Just a few days ago I came across a dessert hot dog made with peanut butter and bananas. If that wasn't reason enough to celebrate, today I find a blog post about a peanut butter and bacon hamburger. Better yet, this work of culinary genius hails from my favorite city, New Orleans (where I lived in the French Quarter with my new bride in 1986-87).
The Wall Street Journal has an article on palm oil and the negative environmental consequences of its popularity in foods today. The palm oil problem is a side effect of the move against partially-hydrogenated oils and trans fats, as palm is one of the few oils that is an acceptable replacement for partially- or fully-hydrogenated oils.
I speak from some experience. Whole Foods does not permit the use of hydrogenated oils in their products. For peanut butter products that require the peanut oil to be homogenized or stabilized, palm oil is the only option. We re-formulated our Cream-Nut Peanut Butter Clusters and replaced the fully-hydrogenated oils with palm oil. We now will begin to search for a sustainable supply of palm oil stabilizer.
The food business is full of hard trade-offs between health, the environment, and costs. We like easy answers, but they can be hard to come by sometimes.
Wall Street Journal
Dec. 7, 2009
I am always on the lookout for creative uses of peanut butter in cooking, but most of the time I find the recipes and ideas to be sort of been there done that.
Yesterday, however, the Seattle University Spectator ran a short piece on a new hot dog restaurant. Among its signature items is:
The sweet puppy on the menu currently is a peanut butter and banana dog, which is a beef or tofu hotdog topped with runny, melted crunchy peanut butter and sliced fresh banana.
Not making the cut:
“The worst one we tried [during development] was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup dog,” Olson says. “Chocolate with hotdogs just doesn’t work.”
Saves me the trouble of trying a Cream Nut Peanut Butter Cluster dog.
Peanut butter and rock and roll. Check out the The Peanut Butter Conspriracy.
I have a bunch of Google alerts set to pick up blog postings about peanut butter. And what I've learned is that people are really confused by the labeling and ingredients in peanut butter products, and they especially confused about the difference between "natural" and "organic" peanut butter. Justifiably so, because it is confusing. Here is my explanation. It is long.
In the beginning, there was peanut butter. It was all the basically the same, consisting of ground peanuts, and, almost always, salt. The liability of this peanut butter, then as now, was that the oil in the peanut butter and the solid components would separate over time with the oil coming to the top. This is because peanut oil is liquid at room temperature.
In the 1920's and '30's, the separation problem was solved by adding hydrogenated vegetable oil to the peanut butter. This had the effect of making the oil solid at room temperature (think Crisco). Added in small amounts (as little as 1% by weight) by skilled manufacturers, the hydrogenated oil was enough to prevent separation.
As time passed, manufacturers figured out that hydrogenated oil was cheaper than peanuts. As was, I believe, sugar. So these ingredients began to be added to the product in higher and higher amounts.
In response, the Food and Drug Administration passed a rule (21 CFR 164.150) that provided a "standard of identity" for peanut butter. This provides that to be labeled "peanut butter" a product must be 90% peanuts. Anything with less than that must be called "peanut spread" (21 CFR 102.23).
Under the general requirement that foods use ordinary and customary descriptors on their labels, peanut butter labeled as "natural" or "old-fashioned" contained only peanuts and (usually) salt.
So, for the last 30 years or so, the world consisted of two kinds of peanut butter: homogenized peanut butter and "natural" or "old-fashioned" peanut butter. This was pretty simple, and I think everybody knew the game.
Coming forward to today, first add USDA organic standards. These rules has nothing to do with the prior regime created by the FDA. Either homogenized or old-fashioned peanut butter can be organic, so long as the ingredients meet organic standards, and they are made in a facility that meets organic standards. The result is that not all organic peanut butter is "natural" by the ordinary, traditional nomenclature, nor are all natural peanut butters organic.
It gets worse.
Recently, the food marketers have gotten aggressive with labeling again, and I believe this is leading to additional customer confusion, based on what I'm seeing on the blogs. (I'm not going to name names here because I didn't create this blog to attack competitors.)
Some companies have begun describing as "natural" peanut butter products that contain both palm oil as a stabilizer, and sugar. Others have created products that contain 90% peanuts and a variety of other ingredients -- including things such as flour and chocolate topping -- which are being sold as "peanut butter spread." Yet the most prominent word on the label is "natural," which again, some bloggers, wrongly in my view, are describing and reviewing as a natural peanut butter.
On top of that, there are all of the various peanut butter and flavor combinations on the market -- pb and honey, pb and chocolate, etc. etc. There are a number of peanut butter products that have enhancements that are marketed towards health and nutrition oriented consumers -- pb with Omega 3's, pb with flax, pb with sunflowers, etc. And there are reduced-fat products on the market. Depending on the ingredients, these may also carry the "natural" or "organic" labels.
But who cares? Carver was a remarkable person. I would love to get to Philadelphia to see the exhibit put on at the Academy of Natural Sciences. But I'll be there in spirit. Their gift shop placed an order for our peanut butter to sell with the show.
Koeze's Cream-Nut Natural and Sweet Ella's Organic peanut butters compete directly with the grind-it-yourself machines in grocery stores and health food stores, and with peanut butter that people grind in their own homes. Often when we are doing a store demo someone will say, "No, thanks, I grind peanut butter myself. It's fresher."
I doubt it. Once peanuts are roasted, they begin to go stale very quickly. How quickly? We won't even store peanuts over a weekend without grinding them into butter and putting them in jars. We rarely even hold them overnight.
Staleness in nuts is the result of two related processes. The first is that the nuts absorb moisture from the air , which makes the nuts soft. The second is oxidation of the oils - otherwise known as rancidity. How quickly nuts become rancid is determined by temperature, moisture content, and the amount of oxygen available. Effective packaging and cool temperature storage can retard but not halt that process in roasted peanuts.
Freshness in peanut butter has nothing to do with how recently the peanuts were ground. It has to do with how recently they were roasted, and how they have been handled since then. Unless your store (or you) are roasting peanuts daily and using them all up each day in the self-grind machine, your peanut butter is not fresher than ours (and, I"ll add, the peanuts that stores start with probably aren't as good to begin with).