“What’s more sacred than peanut butter?” Sen. Tom Harkin asked last week while scolding the company responsible for the recent peanut-butter-driven salmonella outbreak. Brian Palmer takes a look at American's PB love affair in Slate, and finds that while peanuts have been eaten in the US for more than 250 years, the creamy derivative didn’t become a kitchen staple until a meat shortage hit during World War II.
Cheap, protein-rich peanuts came to the Americas with African slaves during the 1700s and were roasted by street vendors as far back as 1787. But it was sanitarium overseer and breakfast cereal titan John Harvey Kellogg who first ground peanuts into a paste and served “nut butters” to his patients in the 1890s. Originally a niche food, demand soared during the lean war years, solidifying peanut butter’s role in Americana.