Peanut butter is a worldwide favorite, and in America, it's as much a staple as bread and milk. Peanut butter can be down-home (fresh-baked peanut butter cookies) or sophisticated (peanut butter glaze in lamb stew), fun to eat (smeared on an apple) or a messy mouthful (a spoonful stuck to the roof of your mouth). The best part is it's good for you!
Peanuts were known to grow in South America as early as 950 B.C. and were ground up for stews and sauces in Africa and China. In the United States, peanut butter as we know it is thought to have gotten its start in the 1890s with a doctor in St. Louis, Missouri, looking for a protein substitute for elderly patients who could not chew meat. He used a meat grinder to grind peanuts into paste. In 1904, peanut butter was sold at St. Louis' Universal Exposition and spread across the country from there.
Peanuts grow in warm climates with sandy soil. India and China grow more than half the world's peanuts. The European Union (EU) is the largest area to consume peanuts but have no domestic production. The EU, along with Canada and Japan, is the chief importers of peanuts. In the United States, farmers grow peanuts from Hawaii to Virginia, but 99 percent of the country's peanuts are grown in Southern states, most notably Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas.
Peanut butter packs a protein punch. A 2 tablespoon serving contains 8 grams of protein. That same serving contains 2 grams of fiber. Though the fats in peanut butter make it highly caloric, they are mighty cholesterol busters: The mostly monounsaturated fats help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, while the polyunsaturated fats help raise HDL (good) cholesterol. As with any high-fat food, eating peanut butter in moderation is key so excess calories do not counteract healthful benefits.
According to the National Peanut Board, 540 peanuts make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter, and 60 percent of consumers prefer creamy peanut butter over crunchy. However, men and residents of the West Coast prefer crunchy, while women, children and East Coast residents prefer creamy. Creamy or crunchy, Americans spend $800 million a year on peanut butter and consume enough of it to make more than 10 billion peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than 3 million people in the United States report being allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lists peanut allergy as the most common cause of death due to food. Currently, there is no treatment that will prevent peanut allergy; if you are allergic, avoidance of peanut products is imperative. However, research is ongoing, with entities such as the National Peanut Board working with scientists and medical experts to find solutions for peanut allergy sufferers.