Hello. Hello my people. I am currently eating a peanut butter meltaway. Now the WordPress spell check is claiming that meltaway is not a word. It is also supposing that WordPress is not a word. Can someone inform the WordPress spellcheck department of their gross oversights on these issues? Thank you. I am ready. Let us begin.
The. Power. of. Peanut Butter.
Why peanut butter you ask? I shall echo a great author who once penned “I don’t really know, I’m impulsive and it was the first topic that came to mind” (I said that. That was me. I said that last week in #1: The Mighty Maple). Really though, what better food to get people stuck on United Tastes of Erica? And yes, that was meant to be a bad pun. If you are new around here get used to those… ANYWAY. Earlier this week I probed my faithful facebook followers to uncover the peanut butter mysteries burning among the masses. Hopefully this post will resolve them as well as providing some lols.
Peanut. Butter. 101.
First off, what the hell is with the name “peaNUT” when the food is actually a legume? I know. It seems nonsensical and causes confusion, but isn’t that what history is all about? Our delectable starting material for peanut butter does NOT grow on a tree (as tree nuts must do by definition) but is a fruit within a two-compartment pod. Thus, peanuts are botanically legumes. Other legumes include peas, beans, lentils, clover (weird), mesquite (like the tree?! yep), and tamarind (madness). As for the misnomer… let me ask you this: are you frustrated with pineAPPLES for not being apples? How about starFISH for not being fish? These names serve as sensory descriptors more than botanical classifiers. And peanuts taste pretty nutty to me. (fun fact: the Old English name for peanuts was “ground peas”). So despite their title, peanuts are legumes. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Moving on.
(wait, I just read this on the world wide wiki: “Several fruits that are not true berries include strawberries, bayberries, raspberries, and blackberries.” Insanity. NOW moving on.)
Another misconception of peanut butter is that it was invented by the great Southern wonder George Washington Carver. While Carver spread PB’s popularity, he did NOT invent the spread itself. Carver concocted hundreds of products using affordable Southern crops such as peanuts, pecans, sweet potatoes, and soybeans. He also was a top researcher in the field of nitrogen fixation and crop rotation (holla at my Ag kids!). But crushing peanuts into paste started centuries beforehand in the DEEP south. South America that is. Anthropologists have placed the “cradle of peanut life” to be in modern Paraguay, Brazil, and Peru. There is evidence of Aztec tribes crushing the legume into a paste to be eaten with foods. Portuguese conquerers sailed the peanut from Brazil back home to the Old World, and from there it flourished in Africa and much of Asia. Most suspect that the peanut came to North America with African slaves in the late 1700’s. It would be another hundred years until GWC (George Washington Carver) helped popularize the plant among the nation’s south, sparking a new food titan that has become an icon of American Cuisine. Thanks GWC, and thanks Peru.
Putting. the NUT. in NUTrition.
(not a nut. I know we covered this. The pun is just SO GOOD.)
Another common query from thorough Facebook research (read: my one lone Facebook post) was the nutritional whoas and woes of peanut butter. Most know that PB is a good source of protein, but overestimates are common. Similarly, most know that PB is high in fat, but underestimates are rampant. To help clear up what PB provides AND to put these numbers into context, I present you with “Erica’s Soon-To-Be-Patented McDonald’s Comparisons” (aka that time Erica played all night on paint software instead of sleeping). The images below depict two tablespoons of Jif original creamy PB and the McDonald’s counterparts for the designated nutrients. Be ready to be blown away (or not… I thought it was cool).
So is peanut butter “good for you?” If you don’t have a peanut allergy, then sure. Peanut butter is a satiating plant-sourced protein that is generally shelf stable and easy to prepare. Moderate consumption does wonders for post-workout hunger pangs or picky eaters’ lunch bags. Should you mound it onto every fruit and vegetable you consume? Maybe not. But if that gets you to eat your F&V than use it, but slowly reduce the amount over time so you can actually TASTE the food it coats. #diettips #yourewelcome #movingon.
Serious. Field. Research.
What kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t go out and get dirty? My tireless assistant “C” and I took to the streets for some in-depth, hard-hitting journalistic investigation. When we realized we didn’t know how to do that we went to Wegman’s instead and checked out the PB aisles.
There was one product on Wegman’s shelf that demanded our attention. I give to you… “Just Great Stuff.” This powdered peanut product touts a “90% less fat than regular PB” claim while the ingredients only list peanuts, coconut sugar, and salt. Curious. It cost $8.30 for a 12 oz. sized jar which in reality weighed only 6.35 oz (the stuff is powdered, so no water weight). We took this fella home and reconstituted him with 1 TBSP water: 2 TBSP powder. I now have the honor of presenting the highlights of our ultra-professional tasting comments. Ahem:
- “doesn’t it just make you apprehensive?”
- “it SMELLS like peanut butter”
- “that aftertaste…. at first its fine but then its CHEMICAL”
- “OH GOD”
- “there it is… thats awful. what the fuck”
- “how can peanuts, sugar, and salt go so wrong?”
- “it made my palate weep”
(while I tasted the dry powder)
- “EW it’s in your teeth!”
- “thats the most unattractive I have ever seen you look”
- “two girls one cup”
While browsing the international corner for PB products we ran into a nice British chap named G (once again, classy blogs keep names in code). After a conversation on the merits of Vegemite I conducted a casual interview on the lack of PB in Europe. G related the difficulty of finding even mediocre PB when his family visited England several years ago. His kids were confused at the product drought, but he describes PB as a foreign food. The abundance of hazelnuts, almonds, and other tree nuts that proliferate his corner of the globe push out our American spread. I guess one could ask why American’s dont eat beans on toast for our breakfast, or pack Vegemite sandwiches for our mid-day snack. It’s nothing personal, its just cultural.
I planned on launching into a whole spiel about natural versus no-stir versus x y and z. I am not feeling said spiel any longer. I shall hand those interested off to Peanut Butter Boy. Enjoy.
The field research continued through the grocery store and down to the heart of State College for some greasy PB grub. First up was a PB burger at Baby’s Burgers and Shakes, followed by PB hot wings at Bill Pickle’s Tap Room. The burger was prepared expertly, BUT I didn’t feel the synergy between the bacon, beef, and nutty butter. I needed more sweetness or spice to tie things together. Valiant effort and thanks for the protein/fat gut bomb. The PB wings faired better in the flavor department. I could have used more PB in my wing sauce to balance out Frank’s Red Hot (HEY FRANKIE). Surprisingly, the wings were still wonderful with blue cheese dressing. Who knew? Now off to the gym for a “work off my research” session. Brb.
Side. of. Science.
Before I reveal this week’s life changing recipes, let us pause to delve into science (fast forward to recipes if you must. Le sigh.) For those of you still reading, I pose a question: How does the bread in Smucker’s Uncrustables PB&J sammies stay dry for months in storage while your lunch soggifies in a mere few hours? It has to do with moisture migration, or the movement of water from one food to another. Water activity is a term scientists use to describe water that is not bounded by salt, sugar, or other small molecules. A food with a high water activity will give moisture to a drier food with a lower water activity. Raise your hand if you have ever packed crackers and cheese in the same Ziploc (notes lack of hands raised due to internet restrictions…. hmmm). By the time you ate your snack you most likely had dry cheese and soggy crackers. Moisture migration. Raisin Bran overcomes this by adding sugar and other chemicals to their raisins to bind more water, lowering the fruit’s water activity, thus keeping the cereal crunchy. Another strategy is to create a physical barrier, such as in Nestle’s ice cream Drumsticks. The hydrophobic chocolate coating prevents water in ice cream from moving to the waffle cone. Another high-fat hydrophobic food is PB… bringing me back to our original question. Smucker’s spreads a layer of PB on BOTH slices of bread, then packs the jelly inside the PB pocket. Water cannot pass from the jelly to the bread because of the fatty PB barrier. GENIUS. You can replicate this at home when preparing your sweet and salty stacked lunch. Simply spread PB on BOTH slices of bread, then pile your jelly onto a PB layer and press the bread together. Dry bread every time. Now, aren’t you glad you didn’t skip the Wonderful World of Science Section?
Life. Changing. Recipes
When I started brainstorming PB recipe ideas (with the help of my “Brain Food Burger” from Baby’s) several dishes came to mind. I didn’t want to do an everyday chicken satay or cold peanut noodles, but also didn’t want to stick with desserts. I decided to take a Thai/Indonesian appetizer and put a United Tastes of Erica spin on things. May I present to you some crazy delicious PB and Chicken filled potstickers:
I realize that not everyone is up for folding their own dumplings, as it can be labor intensive. For the less-industrious readers I give you a flavor packed chow fun:
What to do with all of those extra potsticker wrappers? SHWELL, I know readers would riot if I did not include a PB and chocolate dish. Enjoy the following food porn:
Farewell. For. Now.
This wraps up our look into America’s favorite mouth watering legume puree. A HUGE shout out to my sister S for her amazing professional photography skills (GO HERE. She rocks). Holla at G for his insight into the minds of the Brits. Also thank you to the wonderful inquiries put forth on Facebook by my peeps Josh, Jeremy, Jamie, Erin F, Erin C, Kirstie, Tori, Henry, Jenny, Chris, Ashley, Pete, Megg, Rudy, Jean-Marie, Robin, Cheslea, Jessica, Faith, Michael, Matthew, Andrew, Mia, Skip, and Nicole. Provide feedback for next week’s post and YOUR NAME could appear on United Tastes of Erica! How very exciting!!! The fame! The fortune! (note: no revenue will be gifted to those whose names appear in my shout out section. I was just saying that to sound cool.)
Thanks for tuning in! Be sure to break out the tissues for next week’s sneeze-able topic, BLACK PEPPER. See how this King of Spice earned his crown and the royal place next to salt on our tables. Until then… Bon App y’all.
Sources de la Info