Just about every country has peanuts, and just about every country has blenders. Why is it so desperately difficult to find real-deal peanut butter outside of the US? Blame local tastes that just don't understand the American yen for this fatty...
Photo via Flickr user Brandice Schnabel
You've just settled into your hammock on the banks of the Mekong as a light rain begins to fall over the grazing cows on the horizon, and you think to yourself, I could really go for some peanut butter right now. This is normal; you are not a terrible person. You're just one of the thousands of Americans craving peanut butter abroad.
This year, market researchers knighted peanut butter as a "rising star" in the UK "emerging sweets" market, which sounds like a great place for a first date. Peanut butter sales increased 20 percent in Britain from 2010 to 2012.
But, as world travelers know, finding peanut butter in Britain does not make you a hero. Finding peanut butter in Buenos Aires, Maputo, or Manila, though, calls for a theme party.
Every country has peanuts. Every country has blenders. What's the problem?
Similar to the hunt for actual Mexican food or pho, peanut butter falls into that category of occasional parts of your diet that suddenly become irreplaceable when you leave the US. And yes, it is possible to be a cultured traveler willing to try anything and open to embracing your little spot abroad and still crave peanut butter every now again. There is no disrespect to be had there.
And after all, something about it seems just wrong. Every country has peanuts. Every country has blenders. What's the problem?
The short answer is market taste. In other countries, some people view Americans' love of peanut butter as an Achilles' heel for the American people, a gluttonous indulgence that will eventually lead to their demise as they croak over under the strain of an exceptional tongue-reach to lick their doughy cheeks. (You know, because Nutella is so much healthier, particularly when eaten for breakfast.)
A friend of mine here in Brazil called peanut butter "too strong, too tasty" and henceforth invalidated everything else she says. Instead, we have Amendocrem and, more recently, Paçoquita cream, which launched this summer. But it's not the same: Paçoquita cream is essentially a large jar of Nutter Butter filling, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a sign of end times or a genius accomplishment. (And why can't we have it in the US?) Even though the peanut plant was thought to have originated in Brazil or Peru, in both those countries real peanut butter eludes Americans.
By way of balancing the injustice, other countries feature peanut creations missing in the US market.
In international markets, peanut butter morphs to suit the country's tastes. Conagra's research shows that honey roast flavor tends to skew high with Hispanic populations, for example, while market research in Russia suggests Russians find American peanut butter "too salty."
By way of balancing the injustice, other countries feature peanut creations missing in the US market. There's crunchy-coated peanuts like kabukim in Israel or "Japanese peanuts" in Mexico and Brazil. Sauces abound: In Indonesia there's bumbu kacang, in Ecuador it's salsa de mani, in Vietnam there's tương đậu phộng, and in Uganda there's ebinyebwa, the thick peanut-like sauce that is actually made with groundnuts. Nevertheless, global peanut ingenuity has not yet achieved true peanut butter.
But hark! There is light on the foreign peanut butter horizon. Even though international tongues may not get the real deal today, they may be licking their knives soon enough: The peanut butter chess pieces have been in motion recently, and the result may bring peanut butter a little closer to that Andean Internet café you're raptly reading this from.
The Canadian market is still recovering from the fact that the Canadian brand of peanut butter for the duration of the 20th century was called Squirrel, which, just, no.
It is Skippy that wins out in some international markets: It is sold in 30 international markets and is the leading peanut butter brand in China. Sales in Canada are markedly high as well, particularly considering that the Canadian market is still recovering from the fact that the Canadian brand of peanut butter for the duration of the 20th century was called Squirrel, which, just, no.
Of the $370 million of annual Skippy sales, $100 million comes from outside the US, and 30-40 million of that comes from China, where the company has a manufacturing plant. China leads the world in the production of peanuts with a solid 41.5 percent of overall world production, followed by India and the US, positioning China as the great peanut butter hope.
"China has been a focus for more than a decade...and [the peanut butter market] is growing rapidly there. I hope it will complement our growing Spam market [in China]," said Hormel's CEO at the time of Skippy's acquisition. Early this year the deal got regulatory approval in China, amid ashamed whispers of PBS sandwiches—peanut butter and Spam. That faint cracking sound you hear is the breaking brains of stoned college students reading this and considering the possibilities.
Meanwhile, the US peanut market is changing. Not satisfied with the lowly peanut, American tastes have now turned to butter-fying cashews and almonds too, and US PB brands have branched out to make Nutella knockoffs with hazelnuts. But the hipsterization of peanut butter has a long way to go before it makes a dent in Americans' diets: Americans today eat on average four pounds of peanut butter a year.
Here's a helpful guide on how to get in your patriotic four pounds (or find decent substitutes) while abroad. Think of the friend points you'll save by having them leave that PB suitcase back home.
Argentina: try Mil Mantecas Manteca de Mani Brazil: look for it at Gringo Café, Rio de Janeiro; or try Amendocrem or Paçoquita Cremoso Colombia: look for it at Exito, Bogota Egypt: try Calvé France: look for it at Monoprix or Carrefour, Paris; or try Bon Mafé Greece: look for it at AB Vassilopoulos, several locations Holland: try Calvé or Pindakaas Ireland: try Kelkin Italy: look for it at Carrefour, several locations Morocco: look for it at Marjane hypermarkets; or try amlou (almond butter) New Zealand: try Eta or Ceres Philippines: look for it at Peanut Butter Company, Manila Russia: look for it at Metro, Moscow South Africa: try Yum Yum or Black Cat Thailand: look for it at Lotus or Foodland, Bangkok Turkey: look for it at Boff Drugstore, Istanbul
Lastly, here are some pro tips if you find yourself in a PB pinch:
-Try US military bases. The commissaries usually stock peanut butter, and if you can manage to convince a service member to take you on a first date to the commissary, you're home free.
-Consider making your own. Peanut butter is eminently make-able, if you believe in yourself. You literally put roasted peanuts and oil in a blender. You can do it. An added benefit to this method is environmental: Most jarred "natural" peanut butters (the "healthy" ones) use palm oil, a significant source of deforestation in Southeast Asia. When you make it on your own, you can skip that crap.