I don’t think any American can remember their first encounter with peanut butter. The event would be akin to one’s first encounter with water. At least this is true for my family, friends, and me. It seems like we’ve always been able to enjoy it.
When mom packed a PB&J sandwich into my Davy Crockett lunch box, I especially anticipated lunch time at school. (I wish I still had that lunch box.) Peanut butter has long been my go -to food whenever a quick pick-me-up is needed.
Nut butters, especially peanut butter, provide a solid base for my vegetarian lifestyle. It’s full of protein, fiber, folate, and niacin. I found out a few years ago that it contains the anti-cancer nutrient, resveratrol. So, the stuff is pretty good for you, unless you have a nut allergy.
Peanut butter kept me going during my college years. It was an instant, between classes meal, had a taste I never tired of, and kept well. One of the best attributes was its low cost.
I’ll eat just about anything that contains peanut butter, especially if it’s chunk style. The best tasting is the organic variety, but I only buy natural peanut butter rarely because I don’t like to stir the oil back into the paste. I’d probably eat it more often if someone comes up with a clean, fast and easy method of stirring the stuff.
Peanut butter should appeal to history buffs, too. The first peanut butter-like food was enjoyed by the ancient Aztecs. They were the first people to roast the legumes, then grind them into a paste. I’m sure the consistency of that first peanut paste was thinner and less salty-sweet than what we expect in today’s product. If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of peanuts, they are native to the Bolivian Andes foothills.
The familiar peanut butter of today had its beginnings in Montréal, Quebec, not the United States. George Washington Carver has been wrongly credited with cultivating peanuts and inventing the paste product. Actually, Canadian pharmacist Marcellus Edson developed his product as a nutritious staple food for people who had difficulty chewing solid food. He mixed milled peanuts with peanut oil, plus a little sugar as a hardening agent, into a product with the consistency of butter. Edson’s milling process was patented in 1884.
There have been some concerns regarding peanut butter and health. Peanuts are susceptible to a type of mold that produces the carcinogen, aflatoxin. Contamination levels are closely monitored to control for safe levels of aflatoxin. American peanut butter’s aflatoxin levels are well below the FDA limits of 20 parts per billion. People with peanut allergy must avoid peanuts and peanut butter, completely. The most severe cases may include the symptom of anaphylactic shock, which is a dire concern to anyone who has it.
On the other hand, the health benefits far outweigh the common problems with the food. As mentioned above, peanut butter contains resveratrol, folate, and vitamin E. It also contains helpful fats, protein, vitamin B-3, and the antioxidant p-courmaric acid. If you eat the chunk style, you can enjoy the fact that it has a bit more unsaturated and less saturated fat, plus more fiber, than the smooth variety.
As is the case with many foods, there are gourmet peanut butters. Most of these are manufactured in small quantities and sold at premium prices in boutique food outlets and health food stores. Most are hand milled from locally raised peanuts. Some of the products might include such ingredients as honey, or chocolate. Others may be blended with special oils and herbs.
There are dozens of ways to celebrate National Peanut Butter Month. I plan on having plenty on hand for special sandwiches and snacks. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is to spread chunky style onto 12-grain toast, sprinkle on some Bacos, include a romaine lettuce leaf (folded), then top with another slice of toast soaked with Italian dressing. This is perfect for a quick meal on the run.