Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Hot and Spicy Peanuts

I had total sticker shock in the nut butter aisle at Whole Foods last week.

Peanut butter prices had been rising because 2011 was a terrible crop. But then 2012 was a bumper crop, so I had seen a few articles that said that prices should be coming down, that consumers should see some relief from high peanut butter prices in 2013. But then there was also news about the closure of a peanut butter processing plant due to salmonella outbreak that was likely to affect organic brands, because the kinds of peanuts used in the plant were those used in natural and organic peanut butters (those without added sugar and fat). So then it seemed like that might make some prices go higher instead of lower. But I was still thinking that prices might go down.

The Whole Foods 365 store brand of peanut butter used to be $1.99 and then it was $2.19 and then it was $2.79. That’s a big jump. But still in line with peanut butter prices for comparable products at other stores, and still pretty cheap, so it hadn’t affected how I shop.

I generally like peanut butter in any form — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, the divine peanut butter cookie, my family Special sandwich — and I really like those peanut butter filled pretzels that Trader Joe’s sells, but I don’t make it to Trader Joe’s all that often and also they are not cheap, I think it’s around three dollars for a small-ish bag. Then at some point I had a revelation that I could just dip pretzels into peanut butter and it would be basically the same thing. Duh. So I started doing that.

Last week I stopped at Whole Foods on my way to work to pick up some snacks, and was thinking that some peanut butter and pretzels would hit the spot. So I picked up a bag of pretzels and headed to the peanut butter aisle and was stopped dead in my tracks by peanut butter at $3.39 a jar. Gah! That’s a twenty per cent jump! Since the last time I bought peanut butter!

I think if I’d been expecting an increase I might have dealt with this better, but I was actually thinking it was going to go down this year. So that really threw me. I decided I didn’t need peanut butter and pretzels after all (I didn’t) and would think about alternatives.

And then that made me think about what lessons were there for shopping on a limited budget. What do you do when the price of something suddenly goes up? What are the options?

You can…

(a) see if there is a brand that is cheaper and buy that instead,
(b) see if there is a different but similar item that is cheaper and buy that instead,
(c) check different stores to see if any of them have the item for less than the store you usually shop at and stock up,
(d) think about whether there is an item that is processed differently that is cheaper, and that you can finish processing on your own to make a comparable finished product,


(e) just go ahead and buy it anyway.

If you always do (e), your grocery bill will just keep going up and up. Most people start with (a) because it’s the easiest. I usually go with (d) because I think that buying less processed, cheaper items and finishing the processing myself not only saves money but also often results in higher-quality food.

An example of this would, of course, be buying dried beans and cooking them yourself instead of buying canned beans. But anything you can buy in a ready-to-eat form and also a raw-ingredient form would apply. Often prices of the raw-ingredient form increase much more slowly than for the ready-to-eat form. It just depends on how much time (and energy) it takes to get to the finished product, and whether that’s worth it to you.

There are some crazy expensive artisanal peanut butters for sale in shops around here, and there was an article in the N&O not too long ago about making your own nut butters starting with raw peanuts, and roasting them yourself, which sounded interesting to me. (As you might have figured out by now, I have a thing for making things from scratch that normal people just buy.)

So then I started pricing raw peanuts and I’m not sure if it would actually be cheaper than buying peanut butter.

Whole Foods had a three-pound bag of shelled raw peanuts for around twelve dollars, so that’s four dollars a pound. The Hispanic stores and Li Ming’s have small bags of raw peanuts in the shell for (I think) around $2 a pound. Stone Brothers & Byrd, which is mostly a garden supply store but also carries traditional Southern foods, sells raw peanuts in the shell in bulk for $2.80 a pound.

Roasted peanuts in the bulk section are about the same price as a pound of peanut butter. Trader Joe’s peanut butter was $2.79 a jar (Whole Foods’ previous price), and I was over there, so I bought a couple of jars. But I don’t like it as well as the 365 brand.

I did buy some peanuts from Stone Bros., and am thinking about roasting them and making peanut butter, but in the meantime, I decided to turn some of them into one of my new favorite things — Bill Neal‘s recipe for Hot and Spicy Peanuts.

If you like the spicy peanuts sold in convenience stores, make these. They are along the same lines, but a million times better, because they are fresh fresh fresh, they don’t have all those preservatives in them, and you can decide if you want them more spicy or more sweet or whatever tastes good to you.

The first time I made them, a couple of months ago, I followed the recipe exactly. The second time, I think I reduced the sugar slightly. This last time, I used three different kinds of Penzey’s paprika — Hungarian sweet, Hungarian half-sharp, and smoked Spanish — along with sea salt, Habanero salt, white sugar, and cayenne. And didn’t measure anything at all.

My strategy now is to mix the seasonings together in a small bowl and taste. When it tastes good — a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy — it’s ready to go. This is definitely a recipe that you can adjust however you want, and it is very easy. The only hard part is not eating all of them at once as soon as they are cool.

Hot and Spicy Peanuts
from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking

1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp (or more) ground cayenne
1/2 tsp (or more) sugar
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1-1/2 cups raw, shelled peanuts
1-1/2 Tbsp water

Combine the salt, paprika, cayenne, and sugar and reserve. Heat the oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the raw peanuts (in their skins), shaking the skillet frequently to prevent their scorching. When the peanuts are golden brown throughout (after 8 to 10 minutes), sprinkle the combined dry seasonings over all and shake well. Carefully, but immediately, pour in the water and agitate to help the flavorings coat the peanuts. Serve immediately or let cool. These will keep for weeks in an airtight container.

Yeah, right. Good luck keeping those around for weeks. That’s all I have to say.

I’ll let you know if I decide to roast the peanuts and make peanut butter. Still on the fence about that.

3 Responses to “Peanuts”

  1. Liz Adams Says:

    Yes, I agree that if something is really good, it is not an issue how long it might last in the fridge. Won’t arise! this is like advising on what to do with leftover cake. Ain’t such a thing!

    I often opt for making something myself when I don’t like the prices, but it’s not always actually cheaper, just more fun and probably better food. Lemon bars. I like to make these because they are a huge treat for a couple of special friends and much better than the shop ones. But I doubt if it’s much cheaper. Then you start thinking about dollar economy and emotional economy, and weighing them.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, it’s hard to account for the “this is much better” aspect. It’s definitely worth paying more if something is better (or enjoyable to make, or whatever other added benefit it has) but then that part is usually hard to quantify.

    For example, cookies. In almost all circumstances, homemade cookies are better than store-bought cookies. They also feel cheaper, because usually you have most of the ingredients on hand already, and also most recipes make far more cookies than you would get in a package, so you get a lot more. But some cookie ingredients (butter, chocolate chips) are fairly expensive. So I’m not actually sure how a true cost comparison (cost per ounce, including time spent and cost of running the oven and whatever else you want to include there) would come out.

    But to me it doesn’t matter, because you just can’t buy cookies that taste as good as the ones you make yourself.

  3. yonderlight Says:

    Well, I have been watching the price of nuts go up. I still eat em. Pecans which are native and plentiful jumped several dollars a pounds in US due to increased demand for them in Asian markets.
    As for peanuts it could make the dirty “2nd” dozen foods, because the shell is so thin and porous it absorbs pesticides onto the pea-nut, as its closer to a legume. Some theories say the “peanut allergy” that is wide spread may actually be an allergy to pesticides or peanut fungus of chemical aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is tested and regulated in the US peanut, so that and who knows what chemicals keep me away from the sparsely labeled and came from China brands.
    I’m poor but I like peanut butter so I buy a few reputable Organic brands, like Santa Cruz or Arrowhead Mills or even Smucker organic, even though they are a whole lot more expensive than skippy, I feel safer. Besides being organic these peanut butters usually have no additives, are low sodium, and have no added sugar. Check the labels many peanut butters have a lot of added salt. So I guess for me the cost is relative.
    When I can buy organic I try to stick to the dirty dozen/clean 15 guide; like I don’t buy organic bananas or avocados, but if I can I do buy organic greens, apples and berries.
    Sorry to bring controversy into the peanut party – but hey its a dialogue and it’s complicated. Hmmm -globalization.
    Speaking of globalization this is a great entertaining little Peanut movie, and you can sing along and learn something, Margaret Thatcher and Reagan even have cameos-
    Peanut <3 y'all!

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