By: Valeri Lea, Sherman Moritz LLC
November marks the celebration of National Peanut Butter Lovers Month, and it's undeniable that countless individuals nationwide are reveling in their affection for this beloved food item. According to the USDA and U.S. Census data, the per capita consumption of peanuts in the U.S. continues to maintain near-record levels. On average, Americans consumed 7.7 pounds of peanuts per capita in the last year, and peanut butter reached a new record high of 4.4 pounds per capita (1). These figures highlight the enduring popularity of peanuts and peanut butter in American diets.
The Growing Role of Peanuts in Foodservice
The foodservice industry has played a role in contributing to these consumption levels. According to Technomic, 27% of all foodservice operators have peanuts on their menus. This marks a 1% increase from the previous year (2). The versatility of the peanut as an ingredient may have contributed to this increase.
The United States' demographics are becoming increasingly more diverse and multicultural, and as a result, peanuts are a key ingredient in serving on-trend dishes that consumers are looking for. From mole sauces and drinks to West African dishes, peanuts have become an integral part of these cuisines, adding flavor, texture, and nutrition to a wide array of dishes.
In the context of an increasingly diverse population, the versatility of peanuts is a significant asset for foodservice operators. They can be incorporated into a variety of cuisines, offering exciting and innovative options that cater to the diverse tastes of their customers. Here's why peanuts are an essential ingredient in on-trend dishes that resonate with today's consumers:
Peanuts are an integral part of many cuisines around the world. From Asia to Africa and South America, peanuts are used in a multitude of traditional dishes. The global influence of peanuts allows foodservice operators to tap into a wide range of culinary traditions, providing an authentic and diverse dining experience for their customers.
Texture and Flavor
Peanuts bring a unique combination of texture and flavor to dishes. Whether they're used as a crunchy garnish in Thai noodle dishes, ground into a rich mole sauce in Mexican cuisine, or blended into West African peanut stews, peanuts provide an unmistakable taste and mouthfeel that enhances the overall dining experience.
Peanuts contain 7 grams of protein, good fats and essential nutrients. This makes them a valuable addition to dishes, as they not only contribute to flavor but also add nutritional value. In an era where consumers are increasingly health-conscious, menu items featuring peanuts can be a healthy and satisfying choice.
Beyond dishes, peanuts have also found their way into innovative beverages. Peanut-infused drinks, whether as a creamy base for smoothies or in the form of peanut-flavored liqueurs in cocktails, offer an intriguing and distinctive taste that captivates consumers seeking unique beverage options.
Amid these culinary trends, foodservice operators are embracing peanuts to meet the evolving preferences of their customers. The incorporation of peanuts into menus is not just about providing a popular food item but is also about offering an exciting, diverse and culturally rich dining experience. As the U.S. continues to become a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines, peanuts are a key ingredient in bridging the culinary gap, enabling food establishments to provide truly authentic and on-trend dishes.
Safety and Responsible Planning for Schools
While some primary and secondary schools have banned peanuts due to allergy fears, school districts are now beginning to reintroduce peanuts to their menus. Amy Carroll, MBA, RD, coordinator of Food and Nutrition Services at Lee County Schools, is one such individual who successfully brought peanuts back to their school district's menus. Lee County Schools serve nearly 100,000 students, making this a significant decision.
When Amy took on her role, the school district had not served peanuts or peanut products in their schools since 2004, largely due to concerns about peanut allergies. However, upon visiting another district where peanuts were served and were very popular, they realized that their district was missing out on opportunities for student participation in the school nutrition program. Additionally, supply chain issues that increased food prices and limited availability of meat-based entrees during the pandemic created an unexpected opportunity for Lee County.
Amy saw peanut butter as an affordable and accessible commodity to bring nutritious meals to students and reached out for support to get peanuts back on the menu. She connected with the National Peanut Board to become more educated about peanut allergy management. From there, she sought internal support from leadership, nursing, school health, and others to create an allergen management plan. This comprehensive approach was crucial in ensuring the safety of students with peanut allergies and building confidence among parents and staff.
Ahead of the reintroduction of peanut butter, her team also created educational materials and conducted broad public outreach through podcasts, the web, and local media. Amy also took advantage of EpiPen4Schools.com to secure non-student-specific emergency medication for all 84 schools in their district. Months later, Lee County was able to menu and serve packaged PB&Js and peanut butter portion cups safely to students. Amy credits this process with making their district a safer space for students with any allergy.
The case of Lee County Schools highlights the importance of careful planning and allergen management when introducing peanuts back onto menus. It's not just about serving a nutritious and delicious food; it's about doing it safely and responsibly, considering the health and dietary needs of all students.
Embracing Peanuts in Colleges and Universities
It's not just K-12 schools that are embracing peanuts; colleges and universities are also recognizing the appeal of peanuts and peanut butter to students. According to statistics, 29% of colleges and universities now include peanuts on their menus (2). One notable example is the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which had a dedicated "All About Peanuts Day" on campus, celebrating peanuts in various flavorful and on-trend dishes that students loved.
The menu included a wide range of peanut-infused dishes such as African Chicken Peanut Stew; Cauliflower & Chickpeas with Peanut Romesco Sauce; Spicy Thai Noodles with Shrimp and Peanut Sauce; Chicken Satay, Lotus Root, Peanut & Pork Rib Soup; Pork Larb with Peanuts, Szechuan Cucumber Peanut Salad; Elvis Sandwich; Sweet Potato Fries with Peanut Sauce; and a Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie. This diverse and creative menu highlights the versatility of peanuts in various cuisines, making them an excellent choice for foodservice operators looking to offer unique and delicious options.
Garett DiStefano, Director of Dining Services at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, emphasizes the role of peanuts in their menu offerings, saying, "Peanuts have become an integral part of our culinary approach. Their versatility and the authentic flavors they bring to our dishes resonate with our diverse student body."
The University of Massachusetts Amherst's commitment to serving authentic and culturally relevant cuisines is one of the reasons they have earned the top spot for "Best Campus Food" in annual rankings published by The Princeton Review for the seventh consecutive time. Serving 50,000 meals every day, they believe in providing foods that their students desire, and peanuts and peanut butter are staples in global cuisines. By embracing this versatile ingredient, UMass demonstrates its dedication to providing nutritious and delicious meals while addressing food allergy concerns.
To ensure the safety of their students with peanut allergies, UMass has implemented stringent protocols. All menu items containing peanuts are clearly labeled, making it easy for students to identify which dishes contain peanuts. Additionally, the entire UMass staff has been trained on allergy management protocols to prevent cross-contact and ensure the safety of students with food allergies.
The success of UMass in campus dining, alongside the efforts of foodservice operators like Amy Carroll in reintroducing peanuts to school menus, underscores the significance of offering peanuts and peanut butter in foodservice establishments. By doing so safely, responsibly and creatively, these operators are not only satisfying the cravings of peanut enthusiasts but also contributing to the overall dining experience and nutritional needs of their patrons.
Conclusion: Enhancing Dining Experiences with Peanuts
Peanuts are an essential ingredient for foodservice operators looking to serve on-trend dishes that resonate with an increasingly diverse and multicultural consumer base. The versatility of peanuts, their global influence, unique texture and flavor, nutritional benefits, and potential for beverage innovation make them a valuable addition to any menu. As we celebrate National Peanut Butter Lovers Month, let's also acknowledge the pivotal role that peanuts play in providing an authentic dining experience to a growing and diverse population of consumers.
For more information on how you can serve peanuts or peanut butter on your menu, visit nationalpeanutboard.org, and for further insights and experiences from leaders like Amy Carroll, visit PeanutsinSchools.org.
(1) NASS-USDA Stocks & Processing, August 25, 2023, and US Census Bureau. Includes Total Population: All Ages including Armed Forces Overseas, Thousands, Monthly, Not Seasonally Adjusted.
(2) Technomic Ignite Menu national food trends data.