The History of Peanut Butter

by Christopher Paul on December 6, 2012

Peanut butter, the everyman staple, which contains neither butter nor nuts (peanuts are legumes), originated as a health food of the upper classes. First created for sanitariums like John Harvey Kellogg’s Western Health Reform Institute, it satisfied the need for a protein-rich food that did not have to be chewed. Wealthy guests at those institutions popularized it among the well-heeled. But there were economic pressures to expand peanut-butter consumption more democratically. Once the boll weevil devastated cotton cultivation at the turn of the century, Southern farmers were encouraged by George Washington Carver and others to adopt the peanut as a replacement crop. A burgeoning market for peanut butter substantially increased demand for their harvests. While both Kellogg and Carver have been touted as “the father of peanut butter,” Krampner makes a case for George Bayle, a St. Louis businessman who, in 1894, became the first to produce and sell it as a snack food. Peanut butter was featured in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and soon thereafter Beech-Nut and Heinz introduced it nationally. By 1907, thirty-four million pounds of peanut butter were produced, up from two million in 1899.

I love peanut butter. Love, love, love, love it! Plain, with jelly, on bread, out of the jar, smothering a stick of celery, or (if necessary) on the tip of my finger, I can’t have enough of it. So, of course, I was interested in this quick article on the book, Creamy and Crunchy by The New Yorker. I feel bad for those who can’t have it.

Still, the history of food – especially in the late 19th to 20th centuries – has fascinated me for years. Understanding how food technology has affected our farms, homes, population, wars, and work is key to knowing what happens next as a species. And peanut butter is no exception. In fact, peanut butter like hybrids are considered key to the future of growing nations with extensive malnutrition.

Previous post:

Next post: