Who Invented Peanut Butter?

Living in France, Peanut Butter was not a part of my diet for a very long time. Nowadays, it’s easier to find some in any food store, but you won’t find it in a lot of kitchens here. The average European eats less than 1 tbsp of peanut butter a year, according to NPR. Researching its history, I understand why. It’s simply not European food.

Who Created Peanut Butter?

The answer is not George Washington Carver, even if a lot of people have credited him for it (and called him the “grandfather of peanuts”). The first peanut butter was eaten by the Aztecs and the Incas of Peru. But it’s not the kind of peanut butter we are talking about today.

The modern peanut butter was first patented by Canadian chemist and pharmacist Marcellus Gilmore Edson in 1884. His was presented as a peanut paste for people who could hardly chew solid food. In fact, at first, peanut butter was valued for its high protein content. Plus, it was easy to digest. It had everything the wealthy would want, especially those who were into healthy food and frequented health spas.

A decade later, in 1894, a businessman from St. Louis named George Bayle became the first person to sell peanut butter as a snack food. It was just before Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of Corn Flakes fame) patented his process for creating peanut butter from raw peanuts. It was in 1895.

Like Edson, Kellogg’s marketing strategy was to sell it as a nutritious protein substitute for people who could not easily chew on solid food.

In 1903, Dr. Ambrose Straub invented and patented the machine to make peanut butter.

George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, 1906.
Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-J601-302)

What about George Washington Carver?

In 1896, George Washington Carver became the Director of the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School in Alabama. There, he worked to help black farmers indebted to white plantation owners. The cotton fields had depleted the soil of a lot of its nutrients. To replenish it, Carver experimented with peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Peanuts became the heart (with sweet potatoes) of George Washington Carver’s work. He explored many ways to separate the fats, oils, gums, resins, and sugars from the peanut. The results of his research led him to develop hundreds of peanut-based products like Carvoline Antiseptic Hair Dressing which was a mix of peanut oil and lanolin or the Carvoline Rubbing Oil, peanut oil for massages.

In 1916, he published “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption,” and that’s probably why he was credited with inventing peanut butter, but he never claimed to have invented it. His discoveries in the field of agricultural chemistry changed the face of American agriculture.

What about the creamy or chunky peanut butter?

For a long time, peanut butter had an oil problem. California food businessman Joseph L. Rosefield fixed it in 1922 by developing a process to prevent oil separation and spoilage in peanut butter. His idea was to replace a part of the liquid oil with hydrogenated oil. By doing that, he created semisolid peanut butter (and no more oil rose to the surface). He created the modern peanut butter and didn’t stop there. The use of hydrogenated oil opened new ways to prepare peanut butter and later, in 1932, he introduced creamy and chunky-style peanut butter. And just three years later, Rosefield company, Skippy, launched its first wide-mouth peanut-butter jar (the plastic jar packaging was introduced by the brand Popeye in 1965).

1960 Skippy Peanut Butter ad.

Who invented the peanut butter & jelly sandwich?

We don’t know, but the first published recipe was published by Julia Davis Chandler in 1901. After Gustav Papendick invented a process for slicing and wrapping bread in the late 1920s, children started to make peanut butter sandwiches by themselves. They never stopped.

To learn more about peanuts, you can visit the National Peanut Board website. Also, as always with food history, you can find a lot of information with the Food Timeline. And if peanut butter is not your thing, try Nutella!

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