We love peanut butter. We slather it on sandwiches with jelly. We smear it on celery and crackers. We enjoy it straight from the jar.
Americans on average eat 3 pounds of peanut butter per year. This year, consumption is expected to reach a record 800 million pounds.
In these tough economic times, it is no wonder. Peanut butter is a bargain protein. At 8 grams of protein per ounce, peanut butter edges out canned tuna, boneless chicken breasts and ground beef, which all have about 7 grams per ounce. But peanut butter costs a lot less, on average 10 cents an ounce, compared with 18, 16 and 16 cents, respectively.
The nut spread's popularity doesn't surprise Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, a Charlotte nonprofit group that feeds the hungry. This nonperishable protein has long been a most-wanted item for food banks all over the country. "We distribute it as fast we collect it," Howard says. Since July, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina has distributed 200,000 pounds of peanut butter to food pantries in 34 counties.
Howard adds: "The most beautiful thing about peanut butter is children will eat it if you spread it on cardboard."
Peanut butter often goes on bread with jelly, but we shouldn't limit this pantry staple.
"Peanut butter is used in savory cooking, globally," says Bruce Weinstein, co-author of "The Ultimate Peanut Butter Book: Savory & Sweet, Breakfast to Dinner, Hundreds of Ways to Use America's Favorite Spread."
Weinstein says peanut butter is found in cooking from Africa to Southeast Asia. His book, written with Mark Scarbrough, contains recipes for curries and stir fries, soups and noodle dishes using the condiment as a key ingredient.
"It has so many flavors and so much character," Weinstein says. "It makes even a simple noodle dish taste so complex."
Best of all, it gets a protein-rich dinner on the table on the cheap.
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