(Arachis hypogaea – Family Leguminosae)
Peanut, Groundnut, earth nut, monkey nut, goober peas, anchics, pindars
arachide/cacahuète (French), Erdnufs (German), jordnöt (Swedish), aardnost (Dutch), zemlianoí orekh (Russian), arachide (Italian), cachuete/maní (Spanish), amendorm (Portuguese), ful sudani (Arabic), hua sheng/lu huo sheng (Chinese), rakkasei (Japanese), kacang tanah (Malay/Indonesian), thua lisong (Thai), epa/ikba/gyada (Nigeria), azi/nkate/akate (Ghana), granat/niki (Sierra Leone)
Their difference is apparent in two ways.
First, instead of producing pods above ground after flowering like other legumes, they thrust their flower stems into the ground so that the fruit pods develop underground. They are also unusual in that they store fat rather than starch. As a result, even though they are a high-fiber food, peanuts contain fewer carbohydrates than dried peas or beans.
They were first grown by the Inca of ancient Peru.
The thin, tan, netted pods usually contains two seeds. However, depending on the variety, the number of kernels can vary from one or two to five and seven.
A papery skin covers the oval creamy-tan seeds. The skin may be white, cream, brown, red, or piebald (red and white).
Their sizes vary from the small Spanish and Valencia nuts, which are rounder and used mainly for peanut butter, to the larger oval Virginia variety that is usually roasted.
In spite of its unusual growing habits, the peanut looks like the common garden pea when it stands in the field. Later, after it has flowered and pollination has taken place, the plant bends toward the earth.
Peanuts were first introduced to the Portuguese slave traders who took them to Africa and elsewhere around the world. African slaves then brought them to the US, which explains why the first names used were of the Congo origin (pindar and goober).
But it was not until early in the 20th century that the popularity of the peanut began to soar.
In 1904, at the St. Louis World Fair, peanut butter was seen for the first time and promoted as a health food. Children quickly adopted this idea, which should have immediately made parents suspicious. Since then, about half of the peanuts produced in the US goes into making peanut butter.
George Washington Carver (1864-1943), a major promoter of the peanut, is credited with developing more than 300 different uses for the peanut. Born to Missouri slave parents, he graduated from the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Iowa State University). He became a research director of the now Tuskegee University, where he experimented with and developed many uses for, the peanut. He continually urged cotton farmers to switch to growing peanuts for a cash crop.
Peanuts are high in protein, but not complete. They lack the essential amino acids, tryptophan, methionine, and cystine. By combining peanuts with grains, the protein becomes complete – which kids have instinctively known for years preferring peanut butter sandwiches to anything else!
By eating that sandwich with a fruit high in vitamin C, the hard-to-absorb ferrous type of iron, found in these foods, will be changed to the easier-to-absorb ferric iron.
The fats in peanuts are primarily unsaturated, and the content is about 50%. They are also good sources of vitamins E and the B complex (except B12), calcium, iron, and potassium. However, much of the thiamin and B6 is lost when they are roasted.
Ounce for ounce, peanuts have nearly three times as much potassium as fresh oranges. They also have about twice as much starch as sugar and are a good source of cellulose, hemicellulose, pectins, and gums, as well as the noncarbohydrate food fiber lignin, which is found in stems, leaves, seeds, and seed coverings on fresh or roasted peanuts.
Although India is the main producer and China lies second, the US has become the principal exporting country, providing some of the more ingenious marketing strategies associated with the nut.
China produces large amounts of peanuts mainly for their oil. The oil produced is extracted by pressing and, therefore a little gummy. It is mainly for local use and therefore not treated. This not only retains the nutrients, but also the flavour making it a much better oil. Although relatively high in polyunsaturates, it does not go rancid quickly.
Peanuts have long been used in other cultures, particularly Indonesia and Thailand, to enrich and thicken their sauces.The ancient Latin Americans had already developed a form of peanut butter by mixing ground peanuts with honey.
Peanuts should be chosen carefully as they may not be as nutritionally sound at first glance. Most commercially prepared butters contain added salt, sugar, and hydrogenated oils.
Commercial preparation also removes the germ of the peanut so that the butter will not go rancid, but doing so removes most of the nutrients as well.
Moldy peanuts should never be eaten as they are contaminated with carcinogenic toxins called aflatoxins. Because of this, and likely the chemicals used to grow them unless they are organic, peanuts are among the foods most often implicated as triggering allergic reactions. Symptoms can range from hives to gastric upsets, to swellings of the lips, eyes, tongue, eventually causing breathing problems.
There are two main categories of peanut: the upright form with nuts growing near the main roots, and the trailing form whose nuts are scattered along the creeping stems. The former is easier to harvest.
A few of the leading varieties include the following:
is a new trailing form variety which has become dominant in the US southeast, but most goes into making peanut butter.
is another upright variety with smaller seeds which are rich in oil and used mainly for that purpose.
produces small, rich kernels that are well-liked roasted in the shell.
provides most of the peanuts eaten in the US as whole nuts, which are roasted and salted, or from the shell. The latter is also known as “ballpark peanuts”. These are from an upright plant and its pods contain two large seeds.
Two other species of groundnut are also grown, but are not as popular as the A. hypogaea. Both have starchy seeds that contain less oil than the common groundnut, but they have local importance as food. Both bury their fruit into the soil.
Bambarra groundnut, Congo goober (Voandzeia subterranea)
grows in tropical Africa, Madagascar, Brazil, and parts of Asia. At one time they were extensively cultivated by slaves along the South Carolina coast. The fruits are similar to the common peanut, but it is instead related to the fava bean. This groundnut usually contains one to three seeds in each pod, which vary in colour from whitish, with or without a black areola around the hilum, to pure black or red with all kinds of mottling, blotching, and spotting. The starch content approaches 50%, and the oil is too low to be used for that. The seeds are also hard and require soaking before they can be cooked and eaten. They are usually used in the young state, pounded into a meal, or mixed with condiments and made into cakes to be fried in palm oil and kept for semi-immediate use. They can also be popped to be eaten as a snack. Boiled fresh, they make a good vegetable. tasting like lima beans.
Hausa/Kersting’s ground nut (Kerstingiella geocarpa)
grows in parts of West Africa. There are no wild plants of this particular species and known only in cultivation in a restricted range from the Upper Senegal-Niger Basin to the “Gold Coast” and Northern Nigeria. The seeds come in various colours of whitish, brown or black, spotted and speckled. They are somewhat flattened and kidney-shaped. The flowers producing the white seeds, and sometimes the spotted black seeds, are said to be white; but those producing other coloured seeds are often bluish purple. The plant can be highly nourishing, but gives a poor yield; and the beans are relatively small. These groundnuts are prepared in various ways. The Dagomba tribe of the Gold Coast makes a dish by boiling the kernels then adding salt and shea butter. In some places, women are not allowed to eat them.