Peanut Butter… The History

By: Malena Esposito

It’s 12 in the afternoon, and your stomach is roaring. You hurry downstairs after a long morning of watching Netflix and avoiding responsibilities. As you open the pantry door, you hear the subtle creeaak you know all too well. Reaching for the bottom shelf, you pull out the half-empty jar of peanut butter. Now what to do with this half empty jar? You could make a traditional PB&J sandwich, the classic ants on a log, spread it on top of apples or bananas, or use it in a cookie recipe. But have you ever stopped to wonder how peanut butter became such a delicious pantry staple?

It is speculated that the peanut plant itself came from Peru or Brazil, though there is not much evidence to prove it. According to the National Peanut Board, South American pottery was found in the shape of a peanut shell shell around 1550 BC, while Central Brazilian tribes used a combination of peanuts and maize (known today as corn) to make a celebratory concoction. There are also records that the Incas buried their dead with jars filled with the legume in order to provide food for the afterlife. By the time the Spanish started to venture into the New World, peanuts were growing in present day Mexico, and Spanish explorers ended up trading the crop with the Africans and Asians. Because of the Africans, who were being transported for slave labor, they made their way to North America in the 1700s.  For the next couple hundred years, peanuts were primary grown in present-day South Carolina, used for oil, food, and/or as a cocoa substitute.

However, the actual peanut butter product dates back all the way to the ancient Aztecs. The Aztecs ground roasted peanuts and used them as a toothache remedy. Fast forward to the nineteenth century — Marcellus Gilmore Edson from Canada patented a process that created a paste from milled roasted peanuts between two heated surfaces. Just ten years later, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (who would later become the founder of Kellogg’s cereal) branded another peanut butter making process, only this one with raw peanuts, instead of roasted ones. His intention was to use the product as a healthy protein substitute for his patients that had difficulty chewing meat due to a lack of teeth. In 1903, Dr. Ambrose Staub from Missouri licensed a peanut butter making machine, and in 1922, chemist Joseph Rosefield invented a way for oils to naturally separate by using partially hydrogenated oil. Six years later, Rosefield sold his invention to the company that went on to create Peter Pan peanut butter. Four years after that, Rosefield began manufacturing his own brand under the name of Skippy.

Today, peanut butter has made its way into 75% of homes in the U.S, and is used for sandwiches, desserts, and snacks. Americans alone consume 700 million pounds of peanut butter per year, which breaks down to 3 pounds per person. So, the next time your mouth is watering over that delicious, creamy taste, you know who to thank.

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