We recently received a request from a reader in Kazakstan asking if there was any trick to making peanut butter for a local market. In particular, is there more to making peanut butter than just mashing peanuts (groundnuts)? We sent an e-mail message to former ECHO intern Mike Fennema, serving in Cambodia with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. Mike had started a peanut butter project during an earlier term in Cambodia with Food for the Hungry International (FHI). Here is what we learned from Mike:
“You’re right about peanut butter being easy to make. Remember the health food store that had a very simple machine that ground the peanuts while we watched? No additives, no preservatives, 100% peanuts.
“Four years ago I helped a local church to develop a peanut butter business. First I had to know how to make it, so I took a mortar and pestle and pounded and pounded. Eventually, the result was peanut butter. I brought this idea to the local church and together we set about improving the methods for production.
"Here are the major processes we followed:
"1. Quality Selection: Select fresh peanuts. Ensure that there is no mold growth on them and that they have been properly stored away from moisture if they have been in storage. Remove any broken, immature, or over mature peanuts.
"2. Roasting: Our setup was very basic. Roasting was done in a wok over a wood fire. We found that uneven roasting affects the taste. If some peanuts are burnt then the peanut butter will have a burnt taste. If clean sand is available then it can be used to cover the peanuts. This will allow even roasting. If such sand is not available, then take care to stir the peanuts adequately while roasting.
"If an oven is available, you can roast the nuts 425°F (218°C) for 40 - 60 minutes while occasionally turning the nuts by hand. You could also use a rotary coffee roaster.
"3. Skin removal: Remove the red or brown seed coat by rubbing or brushing. Otherwise it can add an unusual and slightly bitter taste to the peanut butter.
"4. Grinding: Next we needed to find a way to grind the nuts into a fine powder. We made use of an old wine bottle to crush the peanuts by using the bottle as a rolling pin. This is the stage where you would mix in all the additives. The amount of salt should be less than 1.5%, and honey or sugar less than 2%. (Stabilizers and food emulsifiers could also be added, but we never tried them, and they are not available in a lot of developing countries. Besides, it works well to advertise the food as All-Natural.)
"5. Churning: At first we took this powder and pounded it in a pot or mortar until it turned into peanut butter. The pounding causes the oil to be extracted. This oil then mixes with the dry powder to form a sticky peanut butter. (Sorry, I don’t know the technical term for the process.) This brand of peanut butter was still quite crunchy.
"We improved the process further by using a grinding stone (used locally to grind rice into a liquid paste). This turned the powder into a super-smooth, creamy and sticky peanut butter. We compared the stickiness and found that the peanut butter we produced was stickier than any other brand.
"We looked into the cost of buying an electric peanut butter maker, which would combine grinding and churning into one automatic process. I am sure that you could even use a blender to make peanut butter, although I have not tried that one yet. Of course using such technology could be considered anti-developmental–more income but for fewer people. Such a dilemma! [Sources of grinders are found at the end of this article].
"At first we sold two brands, crunchy and smooth. Smooth turned out to be the most popular and the easiest to produce, so the crunchy fell by the wayside. In order to make chunky peanut butter, you could add peanuts that have been pounded to 1/8 of the original size.
"You do have the option to add salt or even sugar if you prefer. We only tried adding salt or sugar once. Most people preferred the 100% natural butter. We even had some buyers whose kids refused to eat Skippy after getting addicted to what we called Kampot’s All Natural Peanut Butter. How’s that for an advertisement?
"The group experimented with making cashew butter. Wow was that good–a real hit, but a little too expensive. If you had the right market, it could do well.” (Note: having grown up on an almond farm in California, I know that almond butter has a market there. Perhaps other nuts could also be used in this way. D.S.)
“There is one big difference between commercial peanut butter made in the United States and homemade, all-natural peanut butter. When our product has been sitting around for a while a layer of peanut oil forms at the top of the jar. The peanut butter must be stirred before eating. We noticed this tends to cause the peanut butter to become a bit dry by the last quarter of the bottle.
"6. Bottling: Used bottles are readily available. In some countries, new bottles can be purchased along with sealing tape. It is essential to carefully wash recycled bottles. Be sure to wash in detergent and use a good quality bottlebrush, then sterilize with boiling water or over a steaming kettle. Be sure to place the lids in boiling water for 4 or 5 minutes to properly sterilize them as well.
"There are a number of other hygienic measures that can be considered. Keep children away from the production area. This was important when we started our project because the peanut butter was produced under someone’s house where children are plentiful and curious. They had creative ways of placing dirty fingers into the peanut butter for taste testing. In addition to wearing facemasks, one’s hair should be carefully tied back to prevent loose hairs from falling into the peanut butter. Both hands and spoons should be washed often.
"One of the biggest challenges was in finding a market. I helped to locate the initial market–an expatriate market in Phnom Penh. The group now continues to make the link with this market and keeps them supplied. I have not had contact with the group for over two years and they are still selling peanut butter. So that was the encouraging part.
"But they could have done more on the marketing side. I tried to encourage the group to expand in two ways. (1) Make contacts with more markets in Phnom Penh to increase the number of outlets for their product. (2) Try to develop the local market. This seemed to be a key to me. But the group did not pursue the idea. They tried once, one lady tried to sell peanut butter sandwiches at school–basically this was peanut butter on French bread. But they added expensive sweetened condensed milk, and that ate into the profits. Too bad they did not try it without.
"One regret is that I did not really take enough time to help the group think through marketing possibilities. By the time the project was getting off the ground, my time with FHI was almost up and I had to let go.”
Here are a few other useful insights from Traditional Foods: _Processing for Profit_, reviewed in this issue. “The nuts should be dried in the field while in the shell and then, while still on the stalk, turned upside down. Drying peanuts on iron sheets or a roof is not recommended because the nuts become baked in the sun and lose their flavor.” “Peanut butter does not easily become contaminated by microorganisms because of its low moisture content, but it can become rancid if it is not protected from air, light or heat. It should not come into contact with metals, especially iron, copper or brass, as these promote rancidity. It should be packaged in an airtight, lightproof container and stored in a cool, dry place.”
Mike also writes, “There is one area that I did not look into carefully enough–the danger of aflatoxins.” We found the following information in ECHO’s library.
Aflatoxins are a class of toxins produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. Besides being quite toxic, causing acute aflatoxicoses, they are among the most potent of known carcinogens, often causing liver tumors.
Some toxins, e.g. trypsin inhibitors in soybeans, can be destroyed by heating. This is not the case with aflatoxins. Peanuts have the highest frequency of aflatoxin contamination among worldwide crops. The toxin is most likely to be a problem with peanuts that have been damaged by harvesting or by insects or that have been stored at a high humidity. The toxin can be present with no indication visible to the naked eye, but it emits a green or blue glow when illuminated by an ultraviolet (UV) light source.
Drying the peanuts as soon as possible after harvesting, and keeping them dry during storage, is recommended to prevent the fungal growth that produces aflatoxin. However, other fungi can attack peanuts and grains stored at lower humidity and cause moisture levels to rise, allowing A. flavus to grow. Even in dry years the fungi can be a problem if plants are weakened by drought.
Commercial U.S. peanut butter producers test peanut lots carefully in a lab using solvents and UV light. One potentially helpful field test may be this: the mycelia of most molds (including Aspergillus) metabolize starch into sugar, which caramelizes when heated, as in roasting. Thus, peanuts which turn dark upon roasting are risky and should be discarded, as should any damaged or obviously moldy nuts.
We heard of a project in Irian Jaya in which the expatriate development workers had no problem with storage of peanut butter that they made, but butter made by villagers own efforts spoiled within two-three weeks. Not knowing more details, it could have been a matter of sanitation, or insufficient protection from air, light and heat.
In our library at ECHO we found that the Lehman’s mail-order catalog (A-Z p. 330) [online at https://www.lehmans.com/] sells several hand powered food mills which can be used to make peanut butter. Prices range from US$45 to US$495 (plus shipping to international addresses; free shipping to most US addresses). You can request their free catalog online at https://www.lehmans.com/requestcatalog.aspx. To call for quotes or advice on replacement parts, phone 1-800-438-5346. Write to Lehman’s, One Lehman Circle, P.O. Box 41, Kidron, OH 44636-0041, USA.
Sonke, D. and M. Fennema 1998. Turning Peanuts Into Peanut Butter. ECHO Development Notes no. 60