Why Peanut Butter-Stuffed Onions Were Heavily Promoted During The Great Depression

When it comes to cooking, America is no stranger to strange mashups happening in the kitchen. In 2023, "chaos" cooking — a dish created by a blend of ingredients that don't normally go together — took social media by storm. In the 1980s, modern fusion cuisine was all the rage in the United States. Elsewhere, Jell-O salads — gelatin filled with meats, vegetables, and fruits — had their moment in the '60s. 

There was a time when even stranger mashups were the norm, but out of necessity. During the Great Depression, people had to get creative when making meals as money was tight. For example, casseroles became popular because they were used to reuse leftovers. The Bureau of Home Economics was tasked with helping Americans create healthy yet affordable meals, and the agency distributed recipes by publishing them in newspapers and magazines. 

We have the bureau to thank for prune pudding, deviled eggs with tomato sauces, and creamed spaghetti with carrots. While a majority of these dishes faded into obscurity after the Great Depression, some are returning due to pure fascination — especially peanut butter-stuffed onions. Yes, you read that right — peanut butter-stuffed inside an onion was a dish that was promoted by the Bureau of Home Economics for its nutritional value.

Peanut butter-stuffed onions are actually nutritious

Peanut butter was once a delicacy reserved for the wealthy who could afford the nutty spread. As it became commercialized and cheaper, it was a popular source of protein for many families during the Great Depression. While peanut butter-stuffed onions weren't a "popular addition to the dinner table," caloric and nutrition-dense dishes like it were prioritized during the Great Depression, often disregarding taste, food author Jane Ziegelman told The New York Times

The combination of peanut butter and onion may seem strange today, but it seems like it took off for some in the 20th century. In fact, the peanut butter and onion sandwich — often known as "The Hemingway," thanks to author Ernest Hemingway mentioning it in a novel — was a novelty for some but cherished by others.

While you may wiggle your nose at the thought of peanut butter and onion, they actually pair quite well together. ADM chief global flavorist Marie Wright explains to The Takeout that both foods are sulfuric, making them complementary to each other.

Someone recreated it

TikTok personality and cookbook author B. Dylan Hollis tried whipping up the Great Depression-era dish for himself (so fortunately, we don't have to). Hollis is known for experimenting with recipes from past eras, so peanut butter-stuffed onions are not too left field for him.

In the video, Hollis follows a 1937 recipe for peanut butter-stuffed onions. He cuts one end of the onion to create a flat bottom and carves out the onion on the other end to create a hole. Then, Hollis scoops a ¼-cup of peanut butter mixed with 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs to stuff the onion.


Does peanut butter really work on everything? #baking #vintage #cooking #peanutbutter

♬ original sound – B. Dylan Hollis

The peanut butter-stuffed onion is baked at 375 degrees F for an hour. The result is a semi-roasted onion covered with peanut butter that expands during the baking process. As Hollis tried the dish, he visibly gagged. "It's not so much bad as it is unsettling," he noted. "Simply, there is no need to do any of this."

People in the comments shared similar sentiments. "That's a waste of perfectly good peanut butter, breadcrumbs, and onion," one person commented. "A dessert that brings a tear to your eye. But in a bad way," another commenter joked.