What is more sacred than peanut butter and how did peanut butter become so popular in the United States? Well, we can thank a world war and a vegetarian. Peanuts are high in protein and also cheap. They have been consumed for more than 250 years in the United States, but peanut butter didn’t exist until the 1890s. In the 1920s, peanut butter becomes popular, when it was first mass produced. This creamy spread became an American icon, after the meat shortage, which was caused by World War II.
Peanuts had transformed by the middle of 20th century, from a slave food to a nuisance to a staple. In the 1700s, peanuts were brought to America along with African slaves. Peanuts were sold roasted in-shell by street vendors since 1787. In the 19th century, theater owners and ministers complained bitterly of messy remains and crackling shells in their establishments. The invention of mechanized harvester during the Civil War, drove down the already-low production cost.
Peanuts have become very popular among malnourished Southerners. Many confederate soldiers used peanuts in order to make a chocolate substitute, a coffee-like beverage, and pies. However, confederates didn’t make peanut butter. Even though grinding peanuts into a paste looks like relatively easy innovation, there is no proof that peanut butter existed in the United States until vegetarian and physician John Harvey Kellogg served nut butters to his patients in his sanitarium in the 1890s.
Kellogg (who also co-invented breakfast cereal with Will Keith Kellogg, his brother) recognized commercial potential and sold grinders to health-food stores. After several years, producers started selling jarred peanut butter. Peanut butter was an expensive niche food for 20 years. Teahouses sold sandwiches, which were made with peanut butter, as a trendy accompaniment to their beverages. The price of peanut butter dropped, when commercial production of it took off in the 1920s.
The popularity of peanut butter increased when manufacturers learned to add hydrogenated fat in order to prevent the oil from separating. However, sales really went through the roof when manufacturers added increasingly stiff doses of sugar. During the World War II, the importance of peanut butter grew in the United States, as the scarcity of meat required people, especially soldiers to look for alternative protein sources. George Washington Carver is a legendary agriculturalist who had a significant role in peanut history.
From the 1910s to 1920s, during a boll weevil infestation of the deep South, Carver urged cotton farmers to switch to peanuts. He also recommended many uses for peanuts which he learned from other sources. However, peanut butter was not one of them. His promotional activities were successful and resulted in substantial cultivation in South. Virginia and the Carolinas were some of the biggest producers of peanut. If Carver was still alive today, he would have a lot of work to do, since demand could use a boost.