“Peanut butter is the pâté of childhood.” —Florence Fabricant
Chances are a majority of back-to-school lunch boxes will contain a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, especially since (statistically speaking) the average American child will consume more than 2,500 of these iconic duos before they graduate high school.
In the beginning
St. Louis physician Ambrose Straub laid a solid claim to the creation of peanut butter in 1880 when he crushed the legumes into a palatable paste for his geriatric patients with dental problems. Two decades later, Dr. Straub received the patent for the peanut grinding mill, and sold the commercial rights to Bayle Food Products.
he food novelty was soon available in bulk tubs in groceries throughout the land until Peter Pan and Skippy launched their brands in the 1920s and ‘30s. Depression-era moms, along with WW II soldiers, started adding jelly to the sandwiches to make the peanut butter less adhesive to the roof of the mouth. This cheap (24 cents a jar) and hearty snack stood the test of time, and today American consumers spend $800 million yearly on the spreadable stuff, making more than 10 billion PB&J sandwiches — and that’s no peanuts!
Peanut butter has loads of folate and 30 essential nutrients and phytonutrients (including stress- and brain fatigue-busting B vitamins) and is naturally cholesterol-free and rife with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
However, the bad news for peanut butter and jellyphiles is daunting. It seems that the inexpensive-stick-to-your-ribs-vegetarian-protein is going to seed. Peanuts are susceptible to strains of fungi called Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus that form on the legumes stored in moist, warm silos. These molds produce an aflatoxin, a notorious allergen and potential carcinogen.
Although the U.S. Government tests for aflatoxin levels, forbidding crops exceeding 20 parts per billion, the sneaky compound continues to grow while sitting on supermarket shelves.
There’s more. Peanut crops grown in the south are also exposed to residual pesticides from their rotated cropmate, cotton. But even organic peanut butter, which is free of pesticides and additives like corn syrup, emulsifiers and hydrogenated oils that also trigger allergies, might still contain the aflatoxin.
For diehard peanut butter and jelly fans standing advice applies – moderation, along with buying organic, locally grown, if possible, and freshly ground at natural supermarkets.
Refrigerate peanut butter at all times to put the skids on the growth of aflatoxin, and toss after a month or two. Finally, keep PB&J far and away from those with peanut sensitivities.
As for the jelly part, although grape is the most popular choice, at least make it organic or pick natural all-fruit preserves without added sweeteners.
Whole-wheat bread also trumps refined, pasty white in terms of its fatty acid profile, as well as fiber, folate, potassium, protein, trace vitamins and minerals.
One in four kids wants the crust removed, but try to break that picky habit as the crust contains a mother lode of dietary fiber and antioxidants.
(Use organics, where possible)
2 cups roasted unsalted almonds
1 teaspoon honey (clover, blossom, your choice)
Choice of flavorings (1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of cocoa powder, few drops of almond or vanilla extract without alcohol)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Method: In a food processor, grind the nuts and sea salt, gradually adding the honey and flavorings until the nut mixture has reached the desired smoothness. (If you like chunky, toss in a handful of nuts at the end.) Spread on your favorite bread or toast and top with a crisp lettuce leaf. Slather a layer of fruit spread on the other slice. Serve with crust intact and carrot and celery sticks.
From the Peanut Gallery
• Peanut butter is eaten in 90 percent of American households.
• Women and children prefer creamy varieties, while men choose chunky.
• April 2 is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.
• The world’s biggest PB&J sandwich was created in Grand Saline, Texas in 2010 weighing 1,342 pounds (720 pounds of bread, 493 pounds of peanut butter, 129 pounds of jelly).
• Archibutyrophobia is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to your palate
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