Homemade peanut butter


The other day, I was making myself a snack between bouts of cutting glass for my students. A wheaty-biscuit-y thing with a smear of Vegemite … that wonderful but rather bizarre Australian spread (now being promoted to American kids as a healthy school snack) which is made of all sorts of wondrous stuff (see below), which Aussies swear by but which the rest of the world is somewhat confronted by. To say it is salty is a bit like saying the sea is wet.

Anyhow, the history of Vegemite is fascinating.

Vegemite (/ˈvɛimt/ VEJ-i-myte) is a thick, dark brown Australian food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives.

It was developed in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1922.


toast with vegemite on it with jar of vegemite in the background

Om nom nom – but perhaps something of an acquired taste.


A spread for sandwiches, toast, crumpets and cracker biscuits as well as a filling for pastries, Vegemite is similar to British Marmite, New Zealand Marmite, Australian Promite, MightyMite, AussieMite, OzEmite, German Vitam-R, and Swiss Cenovis.

Vegemite famously has a very strong flavour. It is not only salty but also slightly bitter, malty, and has an umami flavour similar to beef bouillon (because it is rich in glutamates). It is also vegan, kosher, and halal, so everyone in the community enjoys it. It is well-known for being high in B vitamins.


small black and white image of man in military uniform

“Stop Ze Marmite dammit!”

In 1919, following the disruption of British Marmite imports during and after World War I, the Australian company Fred Walker & Co. took on the task of developing a spread from the used yeast being dumped by breweries. Using autolysis to break down the yeast cells from waste obtained from the Carlton & United brewery, chemists the set about concentrating the clear liquid extract and blending with salt, celery and onion extracts to form a sticky black paste.

image of Fred Walker from wikipedia

Fred Walker

Fred Walker’s company first created and sold Vegemite in 1922. Following a competition to name the new spread, “Vegemite” was selected by Fred Walker’s daughter Sheilah, and registered as a trademark in Australia in 1919. It first appeared on the market in 1923 with advertising emphasising the value of Vegemite to children’s health, but failed to sell well. Faced with growing competition from Marmite, from 1928 to 1935 the product was renamed as “Parwill” to make use of the advertising slogan “Marmite but Parwill”, a convoluted pun on the new name and that of its competitor; “If Ma [mother] might… then Pa [father] will.” Not surprisingly, this attempt to expand market share was unsuccessful and the name reverted to Vegemite, but it did not recover its lost market share. Then in 1925, Walker established the Kraft Walker Cheese Co. as a joint venture company with J.L. Kraft & Bros to market processed cheese and, following the failure of Parwill, in 1935 he used the success of Kraft Walker Cheese to promote Vegemite. In a two-year campaign to promote sales, Vegemite was given away free with Kraft Walker cheese products (via a coupon redemption) and this was followed by poetry competitions with imported American Pontiac cars being offered as prizes. Sales responded and in 1939 Vegemite was officially endorsed by the British Medical Association as a rich source of B vitamins.

Having been created to replace Marmite in the aftermath of WW1, Vegemite was rationed in Australia during World War II, but was included in Australian Army rations. By the late 1940s it was used in nine out of ten Australian homes. It’s been hugely popular ever since.

So if you want to know how Vegemite became popular, it’s all because of the bally Kaiser stopping Aussies getting their Marmite!
The argument as to whether Marmite or Vegemite is better continues to this day …

But enough of Vegemite … where did peanut butter come from?

Pondering the origins of Vegemite got me thinking about other popular spreads, especially when my husband appeared in our computer room munching a giant peanut butter sandwich. I was most interested to discover that Peanut butter goes a looooong way back into history. Amazingly, the earliest references to peanut butter can be traced to Aztec and Inca civilizations, who ground roasted peanuts into a paste.

Peanut butter is, of course, a spread made from ground, dry-roasted peanuts with additional ingredients to modify the taste or texture, such as salt, sweeteners, or emulsifiers. Consumed in many countries, it is the most commonly used of the nut butters, a group that also includes cashew butter and almond butter. (Though peanuts are not strictly nuts, but more accurately seeds, peanut butter is culinarily considered a nut butter). It is a nutrient-rich food containing high levels of protein, several vitamins, and dietary minerals. It is typically served as a spread on bread, toast, or crackers, and used to make sandwiches (notably the famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich). It is also used in a number of breakfast dishes and desserts, such as granola, smoothies, crepes, cookies, brownies, or croissants. Around the world it is often used as a component in savory cooking, such as the Asian delight called satay.

Who invented ‘modern peanut butter’?

Several people can be credited with the invention of and popularising of modern peanut butter and the processes involved in making it. The US National Peanut Board credits three modern inventors with the earliest patents related to the production of modern peanut butter.

Homemade peanut butter

Homemade peanut butter is quite easy – the world wide web abounds with recipes.

Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, obtained the first patent for a method of producing peanut butter from roasted peanuts using heated surfaces way back in 1884. Edson’s cooled product had “a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment” according to his patent application which described a process of milling roasted peanuts until the peanuts reached “a fluid or semi-fluid state”. He mixed sugar into the paste to harden its consistency.

A businessman from St. Louis named George Bayle produced and sold peanut butter in the form of a snack food in 1894.  Then John Harvey Kellogg, known for his line of prepared breakfast cereals, and who was an advocate of using plant foods as a healthier dietary choice than meat, was issued a patent for a “Process of Producing Alimentary Products” in 1898, and used peanuts, although he boiled the peanuts rather than roasting them.

Kellogg’s Western Health Reform Institute served peanut butter to patients because they needed a food that contained a lot of protein that could be eaten without chewing. At first, peanut butter was a food for wealthy people, as it became popular initially as a product served at expensive health care institutes.

By 1917, American consumers commonly used peanut products during periods of meat rationing caused by the First World War, with government promotions of “meatless Mondays” when peanut butter was a favoured choice.

Then in 1922, chemist Joseph Rosefield invented a process for making smooth peanut butter that kept the oil from separating by using partially hydrogenated oil; Rosefield “…licensed his invention to the company that created Peter Pan peanut butter” in 1928. Then “in 1932 he began producing his own peanut butter under the name Skippy”. Under the Skippy brand, Rosefield developed a new method of churning creamy peanut butter, giving it a smoother consistency. He also mixed fragments of peanut into peanut butter, creating the first “chunky” peanut butter.

image of plumpy nut a food replacement item for countries in starvation mode

Plumpy Nut – saves lives.

One curious factoid: a slang term for peanut butter in World War II was “monkey butter”. Presumably because monkeys eat nuts?

And peanut butter really is a useful food. Plumpy’nut is a peanut butter-based food used to fight malnutrition in war-ravaged or famine-stricken countries. A single pack contains 500 calories, can be stored un-refrigerated for two years, and requires no cooking or preparation.

So there you have it …. the popularity of both Vegemite and Peanut Butter both have their origins in the dietary requirements of populations at war.

But what about the “King” of spreads …. Marmalade?

The Romans learned from the Greeks that quinces slowly cooked with honey would “set” when cool. The Apicius gives a recipe for preserving whole quinces, stems and leaves attached, in a bath of honey diluted with defrutum — a reduction of grapes. The result? Roman marmalade. Indeed, preserves of quince and lemon appear, along with rose, apple, plum and pear, in the Book of Ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. Medieval quince preserves, which went by the French name cotignac, produced in both a clear version and a fruit pulp version, began to lose their distinctively medieval seasoning of spices in the 16th century. And in the 17th century, the highly influential chef La Varenne provided recipes for both thick and clear cotignac in his cookbooks.

In 1524, Henry VIII received a “box of marmalade” from Mr Hull of Exeter. As it was in a box, this was probably marmelada, a solid quince paste from Portugal, which is still made and sold in southern Europe. “Marmalet” was also served at the wedding banquet of the daughter of John Neville in Yorkshire in 1530. Its Portuguese origins can be detected in the remarks in letters to Lord Lisle, from William Grett, 12 May 1534, “I have sent to your lordship a box of marmaladoo, and another unto my good lady your wife” and from Richard Lee, 14 December 1536, “He most heartily thanketh her Ladyship for her marmalado”.

It was also favourite treat of Anne Boleyn and her ladies in waiting. Let us hope it brought that unfortunate lady some happiness in her final days.

The first printed recipe for orange marmalade, though without the chunks typically used now, was in Mary Kettilby‘s 1714 cookery book, A Collection of above Three Hundred Recipies (pages 78–79).

Kettilby called for whole oranges, lemon juice and sugar, with the acid in the lemon juice helping to create the pectin set of marmalade, by boiling the lemon and orange juice with the pulp. Kettilby then directs: “boil the whole pretty fast ’till it will jelly”, and this is the first known use of the word “jelly” in marmalade making, and the origin, presumably, of Americans calling what the English call jam “Jelly”.

Kettilby then instructs that the mixture is then poured into glasses, covered and left until set. As the acid would create a jelly, this meant that the mixture could be pulled from the heat before it had turned to a paste, keeping the marmalade much brighter and the appearance and more translucent, as in modern-day marmalade.

Into the modern era, and Scottish grocer James Robertson (see left) created Golden Shred marmalade in 1864. And in fact the Scots are mainly credited with developing marmalade as a spread, with Scottish recipes in the 18th century using more water to produce a less solid preserve. The Scots moved marmalade to the breakfast table, and in the 19th century, the English followed the Scottish example and abandoned the eating of marmalade as a dessert in the evening. (No one told my hubby that, though, and toast and orange marmalade is his favourite sweet treat when watching evening TV.)

Marmalade’s place in British life appears in literature. James Boswell remarks that he and Samuel Johnson were offered it at breakfast in Scotland in 1773. And when American writer Louisa May Alcott visited Britain in the 1800s, she described “a choice pot of marmalade and a slice of cold ham” as “essentials of English table comfort”.


image in full colour of rare roast beef with jam on the side and brussel sprouts too.


Few people realize that marmalade has a wide variety of uses in cooking.

I’ll just leave you with this wonderful recipe for roast topside beef with a marmalade glaze. The orangey sweetness and natural bitterness of the marmalade perfectly complements the earthiness and depth of flavour of the roast beef.

Marmalade … spread it on anything!


  • 1 x 1.3kg lean beef topside, boneless rib or sirloin joint
  • 2 teaspoons English ‘hot’ mustard powder (Keens is best)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into slivers
  • 8 tablespoons Seville orange marmalade (or whichever orange marmalade is your favourite)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. Preheat your oven to 180-190°C, 160-170°C Fan forced, or Gas Mark 4-5.
  2. Place the topside joint on a chopping board, make several slits over the joint and season and rub it with the mustard powder. Push the garlic slivers into the slits.
  3. Place the joint on a metal rack in a large roasting tin and open roast for the appropriate cooking time to achieve your preferred level of “rareness”, basting occasionally with any rich beefy juices. The more you baste, the better the taste.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the marmalade, orange juice and parsley. Divide the mixture between two separate bowls.
  5. 20-25 minutes before the end of the cooking time remove the joint and brush with the marmalade mixture from one of the bowls to glaze and return to the oven.
  6. Serve the beef with roasted, new potatoes, parsnips, seasonal green vegetables, gravy and the as-yet untouched glaze from the second bowl. You can warm the second bowl of glaze in a microwave oven if you wish, but don’t “cook it”.



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