Peanut butter (Recipe: spicy Chinese peanut sauce)
If peanuts aren't nuts (they're legumes, like peas and lentils), and peanut butter isn't butter, how did peanut butter get its name?
Inquiring minds want to know.
In 1890, an unknown St. Louis physician supposedly encouraged the owner of a food products company, George A. Bayle Jr., to process and package ground peanut paste as a nutritious protein substitute for people with poor teeth who couldn't chew meat.
Around that time, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan, began experimenting with ground peanuts as a vegetarian source of protein for his patients. His brother, W.K. Kellogg (yep, the cereal guy), was business manager of their sanitarium, the Western Health Reform Institute, but soon opened Sanitas Nut Company, which supplied foods like ground peanut paste to local grocery stores. The Kelloggs' patent for the "Process of Preparing Nut Meal" in 1895 described "a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter."
C.H. Sumner introduced peanut butter to the world at the Universal Exposition of 1904 (World's Fair) in St. Louis, and in 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield began selling in California a product that was churned like butter so it was smoother than the gritty peanut butters of that time. By 1928 Swift & Company had brought Peter Pan to market.
Except for a stabilizer here and there, peanut butter hasn't changed much in the past century. It contains, by law, a minimum of 90% peanuts, with no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. Some brands add natural sweeteners and salt, plus a stabilizer to keep the peanut butter fresh and the oil from separating. "Old-fashioned" or "natural" peanut butter does not have the stabilizer, so the oil does separate and should be stirred back in before using.
A few more things inquiring minds wanted to know about peanut butter:
- Americans eat three pounds of peanut butter per person per year — enough to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon, though I can't imagine why we'd want to do that.
- Peanut shells are used in kitty litter, wallboard, fireplace logs, paper, animal feed, and sometimes as fuel for power plants.
- Two peanut farmers have been elected President of the US: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
- One acre of peanuts will make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.
- March 1 is National Peanut Butter Lovers Day.
Spicy Chinese peanut sauce
Warning: this sauce is addictive! Based on a recipe from Nina Simonds' Asian Noodles, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Double the recipe and keep it on hand in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, though I doubt it will last that long. Great for dipping Vietnamese salad rolls, slices of cucumber, or grilled chicken. Thin with a few Tbsp of water to use as a dressing for noodle salads. Makes 3-1/2 cups.
1-inch thick slice fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half
10 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp chili paste with garlic, or more or less to taste
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup soy sauce
7 Tbsp sugar (or equivalent sugar substitute)
7 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar (or Worcestershire sauce)
6 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (the kind you get in Asian groceries — I use Maruhon brand)
10 Tbsp water
In a food processor with a metal blade (or in a blender), finely chop ginger and garlic. Add remaining ingredients in the order listed and process until smooth. It should be the consistency of heavy cream. If too thick, add more water. If too thin, add more peanut butter. Keep in the fridge in a covered container.