Why people are going crazy over peanut butter and mayo sandwiches

The first time anyone hears about the weird trend of peanut butter and mayo sandwiches, there's only one response: Why?!

The surprising answer is that they're really, really good… and you should try them!

At least, that's the result of a rather unscientific survey done with a very small number of participants by The Takeout. Of 41 coworkers, none had ever eaten a peanut butter and mayo sandwich, and only 13 brave souls volunteered to try one. They all agreed — it was surprisingly good, but it was also lacking in something. Texture, maybe? (It was definitely texture.)

The Independent conducted a reader poll that same year, and their findings were similar — more than 60 percent of those who responded said they wouldn't even try the combination.

Those little experiments happened in late 2018, the most recent time the dubious delight that is the peanut butter and mayo sandwich popped up on social media and firmly divided the internet. It had happened before, in 2014, when a Georgia poultry farmer inquired about it on Twitter.

The Twitterverse reacted as only the Twitterverse can, and when Garden & Gun took a look at his claims that this was actually a thing, they found that it was. People outside of the Deep South were unlikely to remember it in the 21st century, but they found it had been a staple of southern lunches for decades.

According to Atlas Obscura, this high-calorie, high-fat sandwich originated at a time when that's exactly what people were looking for: a sandwich that was cheap and filling. It first started to become popular during the Great Depression, and it was so popular that when a thief broke into JD Holland's car in 1931, he left behind the expensive stuff and took Holland's peanut butter and mayo. We know because Holland talked to the Statesville Record and Landmark, and told the paper he was willing to treat the perpetrator — who was clearly struggling — to a meal.

It might not be the classic that peanut butter and jelly is today, but peanut butter and mayo had a good run. Everyone was eating them well into the 1960s, and part of the reason for their lasting popularity was that the peanut butter of then wasn't the same as the peanut butter of today. It was stiff and dry, and mixing it with mayo made it easier to spread.

Advice columns helped spread the sandwich's popularity, advising readers to make their peanut butter a little more palatable with the addition of some mayo. Sheri Castle, a North Carolina food writer, told the Huffington Post there was likely something else to it. Families got by on what they had, and this weird combination may have been made from what was available. From there, this matter of survival turned into fond family memories then passed down through the generations.

Brandon Chonko, the farmer who started all the chaos back in 2014, says he remembers his grandmother making it for him. As for the taste, he described it as being sort of like a sour peanut butter sandwich.

By the 1960s, Hellman's realized they should probably get on board with a good thing. They teamed up with Skippy peanut butter for a series of ads that suggested delicious ways to dress up your plain old sandwich, and we're using delicious in the loosest sense of the word. Doubtful? Some of the suggested toppings were sliced apples, bacon and pickles, canned pineapple, and one monstrosity that piled on onions, eggs, and salami.

Delicious.

Newspapers were once the place to go to for recipes and advice, and articles from the 1930s to the 1960s advise using just enough mayo to get the peanut butter to a spreadable consistency, and the weird sandwich didn't always stand alone. Some articles advised adding cheese or deviled ham. Iceberg lettuce was often added for a bit of texture, and there's no right answer when it comes to creamy or crunchy peanut butter. Others remember their grandparents adding things like tomatoes from the garden, just in case you didn't think it could get any worse.

And here's the rub — it's a brilliant example of how regional tastes evolve over time. When The Guardian looked at why one region or culture might find something amazing while another finds it disgusting, they discovered there's a whole range of things at play. They suggest it even goes back as children becoming accustomed to the foods their mother eats while they're still in the womb, and there are indications there's actually a genetic component to what we like and don't like.

That also — sort of — helps explain the drastic split between the "yay" and "nay" camps of peanut butter and mayo sandwiches. But, there is one consensus. If you want to do it in the most authentic way possible, it's Hellman's, Skippy, and untoasted white bread. Otherwise, you're just a heathen.