The name Plumpy’nut may sound quirky, but this ridiculously simple product idea is already keeping countless famine-struck children from starvation and will save millions of lives

The French are not known for granting unequivocal recognition to the culinary majesty that is ‘peanut butter and jelly’, especially when Americans go as far as using it as a metaphor for obviousness, in terms of “things that naturally go together”.  But these small packs of sweet, fortified peanut butter are a French invention which is revolutionising humanitarian relief.

Here’s some background detail on Plumpy’nut from Wikipedia:

Plumpy’nut is a peanut-based food for use in famine relief which was formulated in 1997 by André Briend, a Frenchpaediatric nutritionist. It is a registered trademark of Nutriset, the manufacturer UNICEF purchases 90% of its supply of Plumpy’nut from Nutriset factories in France for humanitarian aid.

Inspired by the popular Nutella spread, Plumpy’nut is a high-protein, high-energypeanut-based paste in a foil wrapper. It is categorized by the WHO as a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).

Plumpy’nut requires no water, preparation, or refrigeration and has a 2 year shelf life, making it easy to deploy in difficult conditions to treat severe acute malnutrition. It is distributed under medical supervision, predominantly to parents of malnourished children where the nutritional status of the children is compromised.

It is manufactured by Nutriset, a French company based in Rouen for use by humanitarian organizations for food aid distribution.

The ingredients are peanut paste, vegetable oilpowdered milkpowdered sugarvitamins, and minerals, combined in a foil pouch. It tastes slightly sweeter thanpeanut butter. Each 92g pack provides 500 kcal or 2.1 MJ.

Plumpy’nut contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, and K, and minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, iodine, sodium, and selenium.

How it works

Plumpy’nut is frequently used as a treatment for emergency malnutrition cases. It helps with rapid weight gain, which can make the difference between life and death for a young child.

The product is also easy for children to eat since they can feed themselves the soft paste. The fortified peanut butter-like paste contains a balance of fats, carbohydrates and proteins (macronutrients), and vitamins and minerals (micronutrients).

Peanuts contain mono-unsaturated fats, which are easy to digest. They are also very high in calories, which means that a child will get a lot of energy from just small amounts, important because malnutrition shrinks the stomach.

They are rich in zinc and protein — both good for the immune system and to aid long bone growth in reversing stunted height, while protein is also needed for muscle development. Peanuts are also a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to convert food into energy.

Quirky but memorable? Here’s a video of School for Startups guru Doug Richard showing that the Plumpy’nut story is easier to remember than the brand name:

The first video is from 2008. Here’s a more recent video where you can see this product in use in drought relief a few days ago.