What about George Washington Carver?

Reader Wendi asks, given that peanut butter was central to last week’s project, where’s my tip of the hat to George Washington Carver?

Now Wendi, don’t get me wrong, I love George Washington Carver. He’s one of my all-time favorite food scientists, synonymous with peanuts and for many, peanut butter. But the truth is that he didn’t invent peanut butter. That was the brainchild of the Incas. They were the first people to cultivate peanuts, and were mashing them into butters and molés thousands of years before Carver ever came on the scene.

Which is not to take anything away from GWC. He may not have invented peanut butter proper, but he did invent some 325 other uses for the peanut including a wide variety of foods, beverages, candies, vinegar, oils, glues, paints, stains, soap, shampoo, bleach, pressboard, cat litter, ink, linoleum, plastics, rubber, medicines, shaving cream, axle grease, Worchestershire sauce, mock asparagus…you know, now that I think about it, it might be easier to write up a list of the things George Washington Carver did’t make out of peanuts.

Food historians believe that the product we know as modern peanut butter was created around 1890, possibly in St. Louis by a physician named George A. Bayle. Others claim it was invented by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, THAT Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) at his sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. But then just about every country where peanut butter is popular (the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) has their own “inventor” of peanut butter. What can be said definitively is that an American food scientist by the name of Joseph L. Rosefield invented the smooth, shelf-stable peanut butter we all know and love today, because he received a patent for it in 1922.

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