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Peanut butter connoisseur

01/15/04 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger

(Host) What sandwich is most commonly found in a kid's lunchbox? If you said "Peanut butter," commentator Vern Grubinger says you'd fit right in at his house.


(Grubinger) My kids eat so much peanut butter, they should have been named 'Skippy' and 'Jif.' While the average American consumes three and a half pounds of peanut butter every year, my children eat ten times that.

How can they eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day? 'Boring' I say. But they're committed to this dietary mono-culture.

And that's okay, because peanut butter is nutritious. Although high in fats, they're relatively healthy fats, with none of those nasty trans-fats. Peanut butter also contains some soluble fiber and lots of protein.

Ground peanuts have been eaten for centuries in Africa and China, but peanut butter is an American invention. In 1890, Dr. John Kellogg of Michigan started making peanut butter as a vegetarian source of protein for his patients. He and his brother, W.K. Kellogg, patented a 'Process of Preparing Nut Meal,' described as "a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter."

Their product tasted about as good as it sounded, because because the peanuts were steamed, instead of roasted. They turned their attention to cereals, but that's another story. In 1922, commercial peanut butter was born when a process was developed to keep the oil from separating and better packaging kept the product from spoiling.

Legally, peanut butter must contain 90 percent peanuts. The other 10 percent in commercial brands often includes sugar, salt and hydrogenated oils. If my kids are going to eat so much of something, I'd just as soon avoid these added ingredients. So, when they were little, I'd sneak the all-natural organic peanut butter right by them. But once they got a taste of that good stuff with the added oil and sugar, they were hooked.

"But look at the label," I'd say, "see, it's not just made from peanuts."
"But it's creamy, and we LIKE sugar."

I'm not a food fanatic, but I decided to explore my peanut butter options with regard to purity, taste, and cost. Here's what I found.

There's a natural peanut butter that sells for two bucks a jar at the supermarket. It's not organic, but it's made only from peanuts and salt. The kids will eat it.

Grind-your-own all-natural peanut butter at the food co-op is about the same price, but the texture is mealy. "Sorry Dad, no way."

We tried a couple of organic brands at the co-op too. Some ran as high as $4 a jar. Yikes. But it was very smooth, with good flavor.

"But there's brown stuff in it!"
"That's the natural skin of the peanut" I explained. "Gross!" they replied.

Then, another organic brand we hadn't tried went on sale at the co-op for $2.69 a jar. Creamy, smooth - no brown stuff. I ordered two cases. With my member discount, it cost about $2.50 a jar. Victory at last.

"Uh, Dad? I'm getting kind of sick of peanut butter. Can I have bologna for lunch instead?"

With a smear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Center for Sustainable agriculture.



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