In the past year, peanut butter sales have overtaken jam sales in the UK. In the US, the two spreads come as a pair – sometimes in the same jar – but on this side of the pond peanut butter is seen as a healthy alternative, while jam is increasingly regarded as a sugary threat.
High-end “natural” peanut butters are said to be driving the trend. In fact, peanut butter originated as a sort of luxury health food. In the late 19th century, John Harvey Kellogg developed a form of it – a protein-rich peanut paste that could be consumed by wealthy people without teeth.
But peanut butter is more than just a spread: it is also a versatile ingredient. It melts when you heat it and returns to its original consistency when cool. Not all peanut butter is the same, however. Different brands contain varying quantities of salt, sugar and palm oil. Some, of course, contain none of these.
The quality of your peanut butter will affect your cooking, of course, and for that reason I am starting with a recipe for peanut butter itself. You don’t have to make Felicity Cloake’s perfect version every time, but it is good to know what perfect peanut butter tastes like and how it compares with what is available from shops.
As well as jam, peanut butter is often paired with chocolate, most famously in Reese’s peanut butter cups, one of the few childhood favourites of mine that I still sometimes eat in secret – partly because they are not just sickly sweet, but also insanely salty.
You can make your own approximation of peanut butter cups at home without too much trouble, but if you want to take a deep dive into commercial sweet replication, watch Claire Saffitz’s entertaining – and largely successful – attempt on YouTube. I took the easy route and the only problem I faced was getting the proportions right. It is hard not to end up with too much chocolate in a bid to construct something structurally sound, but any difference between your version and the original should probably be considered an improvement.
Kylie Antolini’s gluten-free salted peanut butter and chocolate tart is “a tart version of a Reese’s peanut butter cup”. (It doesn’t have to be gluten-free if you want to use regular flour instead.) Meanwhile, this chocolate and peanut butter cake is almost a perfect inversion of the peanut butter cup arrangement: a basic chocolate sponge with a sticky peanut butter icing.
I am not normally in favour of adulterating brownies in any way, but the judicious addition of crunchy peanut butter in Clare Scrine’s peanut butter and honey brownies sounds delicious. Meera Sodha’s vegan peanut butter blondies are likewise laced with (vegan) dark chocolate.
Jack Monroe uses peanut butter to make granola, which keeps in an airtight container for up to a month. Peanut butter cookies are another recipe you can pull together ahead of schedule – the prepared dough can wait in the fridge for a few days.
Peanut butter cheesecake doesn’t necessarily sound like something that should work, but here are two variations on the idea. The first, by Nigel Slater, results in a pleasing, gooey mess, which is softly set and, as Slater says, “possibly the richest thing you’ll ever eat”. You will probably need a lie down after a small slice.
This frozen banana peanut butter cheesecake begins with freezing two bananas until the skins turn black, effortlessly reducing their contents to mush once defrosted. They are combined with a tub of soft cheese, a jar of peanut butter, double cream and sugar, so this is not exactly a lighter option.
Peanut butter is also a feature of any number of savoury dishes from around the world, satay being the one that springs to mind. Peanut sauce is not the only sauce used in satay dishes, but it is the most common. This chicken satay combines peanut butter (about a jarful) with peanuts, ginger, garlic, chillies, lime juice and zest, coriander, Thai fish sauce, brown sugar and coconut milk. Everything gets whizzed up together and the only cooking skill required is foresight: you need to allow time for the chicken to marinate – at least an hour, preferably overnight. In this recipe, the marinade and the dipping sauce are the same stuff – you just keep some of it back for serving.
Rachel Kelly’s Thai pork and peanut curry does not use up a tremendous amount of peanut butter – just a few tablespoons – but it makes for a quick and impressive supper. West African chicken and peanut butter stew – a winning readers’ recipe swap from 2014 – is not so different in principle, even if it comes from a different continent.
This west African peanut soup employs peanut butter as a shortcut substitute for real peanuts, so it is essential that you use unsweetened peanut butter without additives. This would probably be your best bet in any case, except where sweetened, additive-laden peanut butter is specified.
Sweet potato peanut butter and chilli quesadillas combine ingredients you may not normally assemble on the same shopping trip, much less the same dish, but it has an air of fearless innovation, the kind of thing a chef concocts during a power cut. It is too simple not to be worth a try.
Finally, we should acknowledge a quasi-savoury foodstuff of historical note: the sandwich that (sort of) killed Elvis. There are many versions of the Elvis toastie online, but they share a common basis: peanut butter and banana on buttered white bread, fried on both sides. Other versions also contain bacon. The most monstrous incarnation is probably the Fool’s Gold Loaf – a hollowed-out loaf of bread stuffed with a jar of peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly and a pound of bacon. Elvis once flew to Colorado in his private jet just to sample this delicacy. He survived that particular meal, but it caught up with him in the end.