The History of Peanut Butter

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One of the few things to unite meat-eaters, vegetarians and even vegans, peanut butter is perhaps the great leveller of the fitness industry. High in calories, fat and protein, the delicious substance has been a go to option for muscle fanatics over the past century. Some use it as a spread whereas others, myself included sadly, eat it right out of the jar until someone catches us.

In today’s post on peanut butter, we’re going to look at the origins, invention and growth of one of the gym goer’s greatest allies….Peanut Butter.

The Past Peanut

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From current estimates, it was South America which first saw the peanut used as a food substance. Cultivated some three thousand years ago, the peanut was ground into a paste, which we’ll take as a precursor to our modern butter. Peanut paste proved to be an incredibly durable meal option as its longevity far surpassed those who first cottoned on the idea of grinding it up. While we have no idea which society first initiated this process, it’s likely that the Incas and the Aztecs had something to do with it.

Now fast forwarding several centuries and indeed, millennia, we come to the nineteenth century. A time which historians have pinpointed as the birthplace of modern peanut butter.

Modernising the Peanut

is-peanut-butter-healthy-v2-1-640xhWhile it is tempting to highlight just one individual as the inventor of peanut butter, the truth is that no one really knows. Indeed, the relatively simple question of who created the product has divided historians for quite some time.

According to Eleanor Rosakranse, it was New York woman named  Rose Davis who first initiated the process. Davis’ invention supposedly came in the 1840s after her child informed her of a peanut butter like substance being produced in Cuba at that time. Others cite the Canadian born chemist Marcellus Gilmore Edson as the man responsible for creating the modern peanut butter. Edson’s claim as the inventor stems from an 1884 patent for ‘peanut-candy‘. Unfortunately this ‘candy’ was more like the peanut paste of the Aztecs and Incas as opposed to the butter on your shelf. Further negating Edson’s claim is the fact that he did little in the way of promoting or selling his product.

Now if selling peanut butter is the only requisite here, credit must be given to George A. Bayle, a St. Louis businessman who made a small fortune selling peanut butter in the early twentieth-century. Supposedly seeking to help those who struggled to digest meat properly, Bayle, in conjunction with an unknown medical doctor, began marketing and selling his own nut butter. Further staking claim to his peanut butter legacy, Bayle ran a series of ad campaigns in the 1920s stating that his company was the ‘Original Manufacture of Peanut Butter.’ There was one man however, whose own work disputed Bayle’s claims.

The Cereal King

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Previously covered on this website for his unique views on diet and masterbation, John Harvey Kellogg is a surprising addition to the peanut butter story. Indeed for many, Kellogg is the undisputed peanut butter king as well as the inventor of your dry, tasteless cereal.

This is undoubtedly owing to the patent Kellogg received in 1896 from the US government to protect a manufacturing technique to make peanut butter. Utilising his superior manufacturing processes, Kellog began selling and promoting his peanut butter as early as 1897, several years it seems, before Bayle. Kellogg, it has been noted, was tireless in his promotion of peanut butter, believing it to be of immense use to those struggling to maintain their health and proper digestion. So strong were his views on the subject that he regularly fed peanut butter to his own patients.

But there’s more

So Kellogg is the inventor right? Well not exactly…

While Kellogg did much to advance the peanut butter cause, it was one of his employees who arguably made a much greater impact. Resigning from Kellogg’s company in 1896 to follow his own business path, Ambrose Straub was granted a patent for one of the earliest peanut butter machines in 1903. This machine, quite significantly, made the process of converting peanuts into peanut butter a far quicker and less tedious affair.

The importance of Straub’s machine became clear to all when peanut butter made its debut at the 1904  World’s Fair in St. Louis. In attendance at the fair was C.H. Summer, a private peanut butter vendor with a Straub machine. The only peanut butter vendor at the entire event.

Meeting the demands of a hungry public, Summer sold $705.11 worth of peanut butter. A substantial amount by anyone’s standards. This was only the beginning of peanut butter’s mass popularity as the years following the Fair saw a number of companies emerge which sold the product. Of note was the the Beech-Nut-Packing Company, established in 1904, which sold peanut butter for the next fifty years.

The Beech-Nut company would soon face stiff competition as more and more producers entered the arena. Indeed within two decades of their establishment, Beech-Nut was up against Heinz, Jif and several other US companies. As production methods changed, costs became cheaper and we the consumers, benefited from delicious peanutty goodness.

Fun Facts

  • Despite coming up with over three hundred uses for the peanut, George Washington Carver did not invent Peanut Butter.
  • It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter.
  • The average peanut farm is 100 acres.
  • Two peanut farmers have been elected president of the USA – Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
  • There are six cities in the U.S. named Peanut: Peanut, California; Lower Peanut, Pennsylvania; Upper Peanut, Pennsylvania; Peanut, Pennsylvania, Peanut, Tennessee; and Peanut West Virginia
  • Goober—a nickname for peanuts—comes from “nguba”, the Congo language name for peanut.

Sources

Inventors.com

Krampner, Jon. Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food. Columbia University Press, 2014.

National Peanut Board

Peanut Bureau of Canada

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