Some people love ice cream. Some people love chocolate. Some people can’t stop eating chips. My secret food addiction: homemade bread + a touch of unsalted butter + a generous dollop of so-called ‘old fashioned’ creamy peanut butter.
I love peanuts, but old fashioned style peanut butter rules. So of course, when the National Peanut Board offered to make me a ‘Peanut Pro’ I jumped at the chance. Actually it was pretty easy. Watch a series of videos about peanuts and take some quizzes. Earn 2 hours of continuing education credit for my profession and get a Peanut Pro badge.
What did I learn about peanuts?
- Peanut plants don’t need much water or fertilizer to grow. They’re a very environmentally friendly plant. I did not know that. Given the current state of affairs, those attributes seem important.
- Peanuts have more protein than other nuts. Important for vegans and vegetarians.
- Peanuts are a good source of fiber.
- Peanuts are loaded with healthy fats. Important for everyone.
- Peanuts are a good source of many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, niacin, copper and magnesium. I did know that, especially about magnesium. Magnesium is how I rationalize my peanut butter/butter/bread addiction.
What I already knew:
- Peanuts and peanut butter are delicious and potentially addictive. Calorie counters beware!
- Peanuts are a tasty high protein addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.
Peanuts likely originated in South America. Spanish explorers took peanuts back to Spain, and traders introduced them to Africa and Asia. Then they came back across the ocean to North America with the slave trade, and were planted in Southern states. Peanut consumption in North America increased gradually after the Civil War, and really took off at the turn of the 20th Century.
What about allergies?
Peanuts are a well known food allergen. The incidence of peanut allergy might be 2% of the population. Peanuts can set off severe reactions in allergic people, including hives and angioedema. Anyone with known peanut allergy should consult with a physician about emergency treatment measures. At the moment, there is no known cure for this sensitivity. Avoidance of peanuts is the only solution.
Can peanut allergy be prevented? For years, doctors and parents believed the way to prevent peanut (and other food) allergies was to avoid feeding these foods to infants and young children for as long as possible. The thinking has changed, with the goal of preventing the development of a peanut allergy in the first place. In 2017 the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease released new guidance on introducing potential allergenic foods to babies. Early introduction, in small amounts, after the baby has started eating other solid foods, is now recommended unless the infant is at high risk for allergies. You can find more information about these recommendations at the Prevent Peanut Allergies website. Parents should certainly consult with the child’s pediatrician before moving ahead with food introductions.
Choosing peanut butter
Choosing peanuts isn’t that tricky. You can find them roasted or raw, salted or unsalted, seasoned or plain. Either way, they’re peanuts. Peanut butter is a different matter, and I have strong opinions.
The fat in peanuts is largely unsaturated, which is liquid at room temperature. So if you keep a jar of freshly ground peanut butter in your pantry, the oil will gradually separate out. You can mix it back together before using. Not a big deal. But manufacturers decided consumers would rather not have the fuss, so the fats were hydrogenated to reduce oil separation, reducing the amount of healthful unsaturated fat and increasing the amount of questionable trans fats.
A few years ago, the FDA directed food manufacturers to reduce trans fats in food. Peanut butter producers came up with a new solution to oil separation: palm oil. The oil from a certain species of palm trees is naturally highly saturated, so peanut butter with added palm oil can be labeled “natural” and won’t separate, sparing consumers the dreary chore of stirring oil back into the peanut butter. The “natural” claim is not illegal, but in my opinion it’s VERY misleading.
Palm oil may be “natural” but Don’t Get Me Started on this topic. Oops, too late. Vast palm oil plantations are planted in the tropics on land that was cleaned of tropical rain forest, usually by burning, which creates epic air pollution. Gone are the trees, vines, flowers, shrubs, insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. In their place: a vast monoculture of palm trees. So foods made with palm oil, including “natural” peanut butter, depend on this type of agriculture.
What do I buy? “Old Fashioned” peanut butter. Just peanuts and salt. Stir the oil into the peanut butter. It’s rich and flavorful, not sweet. Perfect for all those savory recipes. And because it’s more liquid (the fat is mostly unsaturated), it’s easier to mix it into sauces or soups or other recipes.
Ways to use peanuts
In the U.S. peanuts are mostly used as snacks, in peanut butter or in candy. In other parts of the globe, peanuts are used more in savory mixed dishes. Explore new recipes and incorporate peanuts into all your meals. You can add peanuts to Asian-style noodle or rice dishes, grain bowls, soups, wraps, muffins, and breads. Garnish a tossed salad with chopped roasted peanuts. Sprinkle some on hot cereal. Peanut butter can be used in baking, in soups or in savory sauces, such as Satay sauce (a great topping for simple sautéed tofu).
Speaking of sauces, here’s a really easy recipe for Asian style peanut sauce. Goes great with rice, noodles, cooked vegetables, tofu and chicken.
Easy Savory Peanut Sauce
Use more or less garlic and Sriracha according to your preferences.
- 1/2 cup old fashioned creamy peanut butter
- 3 TB rice vinegar
- 2 TB soy sauce
- 2 TB sesame oil (toasted adds more flavor)
- 2 TB fresh squeezed lime juice
- 2-3 tsp sugar (your preference)
- 1 TB Sriracha
- 2 or more garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1 one-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger. Alternatively use 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2-4 TB minced cilantro
- Step 1 Put all the ingredients in a blender.
- Step 2 Blend until smooth.
- Step 3 Alternatively you could use an immersion blender in a small bowl.
- Step 4 Store unused sauce in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, add a bit of water to thin if necessary.
Here’s another recipe using peanuts and peanut butter in an African style soup. I’ve adapted one from the National Peanut Board. The original was created for school lunches, so it’s very simple. I added a few spices for additional flavor zing.
African Peanut Soup
This recipe is adapted from several different versions. The basics are peanut butter, broth, greens, potatoes, and tomato, with a variety of spices. Additional vegetable possibilities include carrots, sweet red pepper, zucchini and greens like kale or chard.
- 2 TB peanut, olive or canola oil
- 1/2 cup thin sliced onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 TB minced fresh ginger, or 1 tsp dried ginger
- 1/4 tsp cayenne powder OR 1 fresh serrano chili, seeded and minced
- 3 TB tomato paste
- 2/3 cup old fashioned creamy peanut butter
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 2 cups raw peeled sweet potato cubes
- 1/2 cup thawed frozen chopped spinach, drained
- 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
- 4 lime wedges
- 1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts
- Step 1 Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and cook 2-3 minutes over moderate heat.
- Step 2 Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric and ginger. Cook 2 more minutes, stirring.
- Step 3 Add the tomato paste and cayenne, stirring thoroughly. Add the peanut butter and continue mixing.
- Step 4 Add the broth slowly, mixing constantly. Once incorporated, bring to a boil.
- Step 5 Add the potato cubes and reduce to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes or so until potatoes are softened, not falling apart.
- Step 6 Add the diced tomatoes and spinach and heat through.
- Step 7 Serve, garnished with cilantro, peanuts and lime wedge.
Like other trade associations, the National Peanut Board exists to promote an agricultural product — peanuts. It’s marketing, but I’ve found that most trade organizations provide good information about their products, and they usually have recipes. If you’re looking for new ways to incorporate more plant foods like peanuts and peanut butter into your diet, you’ll find plenty of ideas here.