Thursday, August 7, 2008

For the Love of Peanut Butter

What is it about peanut butter? I just go nuts over it. I only know a few people who don't like it. As a kid, it was a staple food. It still is. Even now, as a middle-aged husband and father, peanut butter sandwiches or peanut butter on toast are on my menu at least once a week.

Maybe it's because of my childhood, but for me, peanut butter is comfort food. I think it is for a lot of other people, too. Embarrassing as it might be, I'll admit that I've sat in front of the TV with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon more than once. I'll bet some of you have, too.

While George Washington Carver is often credited for inventing peanut butter, it's not true. Sure, he was a really smart guy and a huge proponent of peanuts, and peanut butter. He didn't invent the stuff, though. Peanut butter, or peanut paste, has been in use for centuries all over the world. The peanut, and peanut butter, figure prominently in many Asian and Middle-Eastern dishes. It's even been used in medicine! Dr. Edward Bach, a British physician practicing in the late 1920s through 30s, recommended peanut butter as a protein source for patients who had trouble chewing.

I love peanut butter. I use it on sandwiches, in cooking and, as I said, straight from the jar. My kids do too. Fortunately, my family hasn't had anyone who suffers from peanut allergies. That would put a huge damper on my peanut butter consumption. My kids have friends who are allergic, making it tough if I'm fixing them lunch, but I'm learning to adapt. I think it's better to curb my peanut cravings for a day than risk killing the neighbor's kids.

Growing up, Skippy peanut butter was the brand to have. Mostly because that's what my Mom always bought for us. My tastes have changed over the years, though. Most modern peanut butter brands have some kind of hydrogenated oils added to them. I'd rather not eat much of that. If I remember right, this practice became popular in the 1940's. Admittedly, it does some good things for the manufacturers. It extends the shelf life of the product and stops the oils from separating, so you don't have to stir up your peanut butter before using it. Hydrogenated oils also adds a creamy mouth feel that has became popular with most consumers.

Hydrogenated oils have come under attack as sources of trans-fatty acids, thought to contribute to heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and stroke. I switched to "natural" peanut butter, several years ago, because of health concerns, and I've developed quite a taste for it. I love reading the ingredients label and finding only three items: peanuts, peanut oil, and salt. Nothing else. Unfortunately, it's more expensive that way. I can't figure out why. There's less stuff, and less processing. You'd think it would cost less, too, but it doesn't. I'm not a peanut butter snob, mind you. As long as it tastes good, I'll still eat it.

Still, I prefer natural peanut butters, like Adams peanut butter, most of the time. I like both the intense peanut flavor and texture. To make using it easier, I stir it up good and keep it in the refrigerator. Keeping it cold naturally thickens the oil and keeps it from separating. It also inhibits bacteria growth and rancidity.

There was a study done by the US Agricultural Research Service showing that commercial peanut butters don't contain trans fats. If they're right, that's great. Peanut butter is naturally high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are actually good for you. The trouble is that peanut butter is still high in overall fat and calories.

Recently, I was contact by a peanut butter company named P.B. Loco. These are my kind of people. They've added all kinds of wonderful things to their peanut butter, creating some obvious, and some not so obvious, flavor combinations. They were nice enough to send me some of their peanut butter to try. I'll be doing a review on them, and maybe a recipe or two, in the coming weeks.

In fact, because of all this peanut butter love, I've decided to declare August Peanut Butter Month here at Mormon Foodie. Stay tuned for all kinds of peanuty recipes and other fun in the coming weeks. To get you started, try my Peanut Butter Pasta and Groundnut Stew recipes. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

And don't forget the peanut butter!


William Morris said...

Okay, here's one for you:

Toast a slice of bread. Spread butter on it. Spread peanut butter on top of that. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


LuckyGirl said...

I love PB Loco--the flavors are terrific--but it contains hydrogenated oils. This is a bit of shameless self-promotions, but you should check out The Peanut Butter Blog:

John Newman said...

William! I've tried butter and peanut butter, but not with powdered sugar. Interesting!

LuckyGirl, I don't mind a bit of shameless self promotion, as long as it's related. :)