Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Is This New England Cuisine Specialty Actually A Health Food? (January 12, 2016)

Growing up in New England there were many items of the regional cuisine that were known and appreciated mostly, if not exclusively, by residents of the various New England states: Johnnycakes and clam cakes in Rhode Island; grinders in Connecticut (otherwise known as a sub or hoagy); Boston baked beans, of course; frappes in much of New England were cabinets in Rhode Island (otherwise known as milkshakes); Moxie, the official gentian-flavored soft drink of Maine (although created in Lowell, MA); and many other food items such as lobster rolls, maple syrup and candy, Indian pudding, and New England clam "chowdah" to name just a few. 

And then there is the much loved, but much maligned "fluffernutter" sandwich! 

When I was in elementary school in New Hampshire in the early 1960s it would have been a very unusual lunch period indeed if several student lunch boxes did not contain a fluffernutter. The fluffernutter is so ingrained in New England food culture that the town of Somerville, Massachusetts (where Marshmallow Creme was invented in 1917), holds an annual "What the Fluff?" festival every September. In fact, the Fluffernutter is so embedded in New England culture that it had to eventually become the subject of political maneuvering and proposed legislation. 

In 2006 a Massachusetts State Senator decided that the guilty pleasure of the schoolhouse fluffernutter had to be curbed for the health and welfare of The Bay State children and he proposed legislation to limit the serving of the traditional sandwich by school cafeterias to once a week. Not to be outdone, the State Representative whose district was just south of Lynn, where the key ingredient to fluffernutters is created, introduced a bill to make the fluffernutter the official state sandwich. Both bills failed. And so it goes . . . the traditional and controversial fluffernutter lives on even if not clothed in the glory of being an official state sandwich in a New England state.

Now, for the uninitiated, the regionally famous and traditional fluffernutter was always made with white bread, peanut butter, and a marshmallow creme that was invented in Massachusetts in the early 20th Century. According to Wikipedia, marshmallow fluff was invented by one Archibald Query in Somerville, MA in 1917 and he called it Marshmallow Creme. The earliest published recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich was during World War I when a woman named Emma Curtis from Melrose, MA (who with her husband Amory invented what they called Snowflake Marshmallow Creme), explained how to make what she called a "Liberty Sandwich."  The Liberty Sandwich used oat or barley bread.

It was not until 1960, however, that an advertising agency came up with the actual term "Fluffernutter." Durkee-Mower Inc. hired a marketing agency to come up with a campaign to market the peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich and thus sell more of their Marshmallow Fluff (originally called Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff). H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower bought the recipe of Archibald Query in 1920. In 1960, the agency came up with the name Fluffernutter and today the name is a registered trademark of Durkee-Mower.

As much loved as the New England-born Fluffernutter is, even with its rich history it is also the subject of ridicule and mockery to the point that the term is sometimes used to simply describe an insubstanital thing having little or no value. And as the aborted attempt to legislatively limit its consumption in Massachusetts schools demonstrates, the venerable Fluffernutter has even been attacked as a contributor to childhood obesity!

Recently, it was with some degree of shock that I realized my wife and her sister (who grew up in New Jersey), were not really familiar with the traditional comfort food that is the Fluffernutter. AND I realized that I had not indulged in one in so long that I could not remember the last time I had one. Since these realizations hit while I was assisting my sister-in-law with her move to the Adirondacks, I added "Fluff" to our shopping list. It was no surprise to find that the grocery stores in the North Country of upstate New York (being contiguous to New England states) stocked Fluff in regular and huge sizes -- and so some Fluff was purchased and the Fluffernutter was introduced to a lifelong denizen of the Mid-Atlantic States. And it was good!

Now when I was growing up in New Hampshire and consuming Fluffernutters with some regularity, I never paused to consider what the Fluff in Fluffernutter was made of -- or the nutritional/caloric value of the sweet ingredient in the sandwich. But as an adult in snack food, nutrition-conscious, America I happened to glance at the Nutrition Facts label on the jar of Fluff while in the grocery store and I was delighted to discover that Fluff is actually a health food!  Who knew??

You are doubtful? Unbelieving? Derisive?  Well, look at the fact sheet on this marvelous combination of corn syrup, sugar, dried egg whites, and vanillin and judge for yourself.

The standard 2 tablespoon serving of Fluff has a mere 40 calories and none of them come from fat or trans fat. There is a minimal amount of sodium (5mg) compared to many foods we eat in great quantities today, and there are only 6 grams of sugar per serving in the total 10 grams of carbohydrates Moreover, Fluff is not a significant source of cholesterol. 

Compare Fluff to the other required ingredient in a Fluffernutter -- let's say the "natural" peanut butter of a national brand that, "Has to be good with a name like . . . "  The standard 2 tablespoon serving of this delicious peanut butter weighs in at 200 calories with 16 grams of total fat of which 2.5 grams is saturated fat. And, the peanut butter brings you 105 mg of sodium with 6 grams of total carbohydrates of which 1 gram is sugar.

If you match your 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with the popular strawberry jam from the same famous national brand to make yourself a PB&J instead of a Fluffernutter, what do you get? Well, even though you will get the same zero fat as Fluff, you will consume 100 calories and 26 grams of total carbohydrates -- of which 24 grams will be sugar.  The jam will not give you any significant sodium.

There you have it, a classic New England food specialty is actually a modern health food.  So make room for Fluff in the pantry, abandon your blind reliance on the good ol' PB&J, and branch out with introduction of the New England health alternative -- the one and only Fluffernutter!

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All photos of a jar of Marshmallow Fluff by the author.

See, http://smuckers.com/(S(cp0m3j451sg5qz45o5isg0nf))/products/peanut-butter/natural-peanut-butter/natural-creamy-peanut-butter-65 for a link to the nutritional facts for Smucker's Natural Creamy Peanut Butter.

See, http://smuckers.com/products/fruit-spreads/jam/strawberry-jam-1353 for a link to the nutritional information for Smucker's Strawberry Jam.

Fluffernutter is a registered trademark of Durkee-Mower Inc.
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Copyright 2016, John D. Tew
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  1. Thanks for this paean to Fluff, John. As Mainer, I thought a Fluffernutter was an iconic part of everyone's childhood until I moved to Saint Louis. I first came across your blog while researching my husband's Carpenter ancestors who had settled in Brooklyn by 1820. Most compiled sources indicate American origins in Rhode Island and Oyster Bay, but proof has been elusive.

    1. Thank you for commenting on this post -- much appreciated Jody!

      I am intrigued by your husband's Carpenter ancestors. Are you aware of the "ABC," the famous Carpenter genealogy by Amos Bugbee Carpenter (hence "ABC")? It was copyrighted in 1896 and published in 1898. I have an actual hardbound copy that my great grandfather subscribed to. Like virtually all 19th century genealogies, the ABC is known to have errors in it, but it is a great resource for clues and has much accurate data too. If you husband's family does have RI and Rehoboth, MA roots before 1820, the ABC could be quite useful. It is available on line now too and you can learn more about the ABC and get a link to the online version at this post on my blog from January 2013


      I would like to know more about what you have on your husband's ancestors.


  2. Goodness, I haven't had that in years, oh maybe 30 or so. I see it almost every grocery shopping trip I make. Who knew? Thanks so much for this information, and it's on my shopping list. But, I won't have it with peanut butter or jam, it will be just a sweet snack from the spoon.

    1. One of New England's guilty pleasures! ;-) Enjoy!

  3. Can look at my blog to see nutritional facts of food at grocery stores.

  4. I appreciate, cause I found exactly what I was looking for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye Men's health

    1. Happy to have been of assistance David. Enjoy!

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