Now many of you out there are probably assuming that my diet consists almost entirely of apples. While it is true, in fact, that my diet might make me a suitable resident of many an early 19th century radical utopian community, the truth is that if there is one food I consume more than any other, it is certainly peanut butter. So I was absolutely delighted to discover this new history of my favorite spreadable legume, Cream and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food. Among the fascinating things I learned in this book is that southerners tend to prefer their peanut butter a bit sweeter, while midwesterners lean toward the saltier varieties, and New Englanders appear to be somewhere in between. Being midwestern born and raised, at least in my formative peanut-butter years, this helps to explain my undying loyalty to Skippy and my utter disdain for the sickly sweet Jif. At one time Skippy dominated the American peanut butter market, but slowly and steadily Jif gained and then surpassed my old standby, until Skippy relented and sweetened their formula to stay in the game. It appears that sweet peanut butter is just another manifestation of the rising cultural hegemony of the South, along with sweet tea, Nashville Country, and NASCAR.
These days I prefer my peanut butter less processed and more local, and my favorite
brand is made by the Krema Nut Company of Columbus, Ohio. But it wasn’t until I read Creamy and Crunchy that I understood why the Krema Nut Company‘s peanut butter tastes so much better than all the rest: it is one of just a few nut butters in the country made from Spanish peanuts. Most brands use a peanut with the unappetizing name “runner,” prized by Big Peanut Butter for its uniform-sized nuts which roast evenly, its rather bland flavor, and it high percentage of shelf-life-extending oleic oils (at the expense of slightly healthier linoleic oils), making it “the very essence of a corporate peanut.”
So if you love peanut butter, and you love history, I recommend you go out and pick up a copy of Creamy and Crunchy. But remember to wash your hands before reading, as peanut oil will stain the pages.