Touted by some as the perfect food, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a true marvel of complementary ingredients. Whether you are a wheat, white or rye lover, the marriage of salty and mouth-watering peanut butter with decadent, tangy jelly creates a combination any matchmaker would truly adore. To PBJ lovers, it seems as if this sandwich has been with us since antiquity, but in truth the mighty lunch combo is less than a century old.
Not until the 1890s did peanut butter hit the food scene, becoming a smash success at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. According to some stories, the high-protein spread was invented as a substitute for people with weak teeth who couldn’t chew meat. Famed health doctor John Harvey Kellogg was one of the early promoters of ground peanut paste, recommending it to his vegetarian adherents as a protein replacement. Peter Pan was the first store-available variety of peanut butter, creating a process to increase shelf life and marketing the product in the 1920s.
Bread and jelly, obviously around for much longer than their friend the noble peanut butter, could only go so long without being introduced to this companion. The origin of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is strangely mysterious, with no references to it being made until the 1940s. It is believed that wartime rationing may be responsible for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as traditional sandwich fillings like meat and usual toast-toppers like butter were scarce throughout America and Europe.
PBJ’s are considered by many to be a near perfect meal. When combined with a glass of milk, considered by some to be a necessary accompaniment, the meal provides elements from each food group: dairy, starch, protein and fruits or vegetables. The high protein level of most peanut butter ensures a filling meal, and one that can be surprising low in calories. Drinking low-fat or non-fat milk, using low-additive peanut butter, and eating a whole grain bread will significantly increase the nutritional value of the meal, while keeping fat and calories fairly low.
If you are a peanut butter and jelly sandwich fan, you may want to look for ways to experiment with the classic. While PBJ purists may scoff at attempts to gild the lily, new twists to the traditional can add a lot of variation to your lunch. At county fairs and other homes of daring food, the deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich has become an astounding hit, while gourmets may like to try a grilled PBJ featuring homemade grape or spiced plum jelly. Those who suffer from peanut allergies can open doors of experimentation for others, creating alternative versions with almond, walnut or hedonistic cashew butter.
The world of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a sacred place for fans. To identify a true PBJ addict, look for telltale signs. Many will have detailed opinions on various major debates, including creamy vs. smooth, jam vs. jelly, and whether sandwiches should be sliced vertically or diagonally. While you may be unnerved by PBJ fans at first, take comfort in knowing that you will always know what to get them for their birthdays.