The Spicy-Hot Peanut Butter Your PB&J is Longing For

September 21, 2017

In the States, there are generally two peanut butter camps: sweetened, so it’s satiney like frosting, and unsweetened, so the natural oils slop and splash.

In Haiti, there’s another camp— spicy!—and it’s called mamba (the Creole word for peanut butter) and usually eaten with toast or cassava crackers. (Mamba has also had a role in tackling child malnourishment in Haiti and all over the world.)

I first heard about mamba from Mark Overbay, who first heard about mamba from a friend who grew up in Haiti.

Mark is the guy behind Big Spoon Roasters, a little company in Durham, North Carolina that makes the best nut butter you’ll ever find in a jar. They start with raw nuts that they roast until toasty and colorful and then mill through custom steel plates.

When I tried Big Spoon’s take on mamba, called Hot Peanut, I couldn’t help but think that we here in the land of PB&Js have not been doing full justice to peanut butter. So let’s do it right. Let’s make peanut butter ourselves—and let’s make it spicy.

I asked Mark about all of the homemade peanut butter dos and don’ts. Here’s what we need to know to make the best PB&J back to school has ever seen:

  • Do roast your own nuts. Finding raw (as opposed to roasted) peanuts is more of a scavenger hunt than finding raw walnuts or almonds, since peanuts have a shorter shelf life. Try your nearest natural foods store (certain Whole Foods carry them in bulk). Or if they grow in your region, you might be able to snag some at the farmers market.
  • Do use a food processor with at least an 8-cup capacity. This will give the nuts room to reach their full, buttery potential (with some encouragement from a rubber spatula). But don’t overuse the food processor or you’ll end up with, as Mark puts it, “a smoothie texture. You want spreadable, not drinkable.”
  • Don’t include any fresh ingredients. Moisture can lead to mold, as well as an uneven nut butter, since fat and water don’t get along. This means, when it comes to mamba, fresh chiles are out (you’ll see many recipes online that recommend using a fresh Scotch Bonnet, but this will decrease the peanut butter's shelf life). Instead, we'll go with a chili powder.
  • Except, don’t use literal “chili powder.” In the States, this indicates a blend with dried, ground chilies, as well as other spices like cumin and oregano. Instead, turn to what’s probably right next to your chili powder: cayenne—which brings some punchy, mamba-worthy heat—and smoked paprika, which brings warm flavor and bright color. In case the spices are feeling lackluster from living in a jar, fry them in hot coconut oil—a technique cutely called “blooming” (in Indian cooking, it’s known as tadka or tempering)—to wake them right up.
Mamba + apricot jam. Photo by Bobbi Lin

This speedy chili oil will give you a smooth texture, too. If you add some brown sugar and kosher salt, you’ll have a mamba that jelly can get excited about (try it paired with apricot).

Or try it in banana smoothies, nut butter cups, seedy granola, crisscross cookies, and ice cream. I love mamba as a way to offset sweetness.

But it’s just as good in savory contexts, anywhere you would use natural peanut butter or tahini. Think sesame noodles, peanut stew, even hummus or snack mix.

Something tells me you’ll come up with even more.

What's your favorite way to flavor and use peanut butter? Tell us in the comments below!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Carlos C. September 25, 2017
Oh wow! a recipe for mamba. I really never got the taste for American peanut butter, but mamba is amazing. In cities with significant Haitian populations, the bakeries typically sell their own homemade mamba..and it is fiery hot. On some creole bread with some Haitian coffee (and maybe a little vache qui rit), it is a wonderful breakfast. Thanks for posting
lindamc September 23, 2017
I sampled Hot Peanut in a cheese shop near my apartment. Delicious game-changer! Fellow lazy people (who don't want to make their own), highly recommended pantry item.
piggledy September 23, 2017
I learned long ago, a good sprinkle of chili powder on a (natural) peanut butter sandwich is wonderful. We eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches around here, sometimes with sliced dill pickles, or bananas, raisins, or jam. I’m not sure I’d be up for an entire batch of spicy peanut butter, though. We also enjoy a peanut sauce made with cayenne, cumin, ginger, and garlic, with pasta and chicken, so I can attest, these spices are wonderful with peanut butter.
Suze M. September 21, 2017
1 part peanut butter
1 part Ojai Jelly
makes an excellent, easy, & very tasty dipping sauce. Great with chicken skewers, a quick Satay. A quick afternoon "pick me up" on toast too.
Ojai Jelly
Emma L. September 21, 2017
Yes, please!