What It Takes to Produce One Jar of Peanut Butter

published Oct 30, 2014
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(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

We know all about what is in peanut butter, but how does it get to us as consumers? You can grind your own on the spot at many grocers, but popular commercial brands still line the shelves alongside newer specialty brands.

How are they made? Sorry, Virginia, but there isn’t a magical peanut butter fairy. Instead it’s a process that begins with roughly 500 runner peanuts.

(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

Seeing acres upon acres of peanuts combined and poured into a semi-truck trailer this September made me wonder just how many of those little shells and how many steps it took to make my favorite snack happen.

How Many Peanuts Are in a Jar of Peanut Butter?

According to the National Peanut Board, it takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter.

No wonder two tablespoons pack such a caloric and nutritious punch!

What Kind of Peanuts Make Peanut Butter?

Peanut butter is most commonly made from runner peanuts, known for their uniform kernel size; this allows for even roasting. Around 80 percent of the peanuts grown in the United States are runner peanuts. Understandably so since one-half of the peanuts produced in the United States are used for peanut butter or paste.

From plant to harvest, peanuts require between 120 to 160 days of growth. Seeds planted in mid-April to early May, when soil temperatures 65 to 70 degrees, are turned, dried for several days and picked with a combine in mid-September before leaving the farm.

Farmers often sell portions of their harvest in advance to crop brokers or even end-user manufacturers. Once acquired, peanuts are sampled and graded by the Federal-State Inspection Service to determine their overall quality.

(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

The Peanut Butter Process: From Peanuts to Peter Pan

Your choosy mom may have chosen JIF, but I grew up in a Peter Pan (crunchy!) house. According to my childhood brand, the process hasn’t changed much since then. Once the peanuts reach the manufacturing facility, here’s what happens:

  1. Inspection: Peanuts are inspected to ensure quality.
  2. Roasting: The peanuts pass through a special oven that roasts them to develop flavor.
  3. Cooling: Peanuts are cooled quickly with fan-circulated air to stop the roasting process when the peanuts reach their optimum flavor and color.
  4. Blanching: A blancher removes the outer skin from the peanuts, after which they are split, cleaned, and sorted.
  5. Grinding: Prepared peanuts are ground in two stages to avoid generating too much heat, which can reduce flavor quality. The first stage reduces them to a chunky paste. The second stage incorporates additional ingredients—such as sugar and salt—and reduces the peanuts to the familiar, smooth peanut butter texture before final packaging. To make chunky peanut butter, peanut granules are added to the creamy peanut butter.

We may never know quite how many licks it takes to get the center of a Tootsie Pop, but at least we’ve got a head start on what makes the inside of peanut butter cups so undeniably delicious.