Goober peas, groundnuts, Arachis hypogaea — whatever you want to call it, the peanut is actually a legume and it sure is good when it’s ground up into peanut butter. Delicious, versatile, and perfect in its simplicity, peanut butter is one of the biggest exports from the United States and extremely popular throughout the west. Commonly associated with George Washington Carver, for his work in cultivating and informing the public about the nutritional benefits of the peanut, peanut butter can trace its roots far back to the Aztecs, who used to grind peanuts into paste for food. Learn about choosing good peanut butter, use it in simple sandwiches and meals, and how to work it into more advanced recipes.
Choosing Good Peanut Butter
1. Pick chunky or smooth
- Some studies show that, in the United States, women who live on the East Coast will gravitate toward smooth peanut butter, while male Californians and other West Coasters will more often pick chunky. Go figure.
2. Read the label and look at the ingredients.
Good peanut butter should only have two ingredients: peanuts, salt, and possibly a sweetener like honey or sugar. If you see added hydrogenated oils, steer clear. Natural peanut butter is more expensive because it contains the peanut oil, which will settle on the top of the jar and need to be stirred in before use.
- The most valuable product of the peanut is in the oil, which large food companies will extract from the peanuts ground into peanut butter, and then replace with sunflower oil. So, while it seems like you’re getting whole ground-up peanuts in a jar of Skippy or Jif, you’re really getting peanuts and the oil of other, cheaper nuts.
3. Avoid “reduced fat” peanut butter.
While it might seem like a healthier alternative, peanut butter that is advertised as “reduced fat” usually include more hydrogenated oils and more sugars, but the same amount of calories, to account for the loss of fat. Essentially used as a marketing scheme, this ploy ignores the fact that healthy fats from natural peanut butter are more effective as sources of fats. Reduced fat peanut butter replaces mono saturated “healthy” fats with refined sugars and carbohydrates, causing blood sugar spikes. It’s not good for you.
Trying Peanut Butter Basics
1.Spread peanut butter on toast.
A complete breakfast, as fast as it is nutritious, includes a slice of whole grain toast and tablespoon or two of peanut butter. Warm toast, English muffins, or pancakes make peanut butter warm, gooey, and totally delicious, as well as healthy. Starting the day with protein can help you stay focused and energetic throughout the morning, kickstarting your metabolism and giving you the fuel to get going. It’s a great snack.
2. Spread peanut butter on fruit.
Starting your day with a serving of fruit like apples or bananas is a great way to get your metabolism going, but adding a serving of peanut butter–or dipping that serving right out of the jar–is a great way of taking that breakfast from good to great. By supplementing the protein from the peanut butter, those fruits become a complete breakfast, rather than just a quick snack. Full of fiber, vitamins, and protein, it’s hard to think of a quicker, tastier, or more simple way to breakfast.
3. Add peanut butter to smoothies and oatmeal for added protein.
Other breakfast items are perfectly amenable to the addition of peanut butter for thickening and adding a salty-sweet flavor underneath. Add a spoonful to cooked oatmeal to liven up the flavor without adding sugar, or use it to thicken a breakfast smoothie.
For a simple nutritious smoothie, add a half cup of plain greek yogurt to your blender, one banana, a cup of fresh or frozen berries, and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Pulse the blender to mix thoroughly. If you like it a bit sweeter, you can add some honey to taste, as well as supplements like whey powder or spirulina. If it’s too dense, a little orange juice or milk thins it out nicely.
4. Make Thai peanut sauce.
Peanut sauce is great as a topping or as a dipping sauce for a variety of dishes, including stir-fry, rice noodles, pork skewers and other grilled meats. The ingredients are basic pantry items that you can keep on hand to whip up a quick Thai dinner on the cheap.
Mix 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite peanut butter in a bowl with about a tablespoon of brown sugar, a teaspoon each of soy sauce, sesame seed oil, rice vinegar, and grated ginger, and sweet chili sauce to taste. Stir in a small amount of boiling water to thin the sauce to a consistency you like, adding more if necessary. Taste and adjust the spices to your taste. Serve on noodles or stir fry, topped with chopped peanuts, green onion, and cilantro.
5. Make peanut butter coleslaw.
If you’ve got some leftover peanut sauce, a great use for it can be to mix up a cool-spicy coleslaw with shredded cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, green onion, cilantro, and chopped peanuts
6. Bake with peanut butter.
Of course, there’s no better use for peanut butter than with sweet desserts. The perfect complement for rich chocolate cakes and pies, peanut butter is as versatile for after dinner treats and it is for breakfast. Here are some classic peanut butter-based deserts:
- Peanut butter cookies
- Peanut butter balls
- Peanut butter brownies
- Peanut butter pie