Paging Dr. Peanut Butter

His transatlantic practice sidelined by the pandemic, a MD from Modi’in reinvents himself by spreading Holy Butter.

JASON COHEN in his home peanut butter factory in Modi’in (photo credit: Courtesy)
JASON COHEN in his home peanut butter factory in Modi’in
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Life threw Jason Cohen lemons, so he decided to make… peanut butter.
Four months ago, the 45-year-old US-born anesthesiologist and pain-management specialist was riding high with a transatlantic medical consultancy company based in his home in Modi’in and with his offices in New York and New Jersey.
A graduate of Tel Aviv University’s School of Medicine, Cohen spent the first four years after making aliyah in 2011 traveling every other week to the US. But by 2015, wanting to complete the transition to being a full-time Israeli, Cohen launched his business that provides medical-record reviews for American insurance companies and law firms.
The practice thrived... until March and the onset of coronavirus, drastically choking off business and leaving Cohen, a married father of four, time on his hands and a family to provide for.
At the beginning of the home sequester, one of things he began pondering was the lack in Israel of quality, healthy peanut butter, one of his favorite snacks.
“Through both my training as a physician and my own health-conscious interests, I know that peanuts are an extremely healthy source of good nutrition, good carbohydrates and good fat,” Cohen said, adding that “nutrition begins with nuts.”
Doing some online research, he discovered that 99% of the peanuts imported to Israel and sold in local nut shops were from China.
“The health standards there are horrible, and the soil is full of numerous toxins, including nicotine,” Cohen said, adding that what he learned about locally produced peanut butter was even more alarming.
“I contacted and met with one of the largest nut importers in the country,” he said. “He asked, ‘Why do you want to make peanut butter? We make peanut butter.’ He pulled out five or six different jars, with this reconstituted product with two inches of oil on top and chalky butter at the bottom – the terrible stuff you find on the shelf at the supermarket.”
“I discovered that the peanut butter that is made and sold here – dare you call it that – wasn’t made from peanuts, but from imported peanut powder,” Cohen said. “There wasn’t even proper machinery in Israel for grinding peanuts. And they white-label it: They produce the same product for a number of companies with their own labels put on.”
Cohen’s investigation led him to the agricultural world and the Israel Groundnuts Board, the body that oversees the production and marketing of peanuts in the country. He learned that more than 70% of peanuts grown, mainly in the South, were exported and that Israeli peanuts have a reputation of being among the best in the world.
The combined knowledge of great Israeli peanuts being exported and local peanut butter being made from imported peanut powder proved to be Cohen’s light-bulb moment – and Holy Butter came into focus.
“I bought a large amount of peanuts from a supplier in the South and started roasting them in different configurations – with skin on, skin off – until we came up with what we thought was a winning product,” he said. “I imported a grinding machine and converted the machsan [storage area] under my house to a factory... The finished product has zero sugar, zero salt, zero added oils. The only ingredients are peanuts and the spirit of holiness.”
Cohen sent out samples to friends, peanut-butter aficionados and athletes, and the reaction he received was unanimously enthusiastic.
With his wife, Donna, a social worker, and his children all pitching in, Cohen produced his first batches of Holy Butter. Last week, he soft-launched it with a Facebook campaign. By Thursday, he had sold half his supply to consumers in the Modi’in area who picked them up at his house. The other half sold out on Friday at an open-air market in Maccabim-Reut.
Although it’s pricier than the commercial store brands, at NIS 20 for a 350-gram jar, Cohen says there’s no comparison in the quality.
“Local peanut butter is made from peanut powder, and imported, commercial peanut butter like Skippy and Jif introduce palm oil, which is saturated fat,” he said. “That makes you gain weight, gives you liver disease and adds to bad cholesterol.
“Our product is inherently healthy because it only has unsaturated fats, which lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol and are heart healthy. And it’s delicious.”
But it’s not kosher-certified... yet.
“We applied for a kashrut certificate, but because of the more stringent regulations since corona, we were denied. However, the peanuts are Badatz certified,” the religiously observant Cohen said, adding that he is currently looking for an actual working food factory with kashrut certification that he can move into.
“Because we are such a new start-up, and I’m doing it from A to Z with my wife and kids, I decided to focus on getting the product out and achieving some market penetration,” Cohen said. “Now we can concentrate on moving to a proper facility – not only for the kashrut, but because we’re growing, and we need to keep up with production needs.”
 With shelling, grinding and jarring having replaced patient reviews as Cohen’s workday, the fledgling entrepreneur isn’t yet thinking about the day when he may have to decide to return to his non-peanut-y existence.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “I certainly hope for the best in regard to corona and getting back to normal. But this has been such a fantastic experience. It’s exciting and gratifying to be part of something that’s born and bred in Israel.”