The process of making peanut butter really hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last century. Even way, way further back in the natural home of the peanut, the Incans had apparently made a peanut paste, which is where they started again in America. Around 1890 there were two doctors who independently started making a peanut paste as a protein alternative to meat. One of those doctors was John Kellogg who, with his brother W.K. Kellogg, got a patent for the peanut butter process. (they ended up dropping that in favour of a little breakfast cereal idea they had… something about corn or something.)
The modern day peanut butter process goes like this. Starts with the peanut. The whole pant is plucked out of the ground, dried, and then the peanuts, with shells, are removed. These end up in the processing plant, cleaned up a bit, and begin their adventure. (cue up Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse”) First the shell is removed, then they get roasted. They are tossed about in a chamber of hot air until they are just right, then as quickly as possible, the hot air is sucked out and they are cooled. The fast cooling stops them from overcooking, and keeps the natural oil in the nut.
From there the thin papery skin is removed from the nut. That’s called a blanching machine. The next step (which surprised me) is that the nuts are split in half, and the heart is removed. That may be called a big-mean-jerk machine. (unconfirmed) Apparently the heart of the peanut is rather bitter. Who knew!
The naked, heartless peanuts are slowly ground up and in order to prevent the peanut oil from separating, they add hydrogenated vegetable oil. Peanut oil is of the healthy, unsaturated fat variety, while the vegetable oil is that not-so-good transfat stuff. “Natural” peanut butter doesn’t add the oil, so it’s healthier, but it separates on the shelf… which means you also get some good excersize from stirring!