Peanut butter has proved its sticking power on youngsters' palates and on shopping lists 99 years after it was first used as a health food for invalids.

Peanut butter was invented by a St. Louis physician, but his identity and details about his creation have been lost."We don't know how it came about, other than that he ground up peanuts to make a health food that they could consume," said Marilyne Moore, director of promotions and education for the Georgia Peanut Commission.

The process was later patented by the Kellogg family of Battle Creek, Mich., and peanut butter became a common food item in mental institutions, said Don Koehler, the commission's executive director.

Peanut butter has a tendency to stick to the palate, so the doctor's frail patients probably got a glass of milk to wash it down and further invigorate them, Ms. Moore said.

"Mom and apple pie and peanut butter are a way of life in America," Koehler said, noting Americans consumed about a billion pounds of peanut butter last year. "We'd like to think that peanut butter may be pushing apple pie."

Peanut butter is a high-energy food, rich in protein, B vitamins and minerals. It has no cholesterol and contains 50 percent mono-unsaturated fats, which can help reduce cholesterol in the body, said Ms. Moore.

The national appetite for peanuts continues to grow.

U.S. residents each ate an average of 9 pounds of goobers last year, which, compared with 1987, included 11.9 percent more shelled peanuts, 19.1 percent more peanut butter, 9.9 percent more salted peanuts and 1.9 percent more peanut candy.

Other peanut facts: 65 percent of the U.S. peanut crop is turned into peanut butter; men prefer creamy peanut butter, while women prefer crunchy; and the creamy kind accounts for about 60 percent of peanut butter sales, Ms. Moore said.