Food Industry

Haitian Peanut Butter Fires Up Snacks and Sandwiches

“If you had a spoon, I’d eat some right now,” Prinston Paul says while standing near the front door of Little Haiti’s Sabal Supermarket, located on the corner of 54th Street and NE Second Avenue.

We’re inspecting a jar of mamba, Kreyol for peanut butter, a common snack on the island and an easy find in Miami's Haitian markets.

Unlike similar spreads found on American shelves, this one is often spiced with a hefty dose of Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. It’s also far less salty and sweet than American varieties. The rich, nutty flavor quickly gives way to an intense, full-mouth burn that’s strangely addictive. The hit of spice might be what the peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich always needed.

In Haiti, mamba is most often eaten on bread or thin crackers made from cassava. Pairing it with fruit jelly isn’t always a given. The spicy stuff can serve as breakfast for children before heading to school, a bite on the street, or a late-night snack when you’ve had too much to drink and little money in your pockets, says the 41-year-old Paul, who moved to Miami a decade ago from Les Cayes on Haiti’s southern coast.

“We eat it any time of the day,” he says.

Peanut butter made its way to Haiti via the slave trade, bringing with it the African love of peanuts, according to Mirta Yurnet-Thomas’ cookbook A Taste of Haiti.

The legume seems to be a beacon of hope in the agriculturally challenged country. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his family foundation have invested in Haiti’s infrastructure in hopes of improving farm yields and infrastructure. There is too much hunger and poverty, Clinton says. He and celebrity chef José Andrés tasted the island's special brand of peanut butter not long ago and pronounced it excellent. 

Meanwhile, a fortified version of peanut butter, medika mamba, has also been eyed as a way to combat Haiti's malnutrition crisis. A pair of U.S.-based nonprofits even locked horns in 2012 in a battle to become the island’s main supplier of nutritional peanut butter. 

Whether peanut butter can help fix Haiti's problems remains to be seen. In the meantime, you can do your part by buying a jar of Haitian-made Compa Direct or Rebo. Don't forget the milk to temper the spice.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson