at the dinner table of foodie president Thomas Jefferson, likely in the kind of peanut soup, a delicacy in Southern regions. After all, Jefferson was an enthusiastic gardener who lived in Virginia. First cultivated chiefly for its oil, they were originally regarded as fodder for livestock and the poor, like so many other now-popular foods. Technically not nuts, peanuts are a part of the legume family and grown underground in pods, along with peas and beans. (Throwing the bags to anxious consumers became an art form.)
As with many other popular foods, peanut butter was first introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 but basically still had to be made by hand.
Dr. George Washington Carver is unquestionably the father of the peanut industry, starting in 1903 with his landmark research. He recommended that farmers rotate their cotton plants with peanuts that replenished the nitrogen content in the soil that cotton depleted. In his inaugural research, he discovered hundreds of uses for the humble peanut.
While it’s believed that the Inca Indians in South America ground peanuts centuries ago (we know for certain they were not spreading it on white bread with grape jelly), credit is generally given to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of corn flakes fame) for producing the initial peanut butter in 1895 for his elderly patients who had trouble chewing different proteins.
In the U.S. peanuts would be the 12th most valuable cash crop and have an annual farm value of more than one billion dollars. They are an easy, low-maintenance crop, nutritious, inexpensive, weatherproof and just plain yummy. Some of our more popular uses include:
Brittle + additional candies
Baking and cookies
Snacks, either roasted or boiled, in-shell or no-shell
Not to be forgotten is peanut oil, which is a highly regarded form of cooking oil, due to its ability to withstand higher temperatures and the additional advantage that food does not hold any peanut taste after cooking.
Sadly, because of rise in allergies, peanuts are disappearing from sporting events and other places, and some airlines replaced them years ago with more economical pretzels. But no matter how you enjoy them, in their simplest form, coated in chocolate or mixed into your favorite dishes, this hot snack and sandwich filling crosses all age and economic barriers. We’ve gone , all right. And for those of you who are allergic, you have our heartfelt sympathy.