AMERICANS bought 700 million pounds of peanut butter last year, says Mitch Head, executive director of the Peanut Advisory Board. That's three pounds per person, and enough to cover the entire floor of the Grand Canyon. Peanut-butter consumption has risen more in the past two years than ever before. It's no wonder, then, that the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the No. 1 sandwich in America. Each day, 20 million adults (who prefer chunky peanut butter) and children (who prefer creamy) carry it to work or school. By the time the average child finishes high school, he or she will have eaten some 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, according to Mr. Head.
Nobody knows how the iconic sandwich originated. ``It's definitely American, and probably started in the early 1900s,'' says Sarah Laubner, assistant marketing director for Trombly's Peanut Butter Fantasies in Boston, a company that markets peanut butter to adults. Jelly has been spread on bread for ages; peanut butter came along about the turn of the century.
But as the people at Peanut Butter Fantasies know, jelly isn't the only thing that complements peanut butter and bread. How about a cucumber, cream cheese, and peanut butter sandwich? Or Trombly's ``Peanut Butter Dark Sider,'' a Reuben sandwich made with peanut butter?
``It's always been pounded into our heads that peanut butter only goes with jelly,'' says David Thibodeau, president of Trombly's. ``People are saying `Hey, we found our own way to eat peanut butter. It's a flavor we grew up on, and we can use it so many different ways.'''
True fans will confess to using mayonnaise, honey, marshmallow, bananas, potato chips, chocolate, raisins, cheese, bacon - almost anything. But ``nothing will ever replace the standby PB & J,'' says Thibodeau. His personal favorite: peanut butter and strawberry jam on burnt toast.