The Story of Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is one of the most favorite and versatile foods found on supermarket shelves today. Whether it’s used in a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a basic peanut butter on bread sandwich, between crackers, in pies, puddings, cookies or other desserts, as a spread, or straight from the spoon, Americans have a long lasting love affair with peanut butter. Amazingly, peanut butter is a fairly modern invention.

Peanuts have long been used to supplement human diet in many corners of the world. Chinese cooks have added crushed peanuts to flavor sauces for hundreds of years while Africans traditionally added ground peanuts to stews for flavoring and thickening. During the Civil War, peanuts (called goober peas in the South) were made into a thick concoction called “peanut porridge”. In the 1880’s, St. Louis doctor developed what he called “peanut paste” and recommended it to patients who had difficulty chewing. Another doctor, Dr. Harvey Kellogg, also experimented with what he called “nut meal” or “peanut meal” in his quest for healthier foods. His “peanut meal” was close to what we know as peanut butter but since he steamed the nuts instead of roasting them, the flavor was mild. He abandoned his experimentation with “nut meal” to pursue another interest – breakfast cereal and the Kellogg company was created.

The first peanut butter debuted at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904 when a concession vendor named C.H. Sumner sold the first peanut butter. Crowds raved about the taste and Sumner sold more than $700 worth of peanut butter, equivalent to a year’s wages or more.

Peanut butter continued to improve and to grow in popularity. In 1980 the Krema Company of Columbus, Ohio began marketing peanut butter but sold the product only within the state of Ohio for freshness reasons.

A man named Joseph Rosewood who sold several brands of peanut butter in California created Modern peanut butter in 1922. He experimented with peanut butter and tried churning the substance until it became smooth. He patented his idea and meat packer Swift and Company soon adopted the new way of making peanut butter. Their E.K. Pond Peanut Butter was soon renamed and Peter Pan Peanut Butter hit the store shelves in 1928.

Rosefield launched his brand – Skippy – in 1932 after a dispute with Swift’s and Peter Pan. In 1935 he developed the first crunch peanut butter. The next big event in peanut butter manufacturing came when Proctor and Gamble bought out the company that made Big Top Peanut Butter in Kentucky. In 1958, Proctor and Gamble launched their new brand – JIF. Today, the JIF factory in Kentucky is the world’s largest peanut butter plant and turns out a quarter of a million jars each workday!
Peanut butter is a standby and a popular favorite taste. Americans eat the average of three pounds of peanut butter per person each year and about half the peanuts harvested end up in peanut butter. A single acre of peanuts can provide enough peanut butter to make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches. Peanut butter, by law, must be 90% or more pure peanut product. Several peanut butter makers add a little sugar and salt for flavor along with preservatives that keeps the oils from separating.

Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are the top three peanut producing states in the nation. Two peanut farmers have been elected president – Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.

Each March, peanut butter fans celebrate Peanut Lovers Month, an annual observance since 1974. March is also National Nutrition Month so the nutritional benefits of peanut butter come to the forefront during that month.

Today, people of all ages enjoy the smooth taste of peanut butter and reap the nutritional values. Many brands are on the market including some natural versions that are much more like the early peanut butters than today’s name brands. Enjoy a peanut butter sandwich and thank C.H. Sumner, the man who brought peanut butter to the nation!

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