The peanut was first known to exist in South America, as far back as 950 B.C., most likely in Brazil. The Incas were known to have made peanuts into a paste during this time, as well as to have peanut crops. Peanuts were actually said to have been found in the tombs of mummies in Peru!
The peanut had to get to the United States somehow from Peru. So how did this happen? It is believed that the peanut made it to Africa from Peru by early explorers of South America. Then, the peanut was traded to Spain, and from Spain to the American colonies.
Once in America, peanuts were grown commercially in North Carolina as early as 1818 and in Virginia as early as the 1840's. In the 1890's, George Washington Carver, who worked at the Alabama Tuskegee Institute, started to use the peanut as a replacement crop for the whipped out cotton crops destroyed by weevils.
In the 1400's, peanut crops were growing in Africa. Africans are said to have put peanuts into stew once they were ground up. In China, peanuts were actually made into creamy sauces. During the civil war, it is said that peanuts were made into a peanut porridge.
In the early 1900's, an Italian immigrant by the name of Amedo Obici started roasting peanuts in oil. He and Mario Peruzzi began selling these peanuts under the label of "Planters" peanuts! George Washington Carver in 1903 went on to find about 300 uses for the peanut with his research at Alabama Tuskegee Institute, such as in soups and desserts. He is said to be the father of the peanut industry, for his work with peanuts and their horticulture.
The beginnings of peanut butter began with a doctor in the city of St. Louis in the 1890's. It is said that this doctor was looking for a protein solution for poor people with bad teeth who could not chew meat. This doctor originally used his own meat grinder to grind the peanuts into peanut paste. The doctor took his idea to George A. Bayle, Jr., who owned a food products company. The peanut paste began to be packaged and sold in barrels for about 6 cents per pound!
Around this time, Dr. John Kellogg, the staff physician at Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, also began making peanut paste for his patients. He tried to get his patients to become vegetarian, so this was a way for them to get protein and avoid eating meat. He and his brother, W.K. Kellogg, actually patented a peanut butter process. The patent was granted in 1895, stating peanut butter to be "a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter." The peanut butter by the Kellogg brothers steamed the peanuts and then grinded them (which gave it a different taste from today's roasted peanuts used for peanut butter.) The Kellogg brothers then focused on their cereal, which was sold as the Kellogg brand worldwide.
One of the Kellogg's employees, Joseph Lambert, made hand-operated peanut grinders to make peanut butter in 1896. He developed the idea and created the Lambert Food Company. His wife actually made a cookbook about nuts and how to cook them (including peanut butter recipes.)
Australia made peanut butter available to the public in 1899. It was produced by Edward Halsey at the Sanitarium Health Food Company there. The United States saw its public introduction of peanut butter into mainstream society in 1904, at the St. Louis World Fair (then called the Louisiana Purchase Expedition.) C.H. Sumner sold the pneaut butter at a concession stand at the fair, making a total of over $700 in sales!
In 1908, Krema Products Company, located in Columbus, Ohio, started to sell peanut butter. This company is the oldest of the peanut butter producers still in business today. At that time, the peanut butter was only sold in Ohio, since the company's founder Benton Black wanted it this way. No matter, however, because barrels of peanut butter don't keep too well anyway.
The next state to produce peanut butter was California. Joseph Rosefield was selling different brands of peanut butter there, in a smooth variety that was churned like butter and unlike the previous gritty brands that had previously existed. Joseph also obtained a patent for a process that kept peanut butter fresh for up to a year, by preventing the oil from separating from the peanut butter.
In 1928, Joseph Rosefield licensed his smooth peanut butter recipe to Pond Company. They sold the peanut butter as Peter Pan brand! Then, in 1932, Joseph and the Pond Company fell out, and Joseph went on to create his own business called Rosefield Packing Company. It began selling peanut butter under the brand name of Skippy in 1933. Two years later, Rosefield made a crunchy version of peanut butter that added chopped peanuts after the peanut butter was processed.
In 1958, Proctor&Gamble started producing the most popular brand of peanut butter today, Jif. Proctor & Gamble made this possible by buying W. T. Young Foods in Kentucky. Actually, Jif has the largest plant for making peanut butter anywhere! The most popular brand of peanut butter in Canada is Kraft, who also sells its product to Australia.
Today, many nuts are made into some type of butter. Nut butters, as you might call them, are made from different types of nuts including the almond and hazelnut. Nutella markets a hazelnut spread made with hazelnuts.
Of course you know, however, that peanuts aren't really nuts, they're legumes. A legume is a dry fruit that has a seam on two sides. Legumes are also known as pods. With most legumes, the seam opens on two sides. The peanut's pod, however, does not split open like other legumes (at least not by itself.)
The United States happens to be the biggest supplier of peanut butter, and the biggest consumer! Argentina and Chile also export large amounts of peanut butter. Other countries harvest peanut crops, but the peanuts aren't generally used for peanut butter. They're used for animal feed and peanut oil for cooking.
In the United States, law governs that peanut butter contain at least 90% peanuts. What this means is that if you make a lowfat version of peanut butter you have to call it something else, like a nut spread. Keep this in mind if you're planning on developing a new peanut butter process and marketing it yourself as the next Peter Pan!
Peanut butter is made with peanuts roasted in an oven. The peanuts used have to be inspected first. Most of the peanuts used come from Florida, Georgia, and good ol' Alabama. Once a peanut is roasted, it then goes through a process to rapidly cool it with air so it doesn't cook further. The outer skin is removed with belts or brushes. The peanuts are then split, cleaned and sorted.
Peanuts now go to the grinder. A first stage includes pulverizing of the nut, with a second stage adding the other ingredients like salt and sugar. It is in this second stage that the peanut butter has a stabilizer added so the oil doesn't separate.