I haven't had much time to post, what with being busy and working on the future instead of the immediate. Even though writing here regularly was always intended to help me get to the next place in my life professionally (I accomplished my goal but I still enjoy doing the research, writing, writing about food and posting regularly.) And even though wiki pages and portable internet are now so commonplace, that a 450 word treatise on black kale is unwanted, possibly unneeded at this juncture of time and technology - I still have so much to say about the subject of food.
To get back in the swing of things, I grabbed a book off the shelf – Volume 2 of Encyclopedia of Fast Food and Junk Food (K-Z), randomly opened a page and will now write words about...peanut butter. It's like a creamy smooth prompt, that's good on a sandwich.
Most of us instantly think of George Washington Carver's connection to the peanut. But what was it he actually did with the peanut is the fuzzy part: Did he improve the crop, breed a new strain, save it from the peanut weevil, invent peanut butter? I remembered him as the 'inventor' of peanut butter, but I remembered wrong.
Not just wrong in that way which presumes a modern American thought of doing something and gets labeled as an inventor - as if innovator or entrepreneur is an insult. Grinding peanuts – an activity that had probably been performed at least once or twice in the 1,000s of years the crop had been domesticated – no Mr. Carver's contribution to the popularity of the peanut seems to be encouraging southern farmers to rotate nitrogen fixing peanuts with their cotton crop, improving soil and yields.
It is our old friend and huckster, John Harvey Kellogg who became the champion of peanut butter. A religious vegetarian and health food evangelical, Mr. Kellogg promoted ground peanuts as a substitute for 'cow's butter'. Besides his popular with the influential sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mr. Kellogg also began manufacturing peanut butter as we know it.
Peanuts are 50% oil and turn rancid quickly, this problem was solved by English chemist Wm. Norman who figured out a way to saturate unsaturated fats. Shelf life was extended at about the same time Mr. Carver's crop rotation put enough peanuts in production to lower the product's cost and in California, Rosefield Packing began selling peanut butter with hydrogenated oil replacing natural oil – the result was a low-priced, solid a room temperature product. All the forces converged to make peanut butter an affordable staple of American kitchens.
By 2000, three companies controlled the majority of the peanut butter Market, Rosefield's Skippy, which was acquired by Unilever, ConAgra's Peter Pan and Proctor & Gamble's Jif. What started out as a health food and is often thought of as a quintessential children's food, peanut butter is now sweetened and transfatted to the point of one cup can contain 1500 calories and twice the daily allowance of fat recommended by the USDA. Added to the questions of relative healthiness of the products are concerns over food allergies for young eaters and salmonella outbreaks, the worst, 2009's poisoned over 22,500 and killed nine.
This post wasn't so hard, actually pretty enjoyable once I sat down and did it. Plus, I can totally Cliff Claven someone if they try to say George Washington Carver invented peanut butter. Rather than pick another random subject to kick off next week's posting, I will write about the danger of immersion blenders. Plus by that time, I should have the 12 stitches removed from my finger and I'll be able to type about it pain free.