I love peanuts

…and peanut butter

Actually maybe I love peanut butter the most. If I’m in need of a quick snack, peanut butter on a slice of bread is my preferred choice. Sometimes I by-pass the bread and just eat some peanut butter.

The National Peanut Board has lots of interesting facts about peanuts, such as:

  • Peanuts grow underground.
  • Peanut plants need less water than tree nuts: 5 gallons of water to produce 1 ounce of peanuts vs 80 gallons to produce 1 ounce of almonds (!!).
  • Any product labeled “peanut butter” must be at least 90% peanuts. Only 90%? What would the other 10% be?
  • There are no (none, zero) GMO peanuts. Any peanut butter or peanuts labeled “non GMO” is misleading marketing hype.
  • The fat in peanuts is primarily unsaturated.
  • Peanuts are a good source of many nutrients, such as vitamin E, magnesium, niacin and copper.
  • Peanuts have more protein than any other nut.

But of course, all this good stuff would be meaningless if peanuts didn’t taste good. Throw in convenience, cost and versatility and you’ve got a winning food.

Versatility?

Peanuts are for snacks; peanut butter is for sandwiches. Isn’t that about it? No. PB & J sandwiches are a very American thing. Don’t limit your peanut repertoire. Peanuts and peanut butter have many other uses around the globe that don’t involve bread or jelly. They’re are a popular ingredient from Africa to Asia, used in soups, stews, salads, and sauces and as a garnish. In countries where little meat or fish is eaten, peanuts add protein along with flavor. For people who avoid or limit meat, such as vegans and vegetarians, peanuts boost the protein in meals.

Buying Peanut Butter

When it comes to buying peanut butter, I’m very adamant about the one and only choice: so-called “old fashioned” peanut butter. The kind that separates in the jar if it’s left sitting for awhile. You have to mix the oil and peanut solids together before using. Do not pour off the oil. You’ll end up with a dry, unpleasant lump of ground peanut.

The ingredients list should say “peanuts, salt”. That’s it! Maybe not even salt. Definitely no sweeteners (no, don’t buy peanut butter gunked up with artificial sweeteners, ugh!). And NO PALM OIL.

Until relatively recently, most popular brands of peanut butter were homogenized with hydrogenated fats. This kept the oil from separating, so the peanut butter was uniformly smooth. But hydrogenated fats got a bad reputation when they were linked to heart disease. Some food companies thought the solution was palm oil. When added to peanut butter, it has the same effect: the oil does not separate. Added bonus: the companies can slap “Natural” on the label, because palm oil isn’t hydrogenated.

BUT: palm oil comes from palm trees, grown on palm plantations which are created by mowing down giant swaths of tropical rain forest to create giant mono-cultures. If you’re OK with the destruction of tropical rain forests, feel free to buy peanut butter with palm oil added.

What if you don’t particularly like mixing oil into peanut butter in the jar. Many grocery stores now have ‘grind your own’ nut butter machines. Grind fresh peanuts into a container. The oil takes awhile to separate, so if you consume the peanut butter in a short period of time, you won’t have to deal with any mess. Refrigerating it slows the separation process, too.

Buying Peanuts

I’m somewhat neutral about peanut choices. The best choice for both snacking and cooking is roasted/unsalted. You can add your own salt to recipes as necessary. Sometimes you want more flavor in a snack, so you might consider flavored varieties, such as honey roasted. However, those mean added sugar and probably salt. And they are not very useful for cooking.

Organic? That’s entirely up to you. It won’t make any difference in flavor or nutrition.

One important tip: if you buy peanuts or peanut butter but don’t use them frequently, keep them refrigerated. The unsaturated fat in the peanut oil can turn rancid over time if stored at room temperature.

Summing Up Peanuts

  • Environmentally friendly: so much less water used to create a higher protein nut. What’s not to like about that?
  • Great protein source for vegan and vegetarian diets
  • Delicious
  • Versatile

I love spicy Asian style peanut sauce. You can use it hot or cold, on noodles, grains, vegetables, tofu or meat. It can be a dip for spring rolls. There are lots of recipe variations on this, but my preference is always for the easiest ones with easy-to-find ingredients that don’t break the bank. Here’s one option:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned smooth peanut butter
  • 2 TB rice vinegar
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 2 TB sesame oil (toasted sesame will give a stronger flavor)
  • 2 TB lime juice (maybe 2 limes)
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 1 TB Sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1/2 – 1 TB minced garlic (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup water, or more to thin
  • 2-3 TB minced fresh cilantro, optional

Carefully mix together everything but the water in a bowl, using a sturdy whisk or spatula. Slowly add water and mix to desired consistency. Add more seasonings to taste, and add cilantro if using it.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2019 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.