© Denzil Green
Peanut butter is a spread made from roasted, ground peanuts. Natural oils in the peanuts make the ground mixture a paste. Additional oil, salt, sugar, etc may be added to the mixture, depending on the brand being purchased.
Peanut butter can be obtained in many forms. At health-food and bulk food stores you can buy freshly-ground or grind your own there, at other stores you can buy commercial “processed” and “natural”, and you can even make your own at home with little effort.
Commercial “crunchy” class peanut-butter is made by adding chopped peanuts into smooth peanut butter at the end of the process.
If you open a jar or a container of natural peanut butter and see oil floating on top, that is perfectly natural. Just stir it in. (Don’t pour it off, as that will make the peanut butter very dry and really isn’t going to get rid of much of the fat.) In fact, if it is fresh, there should be more oil on top than there is on the bottom.
Wholenut peanut butters have the peanut’s brown skin included in the peanut butter. Though the skins are usually removed during the manufacturing process as usual, some of them are ground up and reintroduced to the mix later. This increases the fibre content of the spread.
If you are planning to use peanut butter in making Thai-style peanut sauces, etc, you may be better off using the freshly ground, as most of the commercial peanut butter has some sugar added to it, which can make it taste a bit sweet in a peanut sauce. But if you don’t mind that, then by all means use the commercial if that’s what you have on hand.
Making your own peanut butter
When making your own peanut butter, put roasted, shelled peanuts in a microwave safe container and microwave for 2 minutes. Put into a food processor; whiz until the peanuts are ground into the texture of a coarse cornmeal. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides, Process a bit more and the peanuts will start to release their own oil. Stop processing when the desired texture is reached.
There is no need for added oil if you warm the peanuts first.
Store covered in refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Overtime, you will figure out the quantity of peanuts to use to make the quantities that you can use up within 6 months.
Other nut butters or pastes such as sesame, cashew or almond.
Of the fat in peanut butter, about 80% is unsaturated (the good stuff) and 20% is saturated (the bad stuff). Recent controversy (1998 till 2003) has focussed on the trans-fatty oil in commercial peanut butter — the hydrogenized oil (basically, shortening) that is added to keep the oil separating from the ground peanuts and collecting on top the jar.
Trans fats are very bad, the worst of the worst, because they lower good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. They are present in anything hydrogenized, like margarine, shortening and some oils. So, for valid health reasons, many people want to steer clear of hydrogenized products.
Most commercial peanut butters list hydrogenated vegetable oil, or hydrogenation in some form. (Even if a jar were to say “no trans fat”, but still you see “hydrogenated” somewhere on the label, all that means is that the amount in the peanut butter doesn’t hit the radar for their having to report it as present.) Some have said that if you open a container of peanut butter and see oil floating on the top, it means there is no hydrogenated product added to it, but small amounts of oil can pool in peanut butters even with added hydrogenated vegetable oil.
In the mid to late 1990s people suddenly noticed this, and the word was passed: “don’t buy commercial peanut butters; get the freshly ground kind instead.”
In June 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the results of a study on trans fats in peanut butter. Eleven types of peanut butter were analysed, including natural; they also analysed roasted peanuts for comparison. They found that commercial peanut butters contain small amounts of hydrogenated vegetable oils, 1 to 2 % of total weight of commercial peanut butter. To quote, “The laboratory found no detectable trans fats in any of the samples, with a detection limit of 0.01 percent of the sample weight.”
So, another Internet rumour is laid to rest. But word of the study hasn’t yet really managed to overcome the rumours.
Beyond the trans-fatty story, peanut butter remains an excellent source of protein, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E.
Food banks often stock peanut butter for distribution as a healthy source of protein for their clients.
2 cups (11 oz / 310g) shelled peanuts = 1 cup (11 oz / 310g) peanut butter (more if oil is added)
The oil in freshly-ground peanut will rise to the top. If this bothers you (or your kids), store in the fridge. If not, then just stir it in. Commercial peanut butters do not need to be refrigerated.
The Incas may have been the first to make a paste from peanuts, but it’s unclear if they cooked them at all first, and if so, how.
The first American patent for something that we would taste and call “Peanut Butter” appears to have been issued to a Québecer. Marcellus Gilmour Edson (born Bedford, Québec on 7 February 1849; died in Montréal 6 March 1940; buried Mount Royal Cemetery). He was a druggist and a manufacturing chemist. On 21 October 1884 he received American patent number 306,727. He had clearly come up with both peanut butter and a way of producing it commercially. But as you’ll see from the information supplied in his patent filing, he just hadn’t thought of selling it as an end product in itself:
“I take peanuts and roast them in the ordinary manner, and having removed the shells, and preferably (but not necessarily) while the peanuts are yet warm, I place the said nuts in a grinding-mill, such a mill as is used for reducing grain, &c., to flour. Before the peanuts are placed in this mill its grinding or rubbing surfaces must be heated to a temperature of 100 Fahrenheit, or thereabout. If the peanuts were ground cold by a mill having cold grinding surfaces, the result would be peanut flour, which result is old and in use; but by heating the stones or other grinding body of the mill before the peanuts are put into it (and maintaining the heat afterward) the peanuts will be ground into a fluid or semi-fluid state, which comes from the mill having the consistency of rather thick or heavy molasses or cream. This, after it has cooled down to about the ordinary temperature of the atmosphere — say 50 to 60 F, will set into a consistency like that of butter, lard or ointment…..”
In Edson’s mind, though, what he was patenting was an ingredient, rather than an end product in itself:
“The above described peanut-paste is particularly adapted for use in the manufacture of sweetmeats and candy, in which it forms a composition of matter. I take, by weight, one part of the said peanut-paste and about seven parts of sugar, and then proceed to treat this substance thus formed in the ordinary way for the manufacture of sweetmeats and any form of candy required…. What I claim, and wish to secure by Letters Patent, is as follows:
1. The manufacture of a paste of peanuts, which is produced by roasting the peanuts and then grinding them between heated surfaces, substantially as described.
2. The herein-described composition of matter to be used in the manufacture of sweetmeats and candy, consisting of a paste formed from peanuts, as described, compounded with sugar, substantially in the proportions set forth.” — From US Patent 306,727, issued 21 October 1884.
A true Quebecker, he obviously felt that nothing was complete until the sugar was in.
John H. Kellogg filed a request for a patent for a “Process of Preparing Nut Meal” on 4 November 1895 (he received American patent number 580,787 on 13 April 1897). It’s necessary to dwell on this for a moment, as some call this the first “patented” peanut butter; not only is it not the first, but what Kellogg is as akin to peanut butter as potato starch is to Pommes de terre dauphinoises. Here’s how Kellogg describes his new nut product (his process and machine actually chopped and ground the nuts in such a way as to create two products):
“The dry product or ‘nutmeal’, as it is designated, is a very palatable and nutritious substance and readily assimilated by persons of weak digestion, since the starch and fat which it contains with other elements are, to use a convenient if inexact phrase, in a partially-predigested state. The nutmeal is practically as dry as table-salt in its usual condition, and hence does not pack, but may be poured into and out of cans, bottles, or other like receptacles with great facility. The moist and brown product is soft and pasty like butter and is necessarily somewhat less easily digestible than the meal, owing to the greater amount of free oil it contains. It is used as a substitute for butter, either for table use or for shortening in cooking. It is in fact a good substitute for animal fats. It has a slight nutty flavor and is palatably agreeable, besides being far more nutritious than butter.”
Note that the “pasty like butter” product described in Kellogg’s patent application is a substance that is separated from the half the solids in peanuts, and that has an almost neutral enough taste to be used as a “shortening in cooking”. The product would of course only have a “slightly nutty flavor”, because before processing the peanuts, instead of roasting them, Kellogg blanched them, then stewed them in an oven:
“In carrying out this part of the process I place the kernels, along with a sufficient quantity of water, in covered crocks or earthenware vessels, which are then set in an oven heated to the requisite degree, and are kept therein for several hours, usually four to six….. the fluid remaining in the crocks is drawn or poured off, and since this contains a little oil and some elements that are soluble in water it is a medium for elimination of the strong characteristic flavor of the peanut. In some cases, the fluid is thus drawn off and fresh water supplied one or more times while the cooking is in progress, for the purpose of more completely eliminating the objectionable acrid elements….”
In effect, what Kellogg did was treat the legumes we call “peanuts” as what they really are, beans (or legumes). He produced a bean meal, and a cooking fat substitute made of beans.
A man named George A. Bayle in St Louis, Missouri, USA, started selling what we would call peanut butter in 1890. He sold it out of barrels for 6 cents a pound.
By 1897, the press in various American states was reporting on peanut butter (see Literature and Lore section below), and it was becoming commonly known, if not used.
A vendor named C.H. Sumner sold peanut butter as we know it at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
Peter Pan peanut butter came on the market in 1928; Skippy came on the market in 1933; Jif, owned by Procter & Gamble, in 1958.
Kraft sold peanut butter in Australia in 2 oz jars, starting in 1931, under the Kraft Walker Company name. In 1964, Kraft peanut butter was re-introduced with a new formula. Kraft peanut butter was introduced into Canada in 1960.
Skippy peanut butter
– © Denzil Green
In 1966, Skippy brand peanut butter introduced a special peanut butter blend called “Peanut Butter with Smoky Crisps.”
Newspaper ads said: “This spread is brand new. It tastes exactly like peanut butter and bacon… but there’s no bacon in it… New Skippy peanut butter with Smoky Crisps has all the crunch, crackle and old-fashioned smokehouse flavor of bacon. But instead of bacon, Skippy has created little crisps of vegetable protein with remarkably true bacon flavor. These, mixed with Skippy, make a tasty spread — perfect for snacks, canapes, and sandwiches, even on meatless days. So, for all you people who like taste of a bacon and Skippy sandwich, try them together in new Skippy peanut butter with Smoky Crisps.”
Literature & Lore
“A nut butter mill is desirable for the preparation of nut butter at home. If one designed for the purpose is not obtainable, a coffee or hand wheat mill may be used. Blanch the nuts, but do not roast and grind. The meal thus prepared may be cooked by putting it (dry) in the inner cup of a double boiler and cooking as directed for grains, for eight or ten hours. As it is required for use, add water to make of the desired consistency, and cook again for a few minutes, just long enough to bring out the essential oil of the nuts. Water may be added as soon as the nuts are ground, and the mixture placed in a covered bean pot and baked from eight to ten hours in a moderate oven, if preferred.” — Kellogg, Mrs. Ella Eaton [Ed.: John H. Kellogg’s wife and professional partner]. Science in the Kitchen. Battle Creek, Missouri: Modern Medicine Publishing Company. 1895 edition. Page 365.
“Peanut sandwiches are usually made from grated peanuts. Have the peanuts thoroughly roasted, and grate them on an ordinary grater. Cut the end from a square loaf of bread, butter the loaf, then cut off thin slices, and so continues [sic] until you have the desired quantity. Spread over a thick layer of the grated peanuts. Put two slices together, trim off the crusts and cut the slices into fancy shapes — either rounds, crescents, triangles or squares. Or you may buy for these a peanut butter.” — “Ideas for Sandwiches”. Massillon, Ohio: The Massillon Independent. Thursday, 30 September 1897. Page 5.
“A new article, known as peanut butter, is said to be on the market. It is made from the oil of the peanut, and has the flavor of the nut. Like all other products of similar kind, the consumers must be educated to accept it. It is not injurious, and is considered beneficial to some, but it will not take the place of butter from cream very soon.” — “The Farm in General” column. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Compiler. Tuesday, 16 November 1897. Page 4.
“A new use for peanuts is developing as the peanut butter industry becomes better understood. This product of the peanut answers in the place of ordinary butter for table use and is said to be excellent for shortening purposes and for gravies, sauces, etc. In point of purity it is superior to the best dairy butter. It is well designed for the use of vegetarians who strenuously object to anything animal. There is already a considerable demand for this butter substitute and it is very probable there will be an enlarged market for the nuts.” — Weekly Sentinel. Fort Wayne, Indiana. 24 November 1897. Page 2, column 1.
In France, labelling peanut butter as “beurre” (“butter”) is being discouraged, as it doesn’t contain any butter. The term “Pâte” is recommended instead. “Beurre d’arachide” is still acceptable in Québec.
Carlucci, Paul. Ever pricier peanut butter is forcing food banks to get creative. Toronto, Canada: Macleans Magazine. 2 March 2012.