CHICAGO — Inspiration for this column came upon learning that Jan. 24 was National Peanut Butter Day. Don’t worry if you missed the annual celebration of the spreadable form of American’s favorite snacking nut, as you can grab a spoon and crack open a jar again on March 1 — National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day — and April 2 — National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.
The average American consumes more than 6 lbs of peanuts and peanut butter products each year, with peanut butter consumed in 90% of U.S. households. Most of the time, consumers are spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread and sandwiching it with a slice of jelly-spread bread to make the infamous PB&J.
Today’s peanut butter manufacturers are exploring all types of unique flavor combinations while sweet treat innovators are relying on peanut butter, often with its longtime companion jelly, to provide nostalgia to adult-themed candies and desserts.
|Click to open a slideshow of peanut butter and jelly innovations.|
Sweet Harvest Foods, Cannon Falls, Minn., markets PB Crave, a four-variety line of artisan-crafted peanut butters. The wild honey-sweetened flavors are: Choco Choco (semi-sweet and dark Belgian chocolate), CoCo Bananas (chocolate chips and natural banana), Cookie Nookie (milk chocolate chips natural cookie dough flavor) and Razzle Dazzle (white and semi-sweet chocolate and natural raspberry flavor).
Sold in 1-lb jars, the shelf-stable and gluten-free spread provides 180 calories, 14 grams of fat and 6 to 7 grams of protein, depending on variety, per 2-tablespoon serving.
Peanut Butter & Co., New York, a forerunner in the gourmet peanut butter category, offers an array of traditional and innovative flavors. For example, The Heat is On is peanut butter with a kick that comes from the addition of chili powder, cayenne peppers, crushed red peppers and paprika. Mighty Maple, as the name implies, is peanut butter blended with maple syrup. Cinnamon Raisin Swirl provides an element of texture with the inclusion of chewy raisins that complements the cinnamon twist.
To make its top-selling favorites more convenient for on-the-go consumption, the company now offers 32-gram squeeze packs of Dark Chocolate Dreams (peanut butter blended with dark chocolate), Smooth Operator (creamy peanut butter) and The Bee’s Knees (peanut butter blended with honey).
Boulder, Colo.-based Justin’s, a pioneer in organic and all-natural nut butters and peanut butter cups, recognizes the opportunity in portion-controlled, on-the-go packs. The company recently launched all-natural 80-calorie squeeze packs of its most popular nut butters: chocolate hazelnut, classic almond, classic peanut, honey peanut and maple almond. The squeeze packs are sold in boxes of six. The peanut butter varieties sell for $2.99 and the others retail for $4.99.
The secret to “Our Signature” Peanut Butter Spread from Pacific Beach Peanut Butter L.L.C., San Diego, is the addition of palm oil, dairy butter and almonds to crushed peanuts. In addition to gourmet peanut butters in flavors such as Butterscotch, CinnaYum and white chocolate, the company recognizes the attraction to jelly with peanut butter and offers a chocolate raspberry peanut butter spread.
This PB&J concept is popping up all over. Promotion In Motion Companies Inc., Allendale, N.J., is introducing Welch’s PB&J Snacks, bringing together the two flavors of peanut butter and jelly in an easy-to-eat, no-mess treat. The round, bite-size snacks feature a chewy center made with real fruit, surrounded by a peanut butter coating, ending the “crust or no crust” debate once and for all. They come in a number of varieties, either a Concord grape or strawberry center with either a creamy or crunchy peanut butter outside.
The snacks are offered in an 8-count box with a suggested retail price of $2.79, with additional package types to be released during the course of the year.
Toronto-based Chocolate Signatures now sells David’s PB&J bite-size snacks. Each peanut butter ball is filled with raspberry jam and coated in dark chocolate. They are sold in dozen-count boxes.
Another PB&J innovation comes from Hagensborg Chocolates Ltd., Burnaby, B.C., Canada. The company just introduced bite-size Truffle Pig’lets and Truffle PB&J Bars in peanut butter and raspberry jam combinations. Raspberry juice concentrate provides that layer of fruity flavor.
The PB&J concept is at the heart of the Kind Fruit & Nut Peanut Butter & Strawberry Bar from Kind L.L.C., New York. The sweet, chewy snack (40-gram bar) contains 190 calories and 7 grams of protein. The latter comes from the peanut butter as well as the addition of soy protein isolate.
Main Street Cupcakes, a multi-unit Ohio bakery with origins in Cleveland, has been offering a PB&J Cupcake on a rotational basis since opening six years ago. The vanilla cupcakes are filled with strawberry jam and topped with peanut butter buttercream frosting. Co-owner Sarah Forrer said the item is always a best seller when it is offered, and continues to bring excitement to the cupcake business.
It may be one thing to take the PB&J idea to snacks, but two companies have gone even farther — ice cream. For the summer of 2013, Ben & Jerry’s, Burlington, Vt., a Unilever company, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., introduced Peanut Butter Jam Session exclusively through Target stores. The product combines peanut butter ice cream with a crunchy peanut butter swirl and a raspberry swirl.
And Full Tilt Ice Cream USA, Seattle, has had its own version of PB&J on its menus since opening about six years ago. Take-home pints are a newer option. The product is made using local ingredients, including peanut butter from CB’s Nuts, Kingston, Wash., and strawberry jam that is made in house using berries from Biringer Farm, Arlington, Wash.PB&J … it has definitely grown up from the lunch box favorite to an anytime and anywhere experience.