I love peanut butter.

And I’m definitely not alone—Americans consume about 700 million pounds of peanut butter annually, averaging about twenty-two tablespoons per person per year. If that sounds like a lot, here’s the real shocker: Europeans on average consume less than one tablespoon of peanut butter per person annually.

Let’s just pause and have a moment of silence for those poor, deprived souls.

Anyways. I was inspired to dig deeper into this creamy mystery after I did an internship this summer in the the Czech Republic, and it was a serious struggle to find peanut butter. When I realized that they didn’t have it at my local grocery store, I despaired. How could they not carry this obvious staple? But I took a deep breath, shrugged, and resolved to find some when I traveled out of town. 

This turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected—even in huge cities like Prague, not all grocery stores carried it. If they did, it was only in little 350g jars (which is about 12 ounces, about the size of a can of soup) and they were hidden between shelves upon shelves of Nutella and cookie butter. Yes, cookie butter. 


meandmybadself on Flickr

The price surprised me, too. At home, I’m used to paying about $5 for a big jar (40 ounces) of peanut butter. But everywhere I went in Europe, each little jar was usually about €3, or $3.50 American dollars. That comes out to about $12 for my usual 40 ounces of peanut butter, more than double what I was used to paying.

I was astonished, to say the least. I was confused. Moreover, I was craving some good ol’ American peanut butter.

I shared this phenomenon with the other American interns, and they echoed my sentiments. When we shared these complaints with the international students and locals, however, they seemed nonchalant about it, expressing that they didn’t see the hype.

And this got me to thinking...why? Why are Americans so obsessed with peanut butter? Look in an American grocery store, and whole aisles will be dedicated to the stuff. Look online and recipes anywhere from peanut butter cookies to peanut butter hummus will show up. And it’s not just a millennial trend—even our parents grew up with the classic PB&J. Yet, it’s virtually nonexistent in other parts of the world. 

So I sat down with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon and did some serious digging. Into the internet, of course. (But also my jar of peanut butter.)

And what I found out actually made a lot of sense.

Reason 1: Our Peanut Crop

Image from WikiCommons

Image from WikiCommons

First of all, the United States grows a ton of peanuts. In fact, we are the nation’s third largest producer (behind China and India) at about 3 million metric tons of peanuts per year. So, we don’t have to import the goods. Growing peanuts became a big thing in the early 1900s when the cotton crop was suffering in the South, and we still grow a lot of peanuts today.

Reason 2: It Grew Up in America

Image from WikiCommons

Image from WikiCommons

The invention of peanut butter takes place almost entirely in America. Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson patented his peanut paste in 1884, and its evolution then migrated to (and stayed in) America all the way until Joseph Rosefield patented his recipe in 1928, creating what would become Skippy. There’s evidence to suggest that, until recently, there has been no real attempt to market the product overseas, so it stayed isolated in the U.S. for quite a long time.

Reason 3: It Fed America

Heide Baron

Peanut butter’s birth year explains our obsession even more. In World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, America was in search of inexpensive, filling, and nutritious ways to feed its people. So people turned to peanut butter, and it stuck. Peanut butter sandwiches were given out in food lines during the Great Depression and were part of Army rations in both World Wars.

So, there you have it. Peanut butter originated in America, was made with American peanuts, and fed Uncle Sam through some of the roughest times of our history. Knowing this, it’s pretty easy to see how peanut butter became a staple in our pantries.

There can only be speculation as to why the trend never made it over the Atlantic. The story of peanut butter’s origin, however, gives us some insight—Europe doesn’t produce peanuts like we do, and importing them is costly. In fact, on one of the more expensive jars I bought in Europe, it specifically said “made with imported American peanuts."

Peanut butter is not just another one of America’s strange obsessions, but rather an ingrained part of our history and fundamental part of the American diet. It’s a great source of protein, uses local ingredients, and has a rich flavor and texture.

Made in America, Probably

DaveLawler on Flickr

But you may want to take that with a grain of salt, because, like most Americans, I’m pretty nuts about peanut butter.