Australia has been switching up their nut spreads in recent years. We now have options like organic, healthy nut butters, cocoa spreads, and of course, the classic, sweetened peanut butters that we all once enjoyed slathered on white bread for school lunches.
However, there is one type of nut butter that we are missing from our supermarket shelves: mamba.
Mamba, or spicy peanut butter, is an everyday condiment in Haiti, and having it slathered on traditional Haitian breads (any crispy flatbread will do, though) or cassava is a common snack.
According to Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter by Jon Krampner, the making of peanut butter in Haiti supposedly dates back to the Spanish occupation in 1697.
Krampner also writes, "In addition to being sold in jars, it's also sold by street vendors; most neighbourhoods in the capital of Port-au-Prince have their own peanut butter vendor. Shelled peanuts, raw or roasted, are pounded into a pulp with a mortar and pestle and spooned out to customers at street-side stands, either alone, on bread, or with casaba, a honeydew-like melon".
The spread is not sweet, like common peanut butters here in Australia - mamba is savoury, and can often be extremely fiery. It's sometimes topped with a dollop of jam or molasses.
A mild form of the spread called medika mamba ('peanut butter medicine' in Haitian Creole) has also been used to fight malnutrition in Haiti. The medicinal version of the spread contains, along with the traditional peanut paste, powdered milk, oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals. Meds & Food for Kids Haiti reports a 90 per cent success rate of treating malnutrition using medika mamba, with severely underweight and undernourished children showing enormous improvement after only six weeks on the treatment.
To make mamba, raw peanuts are roasted in a cauldron over an open fire until they are toasty and golden-brown, and then a large winnowing tray or hands are used to seperate the dried skins from the nuts. The nuts are then ground until a buttery, creamy mixture forms - it's claimed that Northern varities are usually blended six times, while varities from the South are usually blended four. The peanut paste will then be turned with a Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper, or a habanero pepper.
While traditional recipes are quite labour-intensive, some simpler, non-traditional recipes will recommend using dried spices (such as cayenne pepper and smoked paprika) to maximise the butter's shelf-life. To deepen the spice of the mamba, dried spices will sometimes fried beforehand with hot coconut oil, to bring out that punchy heat.
Montreal resident Stanley Dumornay, who grew up in Haitian captial of Port-au-Prince, told the Montreal Gazette that mamba is one of those fundamental tastes of home that many Haitians miss after they've moved away.
“When they move away, Haitians often settle for bland North American peanut butter. Or they get people going back to bring jars and jars of it back for them," says Dumornay.
Now, Dumornay is the co-founder of D&D Mamba, a Montreal-based company that distributes the spicy spread throughout Canada.
While mamba is becoming more readily available in Canada and the US, it's still extremely uncommon in Australia.
Haitian-Australians agreed with Dumornay's sentiment - mamba is strongly missed after leaving home.
Athésia, a Canadian-Haitian creole singer currently living in Sydney, says that Haitian-made mamba is unique in taste, and she finds it's extremely difficult to find it - as well as a number of other Haitian ingredients - here in Australia.
"Mamba is hard to find in Sydney for sure! I should say maybe impossible! I don't know if it's the same thing in Melbourne or in Canberra where other Haitians are living."
"Peanuts in Haiti taste differently, it's like an explosion of this amazing condensed peanut taste. Mamba is spicy and is made with Scotch Bonnet peppers, something also very hard to find here in Australia. I did a Haitian BBQ party at my house with some friends and it took me months to find all the ingredients for the traditional Haitian dishes that I was cooking!"
Fingers crossed that mamba appears on Australian shelves ASAP.
These are inspired by “turtles”, a popular American candy invented in the 1930s. A chewy mess of caramel, pecans and chocolate, they've lent their famous flavour-profile to a whole host of cookie spin-offs. Peanuts stand in admirably for pecans. Peanut butter in the mix makes them even more rich – but if you want to really go whole hog, add a cup of chopped dark chocolate to the dough as well.
You don't need an ice-cream maker for these pops from Colin Fassnidge of Sydney's 4 Fourteen. Freeze the creamy mixture in a slab, insert popsicles, dredge in praline and presto.