Some stories are too fantastical to seem true, but take it from us – this one’s legit. Recently we stumbled upon an interesting product known as clawed peanuts. As an authority on peanut products, these curious kernels had us scratching our heads. We had never heard of, or tasted a peanut with such a unique flavor. A subsequent search into the origins of this product revealed a fascinating story about a decades-old recipe, a professional organ grinder, and a white-faced Capuchin monkey named George. If only we could make this up.
“We started, actually in 1967. It was a small local company who had a special process for processing peanuts,” said Lee Dowdy, Administration Manager for Monkey Joe’s Big Nut Company. Based out of Somerdale, New Jersey, Monkey Joe’s is a snack nut manufacturer with a strong presence in the Northeast. Their product line consists of regular roasted nuts, as well as the intriguing and original jumbo clawed peanut.
Peanut Claws in Acquisition
Clawed peanuts are the result of a signature cooking process known as the Bar-Mora recipe. Named after the original owners, Joe and Alice Mora, the patented recipe for cooking and processing the extra-large peanut kernels was the bedrock of the Big Nut Company brand. When the original owner passed, his wife and family were unable to continue the business. “She ended up putting the company up for sale, and 18 years ago, Joe Bush, who is also a professional organ grinder, purchased the company,” said Dowdy.
If Bush’s occupational title is unfamiliar, it’s because the heyday of organ grinders was in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Organ grinders were street performers who entertained crowds with a music box known as a barrel organ. Typically, the organ grinder would turn a crank on the wooden box to activate the music. They were also often accompanied by a fez-wearing Capuchin monkey that performed tricks and collected coins.
Joe Bush is one of the last known entertainers in the trade. At the time that he acquired the Big Nut Company, “he was only one of six professional licensed organ grinders left in the country,” said Dowdy. “He wanted to diversify his income and diversify his holdings, so he purchased the company. He re-branded it as Monkey Joe's Big Nut Company. That's how the name came about. People referred to him as Monkey Joe, because he would perform with his monkey, George.”
With the purchase of the company also came the trademarked recipe for producing clawed peanuts. Their unique processing of the peanuts causes the kernel halves to open up along their natural split forming the shape of a claw. “I'm not allowed to go into all of the details of how we do that because it's a trade secret,” said Dowdy. “We like to say, ‘only the monkey knows.’”
A Recipe Worth Sharing with the World
It’s a secret that George the monkey was no doubt happy to keep. And George isn’t the only fan of clawed peanuts. “It’s one of our hot sellers. It’s a popular item,” said Dowdy. Besides the unique shape of the peanut kernels, the secret recipe also yields a distinct flavor that enhances the nuttiness of the peanuts.
“What we do is we ensure that the peanut doesn't get dried out through the cooking process,” said Dowdy. “The way that we process it keeps a lot of the moisture in the product. The product has a much different taste, a slightly richer taste to it.” The popularity of this original recipe peanut snack has helped the company grow its presence in the Northeastern regional market. And new ownership has set its sight on further market expansion.
Bush retired last year, and sold the business to a larger company with a global product line. Their long-term goal is to expand the product nationally, as well as internationally. In fact, as an initial means of achieving their goal the company recently moved their production into a modern new facility with updated equipment. They also plan to introduce new packaging, including single-serve and re-sealable bags.
“We just want to start giving an option where people who want a boost of energy, have a smaller more portable container that they can take with them,” said Dowdy. “We're looking into re-sealable pillow bags that they can take with them when they're on the road, or on a hike, or camping, or just travelling in the airport when you need that little boost of energy to get you through whatever you're going through that day.”
If you haven’t tried clawed peanuts, you might see them soon in a market near you. Until then, visit Monkey Joe’s Big Nut Company website to order some of these unique snack peanuts. Now that you know their remarkable story, you’ll appreciate the distinct taste of these curiously clawed peanuts – the result of an original, secret recipe that only the monkey knows.