Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food

The Author's Previous Books

Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley by Jon Krampner

Reviews of "Female Brando"

"Kim Stanley is vividly brought to life in this biography...a well-researched account of a scandalous icon"

-- Publishers Weekly

"A look at the genius, madness, cruelty and sensitivity of an acting legend...a thoroughly documented account of the actress's career...a steadily turning kaleidoscope of vivid, unsettling images"

-- Kirkus

"The demons that pursued Stanley throughout most of her career -- alcoholism, impossibly high standards -- are given ample play in Jon Krampner's uneven but crucial new biography, "Female Brando"

-- Hilton Als, The New Yorker

"The Man in the Shadows: Fred Coe and the Golden Age of Television" by Jon Krampner

Reviews of "The Man in the Shadows"

"Diligent and inviting...Krampner weaves Coe's story with solid writing, subtle humor and a slavish devotion to detail"

-- Publishers Weekly


-- Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

"Intriguing and valuable"

-- Neal Gabler, TV Guide

"Essential reading in TV history"

-- Booklist









Peanut Butter Quiz

How much do you really know about peanut butter? Take this challenge quiz and find out!

1) Which of these artists never recorded a song about peanut butter?

A) Elvis Presley
B) Chubby Checker
C) Jimmy Buffett
D) The Olympics

2) Speaking of Elvis, what King-size feat of peanut butter excess did he once indulge in?

A) Depressed over marital difficulties with Priscilla, he got into a jewel-encrusted clawfoot bathtub in Graceland filled with peanut butter and refused to get out until the next morning.

B) Unhappy over the Beatles' becoming more popular than he was, he ate 47 Elvis sandwiches in a row, necessitating his being rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, where he had his stomach pumped. Afterwards, he thanked the emergency room staff by rendering an a capella version of "Love Me Tender."

C) He and members of his entourage flew on his private jet from Memphis to Denver to dine on 22 Fool’s Gold Loaves, a monster sandwich made by a local restaurant consisting of bread hollowed out, spread thickly with peanut butter and blueberry jelly and filled with fried bacon. Plus drinks, of course. The order was delivered to them on the tarmac at Denver Airport. Price tag for the trip: $16,000.

D) When taken to the hospital shortly before his death in 1977, Presley got into a dispute with the head of nursing over his insistence that creamy peanut butter be infused into him by IV drip in order to build up his strength.

3) George Washington Carver:

A) invented peanut butter.
B) discovered hundreds of important uses for peanuts.
C) was a brilliant scientist who revolutionized Southern agriculture in the early 20th Century.
D) None of the above.

4) By law, peanut butter must contain a minimum of what percent of peanuts?

A) 95
B) 90
C) 87
D) 75

5) Which of these health risks have been associated with peanut butter?

A) obesity.
B) salmonella.
C) choking.
D) aflatoxin, a carcinogenic mold that grows on peanuts under conditions of drought stress.
E) allergies, including in their most severe form, anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.
F) trans fats.
G) genetically modified organisms.
H) all of the above.

6) Question No. 5 notwithstanding, peanut butter is a healthy food for most people because:

A) It has a lot of plant protein.
B) It's high in unsaturated fats (mostly mono-unsaturated, although there are some poly-unsaturated in there as well), which don't raise your cholesterol level.
C) It's rich in anti-oxidants.
D) It's high in resveratrol, the chemical in wine that scientists think helps to ward off cancer.
E) It contains vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, sodium, potassium and magnesium, as well as thiamine (B1), niacine (B3), folic acid (B9) and Vitamin E.
F) All of the above.

7) Creamy or crunchy: Which is more popular?

8) Peanut butter is popular in all of these countries except for:

A) Haiti
B) Russia
C) Germany
D) Saudi Arabia

9) Peanuts are:

A) Nuts, like walnuts and cashews
B) Fruits, like bananas and apples
C) Vegetables, like spinach and broccoli
D) Legumes, like clover and alfalfa

10) Peanuts are native to:

A) Africa
B) Georgia
C) South America
D) Southeast Asia

11) On February 10, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing about the salmonella outbreak triggered by Stewart Parnell's Peanut Corporation of America. PCA knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter to schools, nursing homes and food manufacturers, causing nine deaths, more than 700 injuries and the largest food recall in American history. The hearing lasted for almost four hours and fifteen minutes. How long did Mr. Parnell testify?

A) Two hours
B) Three hours
C) Four hours
D) Six minutes

12) Of the major brands of peanut butter, which was the favorite of conservative political icon William F. Buckley Jr.?

A) Jif
B) Skippy
C) Peter Pan
D) Smart Balance

13-17) Which brand of peanut butter was originally manufactured in which city?

BRANDS: 13) Jif 14) Skippy 15) Peter Pan 16) Adams 17) Laura Scudders

CITIES: Alameda, Calif.; Tacoma, Wash.; Monterey Park, Calif.; Chicago; Lexington, Ky.

18) The four kinds of peanuts grown in the United States are:

A) Russet, Yukon Gold, Royal Jersey, and Yam
B) Navel, Valencia, Jaffa and Cara Cara
C) Runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia
D) Grouchy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Grumpy

19) Peanuts grow best in what kind of soil?

A) clay
B) alkaline
C) sandy loam
D) humus

20) True or False: President John F. Kennedy and his aides munched on peanut butter sandwiches during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, in which the United States and Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war and global annihilation.

21) What well-known recording artist was in the habit of slathering their body with peanut butter during stage performances?

A) Iggy Pop
B) Marilyn Manson
C) Anne Murray
D) Lawrence Welk

22) In recent years, which brand of peanut butter has been subject to a recall because of actual or potential Salmonella contamination?

A) Peter Pan
B) Peanut Corporation of America
C) Smuckers
D) Trader Joe's
E) All of them

23) The first brand of peanut butter to be hydrogenated was:

A) Peter Pan
B) Skippy
C) Heinz
D) Beech-Nut

24) Valencia peanuts are distinctive because:

A) They're the only variety of peanut that comes three or more to a shell
B) They're the sweetest variety of peanut
C) They're the least common variety of peanut grown in the U.S., constituting only 1 or 2 percent of the crop
D) All of the above

25) In the early 1960's, this all-American artist did several drawings for Skippy magazine ads:

A) Thomas Hart Benton
B) Norman Rockwell
C) Andy Warhol
D) Jackson Pollock




1) A: Elvis Presley.

No one took a backseat to the King in his fondness for peanut butter, but he never cut a song about it. The Olympics made the early '60's doo-wop hit "Peanut Butter," which was also recorded by Chubby Checker. Jimmy Buffett's song "Peanut Butter Conspiracy," on his album "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean," is about how he (or at least the narrator of the song) and a friend survived their early days as struggling musicians by smoking marijuana and stealing peanut butter from convenience stores.

2) C: The Denver adventure.

Elvis and friends flew to Denver for 22 oversized fat-rich sandwiches that would clog the arteries of a moose, and didn't even get off the plane for a little exercise. The King did this in February of 1976; 18 months later he was dead at age 42.

3) D: None of the above.

Nothing surprised me more while researching this book than to learn that in historical terms, Carver is an oversold fraud. Despite what William F. Buckley Jr. believed, Carver did not invent peanut butter. He devised a number of arcane uses for peanuts, but they were things that could be done more economically using other products, so they weren't useful. And while he's widely given credit for getting farmers (particularly black farmers) to move away from boll-weevil-devastated cotton, he didn't start writing about peanuts until about 1915, and farmers had been moving to peanuts as early as the turn of the Twentieth Century.

4) B: 90 percent peanuts.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began the process of establishing a standard of identity for peanuts in 1959, they proposed 95 percent, but the peanut butter industry talked them down to 90 percent. As soon as the FDA did so, the industry proposed 87 percent, but failed to get the FDA to go for that. When Jif first appeared in stores in 1958, it only contained 75 percent peanuts, which is what interested the FDA in establishing a standard of identity for peanut butter.

5) G: All of the above.

Peanut butter has a lot of fat, about 50 percent. While most of it is heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fat, it's still fat, and if you eat too much of it, you'll get fat.

There have been three recorded outbreaks of salmonella poisoning in peanut butter in the U.S.: in Peter Pan in the early 1970's and again in 2007, and the notorious Peanut Corporation of America case in 2009.

Because peanut butter is so thick and sticky, it can cause choking if wolfed down too much and too quickly, with Henry Heimlich noting in a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1981 that the maneuver named after him had saved several diners' lives by expelling peanut-butter-covered bread from their throat.

While peanuts are subject to aflatoxin contamination under condiditions of drought stress, the peanut and peanut butter industries have done such a good job of detecting and removing aflatoxin-contaminated peanuts from their production lines, that this is more of a theoretical problem than an actual one in the United States.

Peanut allergies are a problem for two percent of the population and have been increasing in the U.S. in recent years, with effects as severe as anaphylactic shock, which can cause death if not promptly and effectively treated.

Trans fats are only a problem in peanut butter in the rare event that the wrong catalyst is used to hydrogenate it (nickel is the best) or if the reaction takes place at an excessively high temperature. Today, peanut butter labels indicate zero trans fats. This is not accurate: peanut butter does contain trans fats, but at such a minuscule level that even Michael Jacobsen of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says they're not a problem.

As for GMO's: peanuts have not been genetically modified -- not yet, anyway. However, soybeans, whose oil is often used to hydrogenate peanut butter do contain trans-genic material. While the percentage of hydrogenated oil in peanut butter is relatively small, if your peanut butter is stabilized with soybean oil, the odds are good you're eating GMO's.

6) E: All of the above.

Peanuts are rich in plant protein, making them a popular alternative to meat for vegetarians. Half of the oil in peanuts is mono-unsaturated, which is good, and about a third is poly-unsaturated, which is better. (About 15 percent is saturated, though, which is not good, as it's associated with heart disease and some cancers.)

Roasted peanuts rival the antioxidant content of blackberries and strawberries, and are richer in antioxidants than apples, carrots or beets. In particular, peanuts are a significant source of resveratrol, which has been studied for potential anti-aging effects and associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and reduced cancer risk. Finally, peanuts contain almost 30 times as much resveratrol as grapes, often touted as one of the few good sources of this antioxidant.

7) Creamy.

According to an article from Weight Watchers Magazine cited in Winter 1997 issue of "Spread the News," a newsletter distributed by the Peanut Advisory Board, 60 percent of the peanut butter eaten in the U.S. is creamy, 40 percent is crunchy. But Bill Brown, procurement manager for the J.M. Smucker Co., speaking at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City Beach, Florida in 2005, said creamy is four fifths of the market and crunchy only one fifth.

8) B: Russia.

Peanut butter is popular in Haiti, which still has the tradition, common in the United States in the early days of peanut butter (late 19th and early 20th centuries) of many vendors selling their own brands of unstabilized peanut butter locally. Haitians may have developed their fondness for ground-up peanuts from Nigerians transported there as part of the slave trade.

Germans have acquired the peanut butter habit from American servicemen stationed there since the end of World War II, while the Saudis got their peanut butter cravings from workers for ARAMCO (the Arabian-American Oil Company) who similarly started working there after World War II.

Americans have been trying off and on since 1922, shortly after the Russian Revolution, to get the Russians interested in peanut butter. But they apparently prefer caviar.

9) D: Legumes, like clover and alfalfa

True nuts, like walnuts and cashews, grow on trees and have hard shells. In addition to alfalfa, clover, and peanuts, examples of legumes are peas, beans, lentils, mesquite, carob, and soybeans.

10) C: South America

Wild peanuts originate in the Matto Grosso province of Brazil; they were first domesticated in the eastern foothills of the Andes in Bolivia and Paraguay. Because peanuts were first introduced into the U.S. through the slave trade, some people mistakenly believe peanuts originated in Africa. Neither are peanuts indigenous to North America, not even Georgia, the number-one peanut-growing state by far. And while satay sauces based on ground peanuts are popular in Southeast Asia, peanuts first arrived there on Spanish galleons sailing west from Acapulco.

11) D: Six minutes

Other than telling the subcommittee his lawyer's name (which, ironically, was Bill O'Reilly -- no, not THAT Bill O'Reilly), Mr. Parnell did nothing but plead the Fifth, even when asked by Republican Greg Walden of Oregon if he'd like to sample some of his own product, examples of which Congressman Walden conveniently had handy. Sensing that they weren't going to have a lively interchange with Mr. Parnell, the Subcommittee quickly dismissed him.

12) B: Skippy.

Buckley's only known poem was:

I know that I shall never see
A poem lovely as Skippy’s peanut butter.

His fondness for Skippy seems to have been matched only by his animus for Jif. His No. 1 favorite brand wasn't one of the majors, however -- it was Red Wing peanut butter, made by Carriage House in Fredonia, New York.

13) Jif was orginally made in Lexington, Ky. (where it's still made).

14) Skippy was originally made in Alameda, Calif. It's now made in Little Rock, Ark.

15) Peter Pan was originally made in Chicago. It's now made in Sylvester, Ga.

16) Adams was originally made in Tacoma, Wash. It's now made in New Bethlehem, Pa.

17) Laura Scudders was originally made in Monterey Park, Ca. It's now made in New Bethlehem, Pa.

18) C) Runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia.

Runners, grown primarily in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, are about 80 percent of the U.S. peanut crop. Virginias, grown mainly in Virginia and North Carolina, are about 15 percent. Spanish, grown mainly in Texas and Oklahoma, is four or five percent. And Valencias, grown in Southeastern New Mexico and the adjoining counties of the Texas Panhandle, are one or two percent.

Russets, Yukon Gold, Royal Jerseys, and Yams are kinds of potatoes. Navels, Valencias, Jaffas and Cara Caras are oranges. And Grouchy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Grumpy are four of the seven dwarves.

19) C) sandy loam

When I visited Jackson County, the peanut-growingest county in Florida, the soil in the peanut fields looked like beach sand to me. But it was actually sandy loam, more nutritious than beach sand, which peanuts can't grow in.

20) False

While there have been historical rumors to that effect, I exchanged e-mails with Kennedy aide Theodore Sorensen a few years before his death, and he categorically denied them.

21) Iggy Pop.

According to, Mr. Pop (real name: James Newell Osterberg Jr.) was in the habit of smearing steaks and peanut butter on his body, cutting himself with glass, and diving into the audience at concerts. I was more of a Beatles man myself.

22) E) All of them

The Peter Pan contamination and recall unfolded over 2006-07, Peanut Corporation of America over 2008-09, Smuckers in 2011 and Trader Joe's in 2012. There is no indication that anyone was injured by Salmonella from Smuckers Natural peanut butter. There have been 35 illnesses from Salmonella contamination at the Sunland Inc. plant in Portales, NM, which has made peanut butter for Trader Joe's and other brands. More than 700 people suffered food poisoning in the Peter Pan case. The Peanut Corporation of America case was the most harmful, with nine deaths and more than 700 injuries.

23) C) Heinz

Although Peter Pan traditionally gets credit for being the first hydrogenated peanut butter, it didn't come on the market until 1928, whereas Heinz peanut butter (which was made between 1909 and 1950) was hydrogenated in 1923, making it the first. Beech-Nut was the first national brand to sell peanut butter, coming on the market in 1904.

24) D) All of the above

25) B) Norman Rockwell

Rockwell illustrated two ads for Skippy's "Whispering" Sweepstakes in 1963, so called because the winner would get a free trip on Eastern Airlines "Whisperjets" (which probably weren't all that quiet). Here's an illustration from one of those ads:

Rockwell Skippy illustration