Peanuts are native to the tropics of the Americas and were mashed to become a pasty substance by the Aztec Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
A number of peanut paste products have been used over the centuries, and the distinction between peanut paste and peanut butter is not always clear in ordinary use. Early forms of peanut butter, like the Aztecs’ version, were nothing but a paste made from roasted peanuts. Modern processing machines allow for very smooth products to be made, which often include vegetable oils to aid in its spreadability.
Evidence of peanut butter as it is known today comes from U.S. Patent 306,727, issued in 1884 to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for the finished product of the process of milling roasted peanuts between heated surfaces until the peanuts entered “a fluid or semi-fluid state.” As the peanut product cooled, it set into what Edson explained as being “a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment”. Edson’s patent is based on the preparation of a peanut paste as an intermediate to the production the modern product we know as peanut butter; it does show the initial steps necessary for the production of peanut butter. George Washington Carver is often falsely credited with inventing peanut butter and is nearly synonymous with its history in the United States.
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented a “Process of Preparing Nut Meal” in 1895 and used peanuts. Kellogg served peanut butter to the patients at his Battle Creek Sanitarium.
Dr. Ambrose Straub, a physician in St. Louis, Missouri, pursued a method for providing toothless elderly with protein in the 1890s. His peanut-butter-making machine was patented in 1903.
January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day in the United States.