Peanut
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A Peanut (Arachis hypogaea), also known as Ground Nuts, Goober Peas, Earthnuts, Pinders, Monkey Nuts, Pygmy Nuts or Pig Nuts are another of the classic non-nut, Nuts.

Peanuts look like a nut, have a shell like a nut and are still, nonetheless, biologically a Legume from the Fabaceae family.

Hypogaea means "under the earth" and it is an appropriate name because after pollination, the Peanut flower stalk elongates causing it to bend over until the ovary touches the ground. Continued stalk growth then pushes the ovary underground where the mature fruit develops into a legume pod, which we know as the Peanut.

If you have any lingering doubts after our bold assertion, try some of those Boiled Peanuts they love so much in the South. Boiled Peanuts taste like the legumes, which Peanuts actually are. Because they are sort of a cross-over we call them a Culinary Nut, which is any of the group of nut-like seeds that frequently confused with actual, biological Nuts.

The oldest known Peanut specimen was found in Peru and archeologists have dated it back 7000 or 8000 years to Peru but the peanut was most likely first domesticated and cultivated in the valleys of Bolivia or Paraguay.  Peanuts are depicted in the art of many pre-Columbian cultures and the wildest Peanut strains grow their today.

Cultivation spread into Mesoamerica, where the Spanish explorers learned of the Peanut from vendors selling in the market place of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). The vendors called it the “tlalcacahuatl” which the Spanish called “cacahuate.” In Mexican Spanish the peanut is still called “cacahuate” today. The French use essentially the same name (cacahuète). The Europeans spread the Peanut around the globe. Portuguese traders brought the Peanut to China in the 1600’s. Today, China is the world’s largest Peanut grower.

In the United States, George Washington Carver, who even as a young boy was known as a “Plant Doctor,” did much to promote the Peanut.  After he graduated from Iowa State University where he studied botany and horticulture, Carver was recruited by Booker T. Washington to come to The Tuskegee Institute and become the Director of Agriculture.

At the Tuskegee Institute Carver is credited with solving the Southern farmers’ problem of soil depletion by Cotton crops by suggesting that Peanuts be grown in rotation with Cotton to replenish the nitrogen in the soil.  The solution worked wonderfully and soon Carver was faced with a large surplus of Peanuts, which he found 300 uses for, not including Peanut Butter, the biggest one that Carver missed.

As a side note, Carver also discovered that Sweet Potatoes and Pecans could replenish the soil and he found over a hundred uses for these crops as well.

Peanuts only came into their own as the U.S. cast about for substitute plant oils during WWI and acquired a sweet tooth with the rise of new snacks and candies such as Cracker Jack (1893), Planters Peanuts (1906), Oh Henry! (1920), Baby Ruth (1920), Butterfinger (1923), Mr. Goodbar (1925), and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (1925).

Season

Peanuts are a late summer, early fall Culinary Nut. The actual months of planting and harvesting will vary depending on whether the Peanuts are in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres.

Availability

Peanuts are available year round.

Cultivation

Peanuts grow best in light, acidic (5.9-7 pH), sandy loam soil and they need at least 5 months of warm weather and adequate water (20 to 39 inches of rain a year) to thrive. Peanuts are self-pollinating.

When the farmer goes to harvest the Peanuts, the whole plant and its roots are pulled from the ground. As most of us know, the fruit of the Peanut plant is the fibrous, wrinkled shell which contain 1-4 seeds (Peanuts) each.

Production

Peanut seed pods need around 3 months from the time they are planted in the spring to ripen.  Peanuts are especially susceptible to contamination during growth and storage by molds and fungus.  The growing Peanuts which have 40 to 50% moisture are carefully monitored during their growing seasons and are first mechanically dug up in the late summer. They are then dried in the field in windrows until they have 16% moisture. Drying the pods in the field is a cost effective means of reducing their moisture, though the pods can suffer damage from birds, rodents, rain and over-drying.

When they have dried significantly, the Peanuts can be threshed (shaken to remove the seed pods from the plant material). If they are drier than 16% moisture at threshing time, the loss in yield will be significant.

After threshing, the Peanuts are taken to a processing facility where they are passed through a pre-cleaner to remove any extraneous matter from the plants or the field. At this stage the Peanuts would be called “Green Peanuts,” which are picked Raw Peanuts with 40% to 50% water content. They will turn bad rapidly if not dried or cooked quickly.

Once pre-cleaned, the “curing” or drying process begins in drying bins. Peanuts cannot be dried quickly like some other crops. Peanut quality is maintained by slowly lowering the moisture level in the crop at low temperatures. Eleven percent moisture is the optimal moisture level for storing Peanuts.

Once the Peanuts are properly dried, they can then be shelled in a Shelling Plant where a rotating drum gently cracks the Peanut shells. The cracked shells are blown off the nuts and then collected to be sold as animal feed or garden mulch.

The remaining Peanut kernels are gravity-sorted on a tilted sorting table. Any heavier material (foreign matter such as sticks or stones) will move upwards and any lighter material (the Peanuts) will move downwards. The Peanuts are then passed over a number of sieves which grade the Peanuts according to size. Any Peanuts that were missed in shelling are returned to the shelling plant for another go around.

The graded kernels are packed in cages in cool storage while a sample from each batch is sent to the lab analysis.

With an OK from the lab, a decision is made as to whether the Peanuts will be sold on the raw market or whether they will be sent to the blanching plant for more processing. Raw product is color sorted (by eye and by laser) before being packaged.

The Blanched Peanuts will be heated and run through rollers to remove their skins. Blanched Peanuts and Peanut halves (also called splits) are then sorted with sieves, lasers and human inspectors to detect any discolored Peanuts.

China is the world’s leading peanut producer. They grow and harvest about 14.4 million metric tons or 42% of the peanuts grown. India grows about 6.25 million metric tons or 18% of the world’s peanuts. Most of India’s production (90%) is made into Peanut Oil. The U.S. in third place only grows about 2.34 million metric tons or 7% of world supply. The state of Georgia is the leading Peanut producer in the U.S. Georgia accounts for approximately 40% of domestic production. Texas and Alabama are second and third respectively. In fact, Dothan Alabama is home to the National Peanut Festival (held each fall since 1938) and almost half of all Peanuts grown in the U.S. are harvested within 100 miles of Dothan, Al.

Varieties

Thousands of peanut cultivars are grown, with four major cultivar groups being the most popular: Spanish Peanuts, Runner Peanuts, Virginia Peanuts, and Valencia Peanuts. Different types of Peanuts are preferred for certain uses because of flavor differences, varying Oil content, differences in size, shape and hardiness. Some cultivar types are used interchangeably. There are two main Peanut growth forms, bunch and runner. Bunch Type Peanuts grow upright, while Runner Type Peanuts grow near the ground.

Less popular are the Tennessee Red Peanut and Tennessee White Peanut groups.

Purchasing

When purchasing shelled Peanuts in the package, look for a “best before date” on bag, can or jar. If you can see the Peanuts, they should be plump and uniform in size. They should not be limp or squishy looking. You should not see any signs of moisture inside the bag or jar. When opened, or if buying from a bulk bin, the Peanuts themselves should not smell musty or rancid. You should not see any mold or dark discolorations. Moldy peanuts should be avoided and / or discarded.

When purchasing Peanuts in the shell, look for Peanuts without cracks, that have that have undamaged shells free from scars or tiny wormholes. The Peanut should feel heavy for its size and the kernel should not rattle around in the shell loudly if shaken. If it does rattle when shaken, the Peanut inside may be undersized or withered.

Storage

We do not expect that you will be storing Raw Green Peanuts very often. If you do raw Green Peanuts should be stored refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week. Raw Green Peanuts can also be stored frozen for up to one month in an airtight container.  Raw Green Peanuts should be cooked (Boiled, Roasted, etc.) before consumption.

To safely store Peanuts, the moisture levels must be reduced from around 40% to 50% when raw and fresh to about 11% to avoid the mold Aspergillus flavus which produces carcinogenic aflatoxin. Most commercial growers dry their peanuts in the field down to 16% moisture before threshing to retrieve the Peanuts. Commercial peanuts are then further dried in drying bins.

Most of us will be purchasing and using dried, blanched or roasted Peanuts, in or out of the shell which will have good moisture levels but all Peanuts, including dried or roasted Peanuts, still have a high Fat content which can turn Rancid very easily if not properly stored away from heat and light. Keep your commercially purchased Peanuts in the shell in a cool dark place.

Commercially purchased, Peanuts out of the shell should be refrigerated in a tightly sealed jar once the vacuum-sealed package is opened. Alternatively, any leftovers from the jar can be transferred to an airtight storage container such as a zip-lock bag or storage ware before refrigeration. Shelled cooked Peanuts will keep a few months in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to one year.

Culinary Uses

All of the Peanut plant can be used either as whole raw Peanuts, roasted (and salted) Peanuts, ground Peanut Butter, Peanut Soup (in the South), Boiled Peanuts, Fried Peanuts, milled Peanut Flour, pressed Peanut Oil or even as animal fodder. Low-grade peanuts are also widely sold as a garden bird feed and the Peanut plant tops are used for hay.

In America, we eat about 4 million pounds of Peanuts (out of the shell) a day. About two thirds of our Peanuts are consumed as food, principally, Peanut Butter. Only about 10% of Peanuts are sold in their shells. Peanuts are often a major ingredient in mixed nuts because of their relative cost compared to Brazil Nuts, Cashew Nuts, Walnuts, etc.

Peanuts are used around the world to enliven otherwise bland dishes.

For example, Peanuts are used in many sauces for South American meat dishes, especially Rabbit dishes. Peanuts are also the centerpiece of some “Ají” dishes such as Roasted Peanuts & Hot Peppers.

Kabukim, crunchy coated (flour, salt, starch lecithin and Sesame Seeds) Peanuts, are popular in Israel. Peanuts are also used to make Bamba Puffs ( a peanutty cheese puff) in Israel.

Southeast Asian cuisine also takes advantage of plentiful Peanuts to make Gado-Gado, Pecel, Karedok, and Ketoprak. They use Peanuts as the basis for Satay Sauce.  

Indian Cuisine uses roasted, crushed peanuts to add crunch to Salads and stews. They also use Peanut Oil in their cooking.

African cuisines use Peanuts in Stews and Soups. They also use Peanuts to make Relishes.

When working with Peanuts, the first step is typically to remove the papery skins that cover the kernel. The skins can be removed easily by freezing shelled peanuts for several hours so that the skins just slip off with slight pressure from your fingers. Similarly Raw shelled Peanuts can be roasted for 3-5 minutes at 350°F (177° C) and then cooled enough so that you can rub the skins off with your fingers.

Remember that Raw Peanuts have a much more mild taste than Roasted Peanuts. Use Chopped Raw Peanuts in Green Salads, Bound Salads, Soups, and Stews. Peanuts can also be chopped using a Nut Chopper, Coffee Grinder or Food Processor. If you choose to go mechanical to chop your Peanuts and want to avoid Peanut Butter, pulse the machine on and off. Over processing will quickly give you a paste/butter.

Portion Size

Allow 1/2-1 oz of Peanuts per person.

Pairings

Basil, Cayenne, Curry Powder, Salt, Sugar, Tarragon, Vanilla, Celery, Peppers, Cilantro, Garlic, Onions, Parsley, Tomatoes, Apples, Bananas, Coconut, Coconut Milk, Grapes, Lemons, Limes, Pears, Strawberries, Beef, Chicken, Pork, Shrimp, Butter, Chocolate, Caramel, Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce, Oils, Olive Oil, Vinegars, Salads, Sauces

Substitutes

Nutritional Value

Nutritional Value USDA
PEANUTS,ALL TYPES,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 567
%Daily Value*
 
75%
Total Fat 49g
4%
Saturated Fat 6g
Polyunsaturated Fat 15g
Monounsaturated Fat 24g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 18mg
15%
Potassium 705mg
5%
Total Carbohydrate 16g
32%
Dietary Fiber 8g
Sugars 3g
Protein 25g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

The Peanut contains 25% digestible Protein on average and 42% to 52% Peanut Oil. One pound of Peanuts (.45 kg) is high in calories and will yield about the same energy value as 2 LBS (.90 kg) of Beef, 1.5 LBS (.68 kg) of Cheddar Cheese, 9 pints of Milk, or 36 medium-size Eggs.

In addition to the energy, Peanuts also contain over 30 essential nutrients and phytonutrients including: Niacin (promotes brain health and blood flow), Folate, Dietary Fiber, Magnesium, Vitamin E, and Phosphorus. Peanuts also contain so many Antioxidants (polyphenols, p-coumaric acid, resveratrol, and coenzyme Q10) that they rival the antioxidant content of some fruits. Roasted Peanuts have more Antioxidants than Carrots or Beets and are roughly equivalent to Blackberries and Strawberries in their Antioxidant capacity.

Peanut Allergies & Toxins

Peanut allergy is the most common form of food allergy in school age children and adults. Peanut allergies can be very dangerous, even fatal, particularly in adolescents and young adults, as well as in people with asthma. In North America and the United Kingdom, recent studies have shown that 1% of children are allergic to peanuts, though roughly 23% of them will eventually outgrow the allergy, a peanut allergy can last a lifetime. Those who outgrow a Peanut allergy typically have milder reactions, smaller skin test reactions, and fewer allergies in general.

A 2008 study that compared age of peanut introduction appeared to show that delaying exposure to peanuts can dramatically increase the risk of developing peanut allergies.

It is also possible for adults (who were not allergic as children) to develop an allergy to peanuts later in life. Late onset Peanut allergies tend to be less severe, and are likely caused by the oral allergy syndrome as a result of birch allergy.

Symptoms of a Peanut Allergy can range from watery eyes to fatal anaphylactic shock. For allergic individuals, eating even a small amount of Peanuts can cause a reaction. The state of the art medical advice for Peanut allergies is to avoid eating Peanuts.

Even Peanut Oil can contain Peanut proteins that can spark a reaction. Research shows that Refined Peanut Oil is the least likely to cause an allergic reaction while Crude, unrefined Peanut Oil is most likely to cause a reaction. Even Refined Peanut Oil can cause problems if it is previously used to cook food containing Peanuts and then is reused to cook a meal for an allergic person, even if the meal itself contains no Peanuts.

The best thing we can do as chefs is to be knowledgeable about our ingredients, be careful with them too to avoid Cross-Contamination, inform our guests and diners and be communicative with them about such a common but potentially dangerous ingredient.  

It is also important to be aware that people with Peanut allergies may also be allergic to Nuts, such Hazelnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns, or to other Culinary Nuts such as Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts and Pecans. In fact, a new study showed that 33% of people with peanut allergies are also allergic to at least one other Nut or Culinary Nut. Because of the likelihood of dual allergies, it is typical to advise people with Peanut allergies to avoid eating all nuts.

When compared to Westernized countries, Peanut allergies are much less common in other parts of the world. Many believe that the reasons have to do with the predominant methods used to cook peanuts in each of the cultures.  In the East, Pan Frying and Boiling are the major methods of cooking Peanuts. Dry Roasting which is much more common in the west has been shown by research to make Peanuts more allergenic.

Aside from allergies, Peanuts may become contaminated with the Aspergillus flavus mold which produces aflatoxin, which is a carcinogenic substance. The USDA tests every truckload of raw peanuts Aspergillus flavus and for aflatoxin and any load containing more than 15 parts per billion of aflatoxin are discarded.

In general, the Peanut industry has learned to prevent infestation by Aspergillus flavus by using sanitizing heat in the production process.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No