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 every 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 every year.
The plant could be traced back to Peru and Brazil in South America around 3,500 years ago. European explorers first discovered peanuts in Brazil and saw its value, taking them back to their respective states, where it was somewhat slow to catch on but became popular in Western Africa. (And the French just never quite got it.)
History tells us that it wasn’t until the early 1800s that peanuts were grown commercially in the United States, and definitely showed up at the dinner table of foodie president Thomas Jefferson, probably in the kind of peanut soup, a delicacy in Southern areas. Civil War Confederate soldiers welcomed boiled peanuts as a change from hardtack and beef jerky. First cultivated primarily for its oil, they were originally considered fodder for livestock and the bad, 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. Street vendors soon followed, selling roasted peanuts from carts, and they became a staple in taverns and at baseball games. (Throwing the bags to anxious customers became an art form.)
As with a number of other popular foods, peanut butter was first introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 but essentially still needed to be made by hand. Catching on as a favorite source of protein, commercial peanut butter made its appearance on grocers’ shelves in the late 1920s and early 30s, beginning with Peter Pan and Skippy.
Dr. George Washington Carver is unquestionably the father of the peanut industry, beginning in 1903 with his landmark study. He recommended that farmers rotate their cotton plants with peanuts that replenished the nitrogen content in the soil that cotton depleted. In his tireless research, he discovered hundreds of uses for the humble peanut.
While it is thought that the Inca Indians in South America ground peanuts centuries past (we know for sure 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 first peanut butter in 1895 for his elderly patients who had difficulty 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, economical, transportable and just plain yummy. Some of our more popular applications include:
Brittle + additional candies
Baking and cookies
Snacks, both boiled or roasted, 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 added benefit that food doesn’t hold any peanut taste after cooking.
Sadly, due to a rise in allergies, peanuts are disappearing from sporting events and other venues, and some airlines replaced them years ago using cheaper pretzels. But however you enjoy them, in their simplest form, covered in chocolate or mixed into your favorite dishes, this popular snack and sandwich filling crosses all age and economic barriers. We’ve gone , all right. And for those who are allergic, you have our heartfelt sympathy.