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Who Really Invented Peanut Butter?

Peanut butter is a favorite staple in the American diet, but uncovering who invented it was a little challenging.

From sandwiches to candy bars and ice cream, it’s used in many recipes and seems like it’s been around forever. And that may very well be the case.

We were curious, so we looked into who created it and why and came up with some intriguing facts and odd recipes. 

Ready to get a little nutty? Let’s dig in!

What Is the History of Peanut Butter?

Researchers determined that the peanut plant probably originated in Peru or Brazil. And they can trace the butter back to the Ancient Incas and the Aztecs, who made a paste from the ground and roasted peanuts.

Europeans first came across the peanut when they were exploring Brazil. The explorers returned to their countries and took the peanut with them. From there, it spread to Asia and Africa.

During the 1700s, enslaved Africans introduced the peanut to North America. In fact, in 1793, Suriname’s Dutch colony had a dish called pinda-käse, or peanut cheese. More solid than modern peanut butter, it could be cut and served like cheese.

Although there were U.S. patents for peanut butter as early as the 1880s, the earliest patents used roasted peanuts for the butter. However, in 1895 an American doctor, nutritionist, and cereal pioneer filed for a patent using boiled peanuts. 

Peanut butter was a food for wealthy people, initially served at expensive healthcare institutes. This is a far cry from today, where peanut butter is considered an inexpensive sandwich spread.

Did George Washington Carver Invent Peanut Butter?

George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter. 

Carver published “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption” in 1916. However, various food scientists in the US and Canada had already created and patented modern versions of peanut butter. And, as we know, the Aztecs and Incans developed the original.

Yet no American is more closely associated with peanuts than George Washington Carver. He documented over 300 uses for them, from Worcestershire sauce to shaving cream and paper. 

Unfortunately, the popularity of peanuts obscured Carver’s greatest agricultural accomplishment. Carver was the Agriculture Department Director at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. While there, he developed sustainable farming practices when he wasn’t teaching. 

By the early 1900s, generations of cotton planting and the intrusion of the boll weevil had ravaged Southern farms. 

So Carver encouraged farmers to grow crops such as cowpeas, beans, sweet potatoes, and peanuts to revitalize the soil. Free from the tyranny of cotton, Carver’s efforts helped black farmers prosper.

Since he died in 1943, many practices that Carver advocated have become crucial to the sustainable agriculture movement. Using organic fertilizer, reusing food waste, and crop rotation provide a holistic approach to farming.

Pro Tip: You may not be a pro chef, but you can still use these 5 Foodie Hacks for Easy Camping Meals.

Peanut butter in a bowl surrounded by peanuts
Peanut butter has been a pantry staple since the 1800s.

Was Modern Peanut Butter Invented for Sanitarium Patients?

John Harvey Kellogg’s patent in 1898 was the genesis of modern peanut butter. As a doctor and nutritionist, Kellogg opened and ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. 

He advocated using plant foods as a healthier alternative to meat. A Seventh-Day Adventist, he saw meat as a digestive irritant. Even worse, he believed it was a sinful sexual stimulant. So the sanitarium is where he first served peanut butter to patients as a protein alternative they could eat without chewing.

Interestingly, the first person to make the doctor’s peanut butter was an employee at Kellogg’s sanitarium. Joseph Lambert invented machinery to roast and grind peanuts on a larger scale. 

He then launched the Lambert Food Company, selling nut butter and the mills to make it. This, in turn, created countless peanut butter businesses.

Why Was the Butter Important During the World Wars?

When times are tough, peanut butter is certainly an excellent thing to have around. 

World War I disrupted Europe’s ability to produce, import, and distribute food. And America provided humanitarian assistance well before the United States entered the war in 1917. 

Once the U.S. entered the conflict, food became even more critical to the war effort. Patriotic appeals led Americans at home to voluntarily reduce the amount of beef, pork, sugar, and other staples they ate. 

Using peanut butter as an alternative allowed Americans to send those foods to European troops and allies. 

During World War II, meat was scarce and expensive, and protein-packed peanut butter was a cheap alternative. It replaced many of the food items rationed during the war.

Jar of peanut butter
Get creative and use your peanut butter to make delicious recipes.

What Unexpected Peanut Butter Recipes Have People Invented?

While reading George Washington Carver’s document on peanuts, we found that items as diverse as Worcestershire Sauce and paper could be made from peanuts.

During the depression and WWII, peanuts provided a meat substitute, and people created many recipes using the humble legume.

One notable and curious recipe was peanut butter-stuffed onions. Devised by the Bureau of Home Economics, they heavily promoted this awkward dish during the depression.

Peanut butter cookies are one of the more popular recipes that are still with us. But various bread recipes were popular peanut butter recipes.

Elvis Presley made a custom concoction that took the population by surprise. His cook made a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich, then fried it. Elvis-worthy, for sure. 

Let’s take a look at other unique peanut butter creations.

The Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise Sandwich

In the 1960s, Hellman’s Mayonnaise suggested fun ways to spice up the standard peanut butter and mayo sandwich by adding bacon and pickles. They called it the Double Crunch or Funny Face if they used raisins and carrots instead. Another variation called the Crazy Combo included salami, sliced eggs, and onions.

Peanut Butter and Yogurt Dip

This recipe took us by surprise. The peanut butter and yogurt fruit dip sounds delicious. And it’s easy to make. 

Simply mix equal amounts of peanut butter and plain greek yogurt and add honey or maple syrup to taste. Serve with your favorite fruit.

Macaroni Peanut Butter Loaf

Finally, we have a dish that sort of freaked us out. 

This dish consists of peanut butter, medium white sauce, and cooked macaroni. Salt, parsley, and nutmeg are the main spices. Then you add breadcrumbs and tomato sauce.

We don’t know about you, but this one’s a hard pass for us.

Pro Tip: Skip the peanut butter sandwiches and dine instead at one of these 7 Most Unique Restaurants in the USA.

Taking It Back to the Beginning

So, who invented peanut butter? Obtaining a patent to sell something isn’t the same as developing it. However, this popular food item spread when it became mass-produced. And with necessity being the mother of invention, the lowly peanut provided a meat substitute when times were hard. 

Carver, Kellogg, and Lambert may have brought it into the modern age. But we’re giving creation credit to those ancient Aztecs and Incas who first thought to mash the tasty legume.

Do you have a favorite recipe that uses peanut butter? Have you tried the macaroni loaf? Let us know in the comments!

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