Rose Defiel, director of technology, Clasen Quality Coatings, reviews best practices for confectioners using peanut butter coatings.

Peanuts, which have been used in foods since the early 1900’s, are not only popular in the United States, but all over the world. Most recently, peanuts have been marketed for their nutritional benefits. Raw peanuts contain monounsaturated fats, high levels of protein and several vitamins and minerals. Peanut butter coatings offer a creamy, tasty addition to many bars, snacks or treats. The key to formulating a good peanut butter coating is using the right ingredients. Peanut flour and/or peanut butter are used to provide the color, flavor and texture and are the main, critical ingredients when producing peanut butter coatings. There are four general cultivar groups of peanuts: Spanish, Runner, Virginia and Valencia. Different groups are preferred for particular uses because of differences in flavor, oil content, size and shape. Spanish peanuts are used mostly for peanut candy and salted nuts, while most Runners are favored for producing peanut flour and butter. Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Florida account for the majority of the peanut crop in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of all U.S. peanuts are used for food products, the largest percentage being used in peanut butter. Salted and shelled peanuts, candy and roasted-in-shell peanuts are the next most common uses for peanuts produced in the United States. Nevertheless, not all of the peanut-based ingredients are sourced domestically. Brazil and Argentina are also major producers of peanuts. Each confectionery company importing peanuts must have a good relationship with their supplier to ensure that the quality standards are the same level as expected from a domestic supplier. Peanuts can be manipulated during manufacturing to provide different flavor notes and intensities to the peanut butter or flour. Roasting of the peanut imparts the typical flavor associated with peanuts. Roasting also increases the antioxidant capacity by about 20%. A light roast peanut product tends to give a “creamy peanut butter” flavor while a darker roasted peanut product tends to give a richer peanut flavor. Peanut oils with different levels of roasted flavor can also be added to boost flavors. The peanuts used for making the butter and flour need to be properly handled to prevent aflatoxin molds from growing. Aflatoxins are potent, toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, immunosuppressive agents, produced as secondary metabolites by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Clasen Quality Coatings (CQC) requires that documentation be provided to ensure that all peanut-containing ingredients have received acceptable results from approved testing for aflatoxin prior to receipt. All peanut flour and peanut butter contain some peanut oil. Besides being incompatible with the fat systems typically used in confectionery coatings, another challenge is that peanut oil is a liquid at ambient temperatures while common oil sources used in confectionery coatings have a melting point between 91°F and 102°F. The more peanut oil you add, the softer your product will become. Knowing the amount of oil that is coming from the peanut flour or peanut butter is important for proper formulation. The amount of peanut oil in a coating is also critical when considering end use application. Formulating a peanut butter coating designed for a candy center application takes advantage of fat incompatibility and the different melting points to deliver a softer product. However, it also poses oil migration challenges, which may result in bloomed product. These negative effects can be minimized by double coating the center. The first coating would be a thin layer of confectionery coating while the second layer could be chocolate. Because peanuts are one of the “Big 8” allergens, manufacturing or using coatings that contain peanut butter or peanut flour can be challenging. Understanding what constitutes a good allergen program, implementing and training on that program in the manufacturing facility and day-to-day execution of the programs is critical. CQC has two separate manufacturing facilities; one facility is peanut-free and the other is classified as a peanut allergen plant. Because CQC has employees who travel between plants, the company enforces a stringent allergen program, which includes the proper handling of equipment, utensils and uniforms. Additionally, there are color-coding requirements as well as a strict one-way policy. Once equipment enters the peanut portion of the facility, that piece of equipment must permanently stay in the designated peanut area. Even though CQC has chosen to dedicate a plant for all peanut products, peanut coatings can be manufactured and used in a facility that also produces non-allergen products. However, following proper Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and sanitation procedures remains paramount in preventing carryover of the allergen. Equipment must be cleaned so that no visible residue is left behind when going from an allergen run to a non-allergen run. Proteins, which cause allergic reactions, are not visible to the naked eye so “visibly clean” could be misleading. Test kits can be purchased for verification that no protein residue is left behind after cleaning. Product contact surfaces as well as surrounding environmental areas should both be included in a testing protocol. Peanut butter coatings - like most other coatings - can be formulated for many different purposes. Experienced and knowledgeable suppliers, such as CQC, can skillfully blend different peanut flours, peanut butters and peanut oils to customize products that will enhance different desired flavor profiles for our customers. A typical peanut butter coating will contain (in descending order) the following: sugar, oil, peanut flour, milk powders, peanut butter, peanut oil, lecithin and salt. A peanut butter coating is less sweet than a white, milk or dark chocolate coating. The peanut flour, peanut butter and peanut oil generally replace sugar and some of the milk powders found in non-peanut butter coating. Salt is added to enhance the peanut flavor in the coating. For those confectioners concerned about trans fat labeling, CQC has developed peanut butter coatings with no trans fats. Fat systems can also be manipulated in peanut butter coatings to alter the melt points of the product. For instance, raising the melt point of a coating could help maintain the stability of the final product during shipping. CQC also produces “no sugar added” peanut butter coatings. And while polyols are commonly used as sugar replacers, coating can be formulated using different types of sugar replacers. Peanut butter coatings are a flavorful addition to many products. Finding a coating that delivers the desired attributes and flavor profile envisioned can be the key to developing a great product.