Friday, August 26, 2011

More than Peanut Butter

No matter how many tasty foods I try to put on the table, there is a distinct possibility that if you ask my children to name their favorite, you'll get a mutually agreed upon answer:  peanut butter.  I support their consumption because it is an excellent source of protein, is quick, easy, and versatile, and if as an adult you haven't revisited the peanut butter and jelly combo, it is delicious.  I am choosy about my peanut butter, however, and I assure you that this choosy mom doesn't choose Jif.

If you carefully read the label of most grocery store peanut butters, you'll see the following ingredients listed:

  • Peanuts
  • Sugar
  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
  • Mono- and Diglycerides

Although that's a short list (and short lists are usually good), let me explain why this short list is bad.  Let's start with the oils.

Vegetable oils like soybean and rapeseed (as is found in mainstream peanut butter) are liquid at room temperature.  To prevent peanut butter from separating (gasp), scientists bombard the oil with hydrogen, alter its molecular structure and give the industry a solid oil that makes your peanut butter creamy and also increases its shelf-life.  Now your peanut butter is solid, yet spreadable, and will last into the next century, but it is no longer a whole or natural food.  These peanut butters have origins in a science lab.

Don't glaze over.  Stay with me.

The mono- and diglycerides automatically rule out the purchase of any peanut butter that contains them for one simple reason:  I have no idea what they are.  As a rule of thumb, it is wise to shop for and consume products that contain only ingredients you recognize.  If you can't pronounce it or can't identify it, don't buy it.

We all know that transfats are now taboo, and because of heightened public awareness, food companies are removing them from their products.  However, as consumers of these products, we demand that taste and texture not be altered, so a substitute must be found.  Enter mono- and diglycerides.  They are glycerol molecules with one or two fatty acid chains chemically removed, in a lab, and are emulsifiers widely used in bakery products, margarine and yes, peanut butter.  They are next-of-kin to transfats and used in much the same way, so does that make them bad too?  Science doesn't yet know.

My answer to the peanut butter quandary is to buy products that contain only what they should:  peanuts and salt.  It just takes an extra second or two to read the label.  You may have to stir it, but if that is as scientific as the process gets, you can feel good about what you are eating and the bigger bicep you'll get as a result.

Just for the sake of curiosity, I attempted to make my own.  It wasn't hard, but if I'm honest (despite my love for things homemade) it wasn't necessarily cheaper, and it made my food processor a booger to clean.

I discovered that I didn't really need but just a few drops of the peanut oil, and missing from the picture is the honey that Cal and I added to make it extra delicious.

My peanut butter was a little lighter in color than most because I used raw peanuts rather than roasted.  Apparently, it also paled in comparison to what we normally stock, because Cal told me just this morning that "he didn't want that white kind on his sandwich."  Ouch.

Go forth and buy good peanut butter.


  1. Let me know what brand you end up getting. I have tried two and the kids aren't crazy about them. Keep the posts coming. When you come visit your parents I need you to come over and build up my garden!! Carrie

  2. I have to smile as I type, because when we kept the kids at your house, I ran out of peanut butter. So I grabbed the jar of raw peanuts, the little chopper, and made the peanut butter for the boys sandwiches. (They never knew what hit 'em!) :-}

  3. Somehow it always tastes better when it comes from Grandmom.

    Carrie, sometimes I buy Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter (only peanuts and salt), but it has to be stirred. This means you'll need Grandpa Witmer's Peanut Butter Mixer. LOVE it. Google it and it pops right up.

    If you don't want to stir and don't mind paying a little extra, MaraNatha is really delicious. My favorite, though, comes from a peanut grinder at EarthFare (our version of Whole Foods). I just push a button, and out comes ground peanuts.

    Let's definitely get together next time I'm home!

  4. i decided to make peanut butter about 2 years ago and haven't looked back since. i too was disgusted reading the ingredients on most PB containers and realized how easy it is to make it at home. I found that I can buy organic unsalted peanuts in the bulk section of our natural grocery store at a good price which then makes it cheaper than buying the premade version {not a LOT cheaper but def. cheaper}. My kids now prefer homemade...can you believe it? My son actually told me he didnt like the organic, natural, store version and only wanted my PB.
    One other thing i love, is that it is easy enough for kids to make {well, besides the food processor bit}. my son can tell me how much of everything to add and i work the FP.

  5. Becky - I am going to give it another go. I can't find a place that sells roasted peanuts in bulk, but maybe I just need to look harder. It was surprisingly simple and would most definitely be worth it at the rate we consume it around here!


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