In smooth peanut butter, the texture is decidedly creamy like cream cheese. However, US food regulations state that peanut butter, to be qualified as such, must contain 90% peanuts.
Who knew that America’s darling, peanut butter, was first patented by a Canadian (Marcellus Edson) in 1884? But peanut paste draws on its history of the Aztecs, who used a lot of peanuts and may have used this paste as a toothache remedy. With all our advancements in science, toothaches remain a nightmarish experience. One can only imagine how precious this paste must have been for the Aztecs. But the peanut paste of the 19th century had a butter- and lard-like quality to recommend it, a smoothness that must have been unusual for the time before the lumpy bits were branded as “crunchy” in the present day. Crunchy peanut butter has chunks of peanut in it to give it a coarse and granular texture. In smooth peanut butter, the texture is decidedly creamy like cream cheese. However, US food regulations state that peanut butter, to be qualified as such, must contain 90% peanuts. It should be harvested in the months from August to October and transported for mechanical peanut shelling in controlled ambient surroundings. The shelling is the most delicate part of the process, as it has to be done carefully so the shell is not damaged during the process. This is followed by a screening process, where the peanuts are screened for contaminants.
Similar to coffee beans, peanuts go through a roasting process, where they are rocked along the way for even roasting. Subsequently, they go through a process of blanching (heat or water) to remove the residual seed coat. Finally, the peanuts are ground into two different consistencies via two separate grinders, resulting in a medium grind and, subsequently, a fine grind. At this point, stabilisers are added as are chopped peanuts for “chunky” peanut butter. Finally comes the cooling before the peanut butter is packaged. The US uses half of its peanut production for peanut butter. China and India are the first and second-largest producers, followed by the US (at third position), but we, and I daresay the Chinese, are yet to adopt peanut butter in the way Americans have, who celebrate a National Peanut Butter Day on January 24. But it’s not only about the big peanut butter manufacturers, an artisanal peanut butter movement has also taken flight, although it doesn’t quite boast big numbers—it is seen even as a political statement, a backlash against industrialisation (in an “era” of posts, why should peanut butter be left behind?).
Of course, peanut butter hasn’t just stopped at being a sandwich spread. It’s gone way beyond and Reese’s peanut butter cups are proof of that. It was conjured up in 1928 by HB Reese, a dairy farmer who gave up his work with Hershey’s and decided to create his own iconic candy. This was the beginning of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, which is now, as per some sources, the largest-selling candy in the US. Reese saw great success with it and, post his death, his sons held on to the shares and merged the company with Hershey’s—a gharwapsi of sorts. Reese’s continued to endure and is today valued at over $1 billion. As with all things iconic in the Internet age, there was a “death” hoax floated about the beloved peanut butter cups in September that the company had decided to discontinue them. This was ferociously debunked much to the comfort of fans (this author included).
A little over 200 years old, the enduring legacy of peanut butter—with its simplicity and rustic charm—continues to endear itself to millions of peanut butter lovers, taking one back to simpler and more satisfying times. As for those with peanut allergy, you will just have to find another substitute, but you are missing out on one of the simpler and happier pleasures of life.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani.
She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad.