By law, peanut butter must contain a minimum of 90% peanut, with no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. Although some brands add a small amount of natural sweetener, salt and a stabilizer to keep the peanut butter from separating, consumers can select "old fashioned" or "natural" peanut butter, which contains no additives.
Although peanuts are cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical climates around the world, no one agrees on the exact origin of peanut butter.
THE STORY OF PEANUTS
Originally from the Western Hemisphere, Spanish explorers brought the peanut to Europe. Traders introduced the tasty legume to Asia and Africa. Today the peanut is grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, where it is known by such colorful names as the ground pea, pindar, monkey nut, goober nut and the ground nut.
Not a nut at all, but actually an herb, the peanut is closely related to the cowpea and develops underground like a potato. The plant absorbs nitrogen from the air, which it stores. During dry spells, the peanut lies dormant, then sprouts swiftly when the rainy season begins. The stems lengthen and bend, pushing the seedpods into the ground where they ripen. The mature nuts form large clusters, which are pulled up from beneath the soil and then dried.
The peanut was re the 1700 and 1800s, where it was used as a staple for slaves on ships bound from Africa to America. In fact, goober is one of the few African words still retained in the English language.
In 1903, George Washington Carver, regarded as the father of the American peanut industry, began his peanut research at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At that time, Cotton was King and peanuts were only grown in random patches. By 1906, the boll weevil was spreading and threatening to destroy the cotton crop and the farmers whole way of life along with it. Carver convinced the farmers that they needed to cultivate a whole new type of plant peanuts. As communities were blessed with bumper crops, Carver recognized the need to develop a commercial use for the hearty little goobers.
He went back to his laboratory and eventually came up with over 300 peanut-based products including candy, flour, ink, dyes, shoe polish, salve and shaving cream. From the red skin of the peanut, he made a paper finer than linen; from the hulls, he made a soil conditioner, insulating board and fuel briquettes. Carver even mixed peanuts with an adhesive, which he pressed and buffed to a high gloss until it looked and performed like marble.
Today, peanuts are an American institution and one of our most important agricultural products. Peanuts are a vital source of food in Africa, Asia and South America as well. In addition, medical researchers are discovering the many benefits of including peanuts in the daily diet.
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