One of the more curious medical conditions of modern times is the peanut allergy. For those who break out in actual symptoms, it is a real threat whose potential outcome can be death. We all know of schools with peanut-free classrooms, and airlines no longer serve peanuts with their drinks (or pretty much anything, but that’s another story) to avoid troublesome lawsuits from people whose sensitivity is so severe that the mere proximity to peanuts can set them off.
Numerous studies have been done to determine what the cause of such a widespread allergy could be, and the results are — well, unclear. The only thing they have found is that a large percentage of peanut allergies appear to be psychosomatic in nature; that is, all in the mind. Even a minor sensitivity can be made physically more severe if the sufferer thinks it’s going to be. In fact, on average, only ten people die each year from a peanut allergy. Sucks if you’re one of them, but that’s out of millions and millions who claim to have a peanut allergy.
In the US particularly, candy bars are heavily peanut-based. Chain restaurants always feature one or more peanut butter flavored dessert. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the de facto food for children who are picky about eating anything else.
Peanut butter at its most simplest consists of roasted peanuts ground to a paste. But the best-selling brands in the US give you much more than that.
Jif, Skippy, and Peter Pan brands all contain hydrogenated oils, mono and diglycerides, molasses, sugar and salt.
There’s also this:
The defect guidelines on food exposed to biological or natural contaminants establishes acceptable levels of defect. According to the FDA Food Defect Action List, peanut butter is allowed to have an average of 30 or more insect fragments, 1 rodent hair, and 20 milligrams of grit in 100 grams. An 18-ounce jar of peanut butter is 510 grams. What this means is that you could find an average of 150 insects parts, 5 rodent hairs and 125 milligrams of grit in your 18-ounce peanut butter jar.
Mold, insect fragments, excrement, maggots, and rodent hair, sand, wood, and fiber have set levels allowed in peanut butter. Samples that fall under the set levels pass inspection and are allowed to be marketed.
In case that gives you the willies, you could always make this cake. In 1959, whoever made it decided that sticking peanuts in their shells on toothpicks around the edge was a good idea.
Holiday Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1959
Also from this book: Lincoln Log