By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
What mom wouldn't love having an easy way to make peanut butter sandwiches when the kids and their buddies pile into the kitchen all at once? University of Georgia scientists have developed a peanut butter spreader that makes sandwich making a breeze.
Peanut butter is most widely used in sandwiches. And no one eats more sandwiches than school-age children.
National surveys show that the average American eats 1,500 peanut butter sandwiches by the time he or she graduates from high school. That prompted UGA researchers to survey Georgia school students. School cafeterias, then, were the perfect place to conduct a survey.
"Since they're the major consumers, we knew they held the key to understanding the peanut butter market," said Stanley Fletcher, an agricultural economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The cafeteria secret is the blend
Students who buy school lunches eat fewer peanut butter sandwiches, the survey showed, than those who bring lunches from home.
But many of them are cafeteria-prepared peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. UGA CAES food engineer Manjeet Chinnan was surprised to find out why kids love them so much.
"The school cafeteria workers blend the peanut butter and jelly together and then make the sandwiches," Chinnan said. "They do this to reduce the viscosity of the peanut butter and make it easier to spread. And the kids love it."
Either way, making sandwiches for an entire school of students is very labor-intensive. So the UGA researchers set out to develop an easier way to mass-produce peanut butter sandwiches.
With funding from Birdsong Peanuts and the Southeastern Peanut Research Initiative, Chinnan developed a prototype sandwich maker. It used a large industrial can of peanut butter and was based on the conveyor-belt production concept.
Second version the charm
"It worked, but it was too cumbersome, and it would take up too much room in a kitchen," Chinnan said. "Then (UGA research technician) Glenn Farrell and I came up with the current prototype."
The new sandwich maker is handheld and looks like a bulk tape dispenser. Peanut butter is loaded into the top of the device and then dispensed in sheets.
"It works a lot like a toothpaste tube except there's a slit at the end instead of a nozzle," Chinnan said. "There's a blade inside that makes the peanut butter come out in sheets."
Now that the researchers have a model that works well dispensing peanut butter, they plan to use it to dispense jelly, too.
"We know if it works with peanut butter, it will work with jelly," he said.
Next they plan to develop an operational model and promote it to school cafeterias and restaurants.
"I'd like to see it used in restaurants that serve freshly prepared sandwiches and possibly in self-serve vending machines," Chinnan said. "We still have a couple of quirks to work out. But that's why it's a prototype."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)