Description of Peanuts
The peanut is perhaps the most common of all nuts. From continent to continent, the peanut has its own appeal. Though commonly known as a nut, the peanut is actually not technically a nut and is in fact considered a legume in botanical terms.
Unlike other nuts, peanuts do not grow on trees. In fact, the peanut plant at its highest is only about one and a half feet tall. As the plant grows, nitrogen-fixing legumes grow beneath the ground. These legumes are what we eat and call peanuts.
Depending on the variety, peanut pods may be anywhere from one to two inches long. They are covered in shells which are ridged and of a light brown color. Inside the pod, you will find two to three seeds. The seeds are covered with a reddish skin.
Varieties of Peanuts
There are literally thousands of different varieties of peanuts grown all over the world. Specific varieties are used for specific purposes although there are many varieties which may be substituted for one another. Today, there are four major varieties of peanuts.
The Spanish group of peanuts yields smaller peanuts. Despite the name, Spanish peanuts are mainly grown in Africa and in the Southern parts of the United States. They have high oil content and are usually the peanut of choice for peanut candy, peanut butter, and salted nuts.
The Runner group of peanuts has overtaken the Spanish group of peanuts in the recent years due to its better flavor and higher yield. Peanuts under this group also have better roasting characteristics. Grown mostly in the Southeastern part of the United States, peanuts under the Runner group are used for peanut butter and salted nuts.
Perhaps one of the most popular types of peanuts these days is the Virginia group of peanuts. They are most known for their large size. As more and more consumers prefer large peanuts for snacking, the Virginia group of peanuts is becoming more and more in demand. These peanuts are used for confections, salted nuts, and roasted nuts in their shells.
The last major group of peanuts is the Valencia group. Peanuts which belong to this group are smooth. There are usually 3 seeds in one pod. Variations may have red seeds or flesh seeds.
History of Peanuts
The peanut originates from South America and historians have traced its use way back to prehistoric times. As with many other herbs and spices, the rest of the world was introduced to the peanut because of the Europeans. In the United States, however, the peanut was introduced by the African Americans who brought the nut from their native country. Herein lies the origins of the popular name for peanut – goober, which is actually the Kikongo name for the nut.
In the United States, the cultivation of peanuts became widely popular in the 1890s when George Washington Carver promoted the peanut. This was due to the destruction of the cotton crop because of pests. Because of his affinity for peanuts, George Washington Carver became widely associated with the nut. In fact, by 1903, he had come up with countless uses for peanuts.
Around the same period of time, Italian immigrants discovered how to roast peanuts in their shells in oil. They packed these roasted peanuts in airtight bags and labeled them as Planters. Thus, one of the most popular brands of peanuts (and other snacks) was born.
Nutritional Facts About Peanuts
Along with many other nuts, peanuts have been promoted as diet food for many years now. This is mainly due to the fact that peanuts have very high protein content while having low carbohydrate content. They have thus been exalted as a healthy snacking alternative. More recent studies have shown other health benefits of the peanut. One such benefit is the substance resveratol. This substance supposedly has cancer fighting, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral effects.
Uses for Peanuts
Peanuts are mainly used as food. Perhaps the most popular forms of peanuts are salted nuts, shelled nuts, boiled nuts, and roasted nuts (in the shell). These are normally eaten as snack foods. Peanuts are also a staple in mixed nuts packages.
Of course, no one can overlook the ubiquitous peanut butter. Peanut butter is a staple in many homes as use for sandwiches and even various dishes. The use of peanut butter in cooking is especially widespread in some Asian countries. Aside from peanut butter, whole or crushed nuts are also used in different cuisines. Sauces, soups, and salads are some other ways in which peanuts may be used.
Peanuts with high oil content are processed to produce peanut oil. Peanut oil has a very mild flavor. This is the reason it is used often for cooking.
Peanuts are also used widely in the commercial sector. Commercial bakeries, candy makers, and sandwich spread manufacturers utilize large amounts of peanuts in their products. Cookies, peanut candy, and other commercial products are some examples. Furthermore, peanuts are also used as feed for birds. Peanuts used for this purpose are those that do not pass the quality requirements for snacks and peanut butter.
Peanuts also have a use in the industrial sector, although it isn’t as widespread as home and commercial use. Peanut oil is the main by product used for industrial purposes. Examples of uses of peanut oil are lubricants, paints, varnish, leather dressings, insecticides, and furniture polish.
A Note of Caution and Some Tips About Peanuts
Though many people love peanuts, there are those that simply cannot tolerate them. Allergies resulting in ingestion of peanuts can cause severe reactions, sometimes even to the point of death. Allergic reactions differ from person to person but in extreme cases, even dust from peanuts or processed foods with peanuts in them can trigger an attack. That is why manufacturers indicate the presence of peanuts in their products.
You can buy peanuts in all its forms – shelled, de-shelled, skinned, de-skinned, raw, dried, roasted, etc. What you buy would largely depend on your preferences and what you intend to do with the nuts. Fresh peanuts in their shell would be great for boiling and roasting – if you want to do all the work. If you are pressed for time, you can get them roasted and dried, with or without the shell and skin, salted or unsalted.