It looks like peanut butter, smells like peanut butter and more or less tastes like peanut butter. Perhaps most important, it sticks to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter.
“American nut butter” is, however, made from cottonseed kernels. It is the invention of Doug Rauch, 29, a Californian who is in charge of product development for L.A.’s Trader Joe’s and Pronto Markets food chains. He became concerned about the peanut butter crisis last fall after droughts destroyed almost half the U.S. peanut crop. At the time, Rauch was trying to figure out what to do with a sample batch of cottonseed kernels. He tried grinding them up as a peanut butter substitute—which didn’t work until he hit upon a mixture of about 85 percent cottonseed, 15 percent peanut oil.
He also had to overcome another problem: Most cotton plants contain a toxic material, gossypol, which can be removed only by an expensive chemical process. But researchers at Texas A&M University had recently discovered that Hopi Indians ate a variety of cottonseed without gossypol. Rauch snapped up over 100,000 pounds of the kernels from a Texas farmer to put American nut butter into production.
Rauch claims cottonseed kernels contain 37 percent protein versus 26.9 for peanuts, and have only 36 percent fat compared to the goober’s 44.2. Cotton is about 20 percent higher in polyunsaturated fat. “Cotton nuts,” he muses, “could be an answer to the food shortage in the Third World.”
A Cal State-Los Angeles history grad, Rauch has two previous innovations to live down: a sugarless blueberry puree that was too tart to eat, and nitrite-free hot dogs, which couldn’t be labeled hot dogs under FDA rules unless they contained nitrites. But he has sold 6,000 cases of creamy and chunky spreads under the Madeleine & Charlotte’s brand name. The price is $1.49 a pound at a time when peanut butter has zoomed to as much as $3 a pound. More important, declares Rauch, “If you put it on bread with jelly, you can’t tell the difference.”