Whether you are a chunky or creamy enthusiast, peanut butter and its many forms include one of America’s favorite foods. Are you a brand loyalist, be it Skippy, Jif, Peter Pan, Smucker’s, or an organic-only consumer? On average, Americans eat more than six pounds of peanut products each year, worth more than $2 billion at the retail level. Peanut butter accounts for approximately half of the U.S. edible use of peanuts-accounting for $850 million in retail sales each year.
The peanut 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 countries, where it was a bit slow to catch on but became popular in Western Africa. (And the French just never quite got it.)
History informs us that it wasn’t until the early 1800s that peanuts were grown commercially in the USA, and definitely 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 primarily for its oil, they were initially regarded as fodder for livestock as well as 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, together with peas and beans.
Peanuts started to catch on in the late 1800s when Barnum and Bailey circus wagons traveled cross country hawking”hot roasted peanuts” to the crowds. (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 essentially still needed to be produced 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 crops with peanuts which replenished the nitrogen content in the soil that cotton depleted. In his tireless research, he discovered countless uses for the humble peanut.
How to Get Rid of Possums? While it is believed that the Inca Indians in South America ground peanuts centuries past (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 first peanut butter in 1895 for his older 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’re an easy, low-maintenance crop, nutritious, economical, transportable and just plain delicious. Some of the more popular uses include:
Brittle + other 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 additional advantage that food doesn’t hold any peanut flavor after cooking.
Sadly, due to a rise in allergies, peanuts are evaporating from sporting events and other places, and some airlines replaced them years ago with more economical pretzels. But no matter how you like 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 have gone nutty, all right. And for those of you who are allergic, you have our heartfelt sympathy.