The Americanization of the German Palate

The Washington Post writes of peanut butter, which the EU might impose tariffs on if there’s a trade war:

The spread, nearly ubiquitous in the United States, barely registers beyond North America. As Northwestern marketing professor Brian Sternthal put it to the HuffPost, “in many parts of the world, peanut butter is regarded as an unpalatable American curiosity.” One New Yorker writer described his acquaintances from Northern Ireland responding to his jars of Skippy with disgust, “as if peanuts were synonymous with maggots.” In a 1981 essay, William F. Buckley Jr., described the students at his British boarding school tasting the nutty treat, then spitting it out. (No wonder, he wrote, “they needed help to win the war.”)

As a result, it can be tough to get a Jif fix outside the USA. “Finding peanut butter abroad is nearly impossible,” one Vice article declared. “Just about every country has peanuts, and just about every country has blenders. Why is it so desperately difficult to find real-deal peanut butter outside of the US? Blame local tastes that just don’t understand the American yen.”

This just ain’t true, as you can see by the photo used to illustrate the article:

This is the store-brand variety of peanut butter sold by the large German discounter Real (“original from the USA”).

When I first landed lived here for stint in 2001, peanut butter was impossible to find. If you wanted some, you had to go to a specialty American/British food shop and pay outlandish prices.

Today, you can get peanut butter in at least 75% of all grocery stores — even the discounters — here in Düsseldorf. The same goes for other delectable treats such as genuine maple syrup, real Cheddar cheese, and “breakfast bacon” which you fry up with eggs.

HERTA Breakfast Bacon feiner Frühstücksspeck

When I first came here, nobody had heard of “bacon”, and they reacted with puzzlement when I told them I planned to fry it up — why would you do that to a nice cut of smoked pork? I told them: “because frying it makes it 100 times as delicious.” And then proved it by giving them some.

Now you can get “Breakfast Bacon” in any store. When I go to the farmer’s market, the nice lady offers to cut my pork “bacon style”, and I’m not the only one ordering it that way.

Maybe this is just Düsseldorf, it’s a pretty cosmopolitan place. But I bet the trend is bigger: with modern transportation and logistics, it’s pretty easy to make and sell a niche product, even in a fairly small store in a small town.

I find this is all good. Bacon, cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and peanut butter are objectively delicious, which is why some Germans end up liking them when they try them. Just as most Americans and Britons fall in love with German bread and sausage.

If there is a trade war, I am sure some enterprising German firm will learn how to make peanut butter well, and immediately fill the gap. One of the things Germans are very good at is imitating the culinary delights of other cultures. And peanut butter is the simplest thing in the world to make. Maybe I’ll just make my own, and begin selling it on the streetcorner.


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