Peanut Butter in the Making
Since its invention in the late 1800’s, peanut butter has become a healthy staple in the kitchen cabinets of most households. Peanuts themselves have been used for centuries in a vast variety of foods and cultures. Doctors looked to manufacturers to help produce a product to act as a protein supplement for patients who could not eat meat due to their declining dental health.
The owner of one such food manufacturing company, George A. Bayle, Jr., took the challenge. After much experimentation, he found a way to quickly produce peanut butter, made mass quantities, and sold it for around 6 cents per pound. Dozens of individuals throughout history helped to improve the processes used to manufacture peanut butter, including Dr. John Harvey Kellog, Dr. George Washington Carver, and C.H. Summer. Joseph L. Rosefield is credited with receiving the first patent for a “shelf-stable” brand of peanut butter.
Peanut butter can not be made without first growing the peanut plant. There are a variety of peanut types available but the best for making peanut butter are runner peanuts because they have a uniform size optimal for even roasting. The vast majority of these nuts are grown in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia beginning around April of each year.
Ten days after planting, peanut plants sprout and begin to grow into green leafy plants which end up approximately a foot and a half tall. As the plant grows and the flowers fall off, vines known as “pegs” begin to grow out from the base of the plant, digging themselves into the ground where the peanut itself will form.
In September and October, when conditions on the ground are perfect (not too wet or too dry), the peanuts are harvested by machines which start by pulling the plants from the ground, breaking away the roots, and shaking out excess soil. Peanut plants are placed in an upside down position for a few days to dry. When the dried plants are harvested, they are placed in wagons and given additional drying time, after which they are inspected by the Federal or State Inspection Bureaus for quantity and valuation purposes.
Peanuts are taken to shelling plants before they are sent on to manufacturing plants. In the shelling plants, the peanuts are sorted and excess debris such as dirt, sticks, and rocks are removed. After the peanuts area cleaned and separated by size they are shelled and packed for shipping.
Peanut butter manufacturers receive the fresh peanuts and begin the process of turning them into peanut butter. The peanuts are first placed into a hot air roaster which raises them to a temperature of 240 degrees Celsius. The oven rocks back and forth to make sure the peanuts roast at an even pace, turning them from white to a light brown color.
After roasting, the peanuts are cooled at room temperature, but at a fast paste. Suction fans are used to pull the warm air out of the room. The quick cooling process keeps the peanuts from continuing to cook and helps to ensure that the natural oils will remain in the peanut.
Once roasted and cooled the peanuts are placed in a blancher machine. The blancher machine removes the outer skins by lightly rubbing the peanuts between two belts. The two kernels of each nut are then split and the heart in the middle is removed. The heart of the nut is not used in peanut butter because it is too bitter.
No waste is created in the process of blanching and shelling the peanut. The skins are passed on to farmers who in turn include the excess in pig feed. The hearts are given or sold to manufacturers of bird food!
The roasted and split peanuts quickly find themselves in a large stainless steel container. From there, the nuts are dropped into a grinder where they are ground into a paste at a reasonable pace. Care is taken to not grind the peanuts too quickly as doing so would produce heat and allow the peanuts to begin cooking again.
Additional ingredients are added to the ground peanuts in order to create the peanut butter we all know and love. They include salt, sugar, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. The hydrogenated vegetable oil is considered a stabilizer as it keeps the natural peanut oil from separating from the peanut butter and rising to the top of the jar. No artificial ingredients or preservatives are ever added to peanut butter. Oddly enough, peanut butter is one of few foods that will never need refrigeration.
Mixing the peanut butter paste heats it to approximately 60 degrees Celsius. Before jarring, the paste is cooled back down to 38 degrees. Once the machines fill the jars with peanut butter paste they are moved to the capping machine. The caps themselves are pre-prepared with aluminum seals inside. The caps are placed on the jars, which are then heated. The heating process causes the aluminum to fall to the top of the jar, where it forms a tight seal. Another machine will then print the production and expiration dates on the jar. Unopened containers of peanut butter will stay fresh for up to a year.
Peanut butter is known as a healthy food. The tasty paste is packed with vitamins, protein, and minerals. While peanut butter does contain fat, it is NOT a source of cholesterol. A large percentage of the fat found in peanut butter (80%) is unsaturated, or good fat. The other 20% of fat is transfat, or bad fat, and comes from the oil used as a stabilizer in the mixing process. It’s possible to avoid the transfat by purchasing natural peanut butter, processed without the hydrogenated vegetable oil. The peanut oil will separate and float to the top of the jar, but mixing the oil back into the peanut butter will quickly solve that problem.
The production of peanut butter enjoys a notably high standard of quality. The law states that peanuts must make up at least 90% of the final peanut butter product. The law also mandates that no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives are to be included. While other “peanut butter spreads” exist in today’s market, all pale in comparison to a jar of all natural peanut butter!