Peanut Butter: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Peanut butter as we know it in the modern world is made from roasted and ground peanuts. Peanuts most likely originated on the South American continent and were used by the Incas and Aztecs as both food and medicine. It should be noted that these early South Americans were likely the first people to pound peanuts into a paste.

Europeans first learned of peanuts in Brazil in the 16th century. Archaeological evidence shows peanuts being entombed with South American mummies and used in sacrifices going back to 1500 BCE.

The Spanish took peanuts back with them, and they were exported into Africa and Asia from Spain. It is via the Africans that peanuts were introduced to North America in the 18th century. Only in the 19th century would peanuts be cultivated for commercial purposes in the US. It was considered suitable only as food for livestock and the poor.

During the American Civil War, both sides consumed peanuts, with many on the Union side taking their love of the legume back home after the war. Peanuts gradually became more popular throughout 19th century America.

The European re-discovery of peanut butter is commonly associated with John Harvey Kellogg who filed a patent for a kind of peanut butter in 1895. His version involved boiling the peanuts so that they could be served to the wealthy patients at his sanitarium. In its early years, peanut butter was viewed as a delicacy, in part because of Kellogg’s rich and famous patients. Kellogg may not have been the first to create a form of peanut butter. Dr. Ambrose Straub from St. Louis and George Bayle are both possible contenders for the title of peanut butter inventor. Also in the running is a Canadian named Marcellus Gilmore Edson, who was the first to patent a roasted peanut paste in 1884.

During World War I, meat rationing drove many people to peanut butter as a protein source. In 1921, a patent was filed for a chemical process to partially hydrogenate the oil in peanut butter to prevent separation. The patent was filed by Joseph Redfield who would go on to found Skippy peanut butter in the 1930s. Skippy was a part of the rations sent with soldiers in World War II. It was those American GIs who combined peanut butter and jelly for the first time on crackers.

Peanut butter flavor profile

Peanut butter has a strong nutty taste with a subtle roasted coffee-like note. Most versions have a mild amount of saltiness with some sweetness. The sweetness can vary considerably depending on the brand and type of peanut butter.

Health benefits

Peanut butter is nutritious and contains significant amounts of several compounds that are important for health, like:

  • Vitamins: The peanuts used to make peanut butter contain high levels of vitamin E and B vitamins like niacin and pyridoxine.
  • Minerals: You can get much of your daily requirement for magnesium and phosphorus from a serving of peanut butter.

With peanut butter as a regular part of your diet, you may be treating or preventing health problems like:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: People who get adequate niacin in their diet are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Gallstones: Diets high in the magnesium contained in peanut butter are recommended for gallstone prevention.

Health concerns

Peanut butter is high in fat and calories, so it might not be the best food if you are trying to lose weight.

Common uses

The traditional way to use peanut butter is as a spread for bread, but it is a common ingredient in cookies and other desserts.