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We salute America's favorite spread

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If you're a typical American kid, you'll eat more than 1,500 peanut-butter sandwiches by the time you graduate from high school. Whew! As a nation, we will consume 700 million pounds of peanut butter this year. That's enough to cover the entire floor of the Grand Canyon!

Why do we like this uniquely American food? Kids in other cultures mostly find peanut butter disgusting. They much prefer herring paste (in Scandinavia) or pungent brewer's yeast (in Australia) on their bread.

Why do we like it so much? Perhaps because it's home-grown. Peanuts are native to South America. Spanish explorers took them to grow in Africa. Slaves brought peanuts with them to North America. (Africans called peanuts "nguba." Have you ever heard of "goober peas"? That's what some Southerners used to call peanuts. Doesn't "goober" sound a lot like "nguba"?)

Making peanut butter is a simple process. (But first someone had to think of it. More on that later.) Peanuts are legumes, members of the pea family, not nuts. The yellow flowers of the plant bend down to the ground so that their seed pods (peanuts) can grow and ripen underground. It takes five months before peanuts are ready to pick.

Today, peanuts are shelled as they are harvested. Still in their shells, the peanuts are forced through a metal grid just big enough for the peanuts – and not the peanuts in their shells – to pass through. The shelled peanuts are bounced on a vibrating screen to shake off any bits of shell or other material.

The legumes are trucked to the peanut-butter plant in large cloth bags, each containing 110 pounds of peanuts. First stop: the tumbler. A large metal drum holds 330 pounds of peanuts and turns continuously as it roasts the peanuts at 300 degrees F. for 20 minutes.

After cooling, the peanuts are "blanched." Hot air and rubber blocks remove the outer skin and the hearts – the little piece that holds the two peanut halves together. (The hearts are bitter, so they're sold for animal feed – or for use in cheaper peanut butters.)


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