Peanuts, or ‘groundnuts’ as they are known in some parts of the world, are the edible seeds of the legume, Arachis hypogaea, and they are high in protein, oil and fiber.
More than 50 percent of worldwide production is crushed for oil. Peanut oil is used for frying and as a food constituent as well as a fuel for lighting and cooking. Peanut oil has a better keeping quality than soybean, corn, and safflower oils and is a good source of Vitamin E. Other peanut products are:
- Peanut flour used in confectionery, seasoning blends, bakery mixes, frostings, fillings, cereal and nutritional bars.
- Roasted peanuts. Different flavours can be added and coatings applied to the peanuts prior to and after roasting to provide a variety of products.
- Peanut butter is made by roasting and blanching peanuts before grinding them into a paste. It is used as a sandwich spread and an ingredient in baking and in savoury sauces.
All parts of the peanut plant have economic value. The vines with leaves make excellent high protein hay for horses and livestock. The shells or pods can be used as feed for livestock, burned for fuel, made into particle board, among other uses.
Peanuts come in many varieties, but there are four main types with specific size, taste and nutrient make-up. These are: Runners, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia.
- Runners are popular because of their high yield. More than half of these peanuts are used for peanut butter.
- Virginias have the largest kernels and are typically the peanuts you find roasted in the shell or in snack bags.
- Spanish-type peanuts have smaller kernels and a higher oil content than other types of peanuts and have a reddish-brown skin. They are used mostly in peanut candies, some snack nuts and peanut butter.
- Valencias are very sweet with three or more small kernels to a pod and are covered in a bright-red skin. They are usually roasted or boiled and sold in-the-shell.
Peanuts are known to have been a common food of South Americans well before the arrival of Spanish explorers. Eaten raw or roasted, peanuts were thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect. In Peru and Brazil peanut milk and confectionary were made.
Peanuts were taken by the Portuguese to Africa where they became an important part of the diet. Peanut paste was used to thicken soups, stews and similar dishes, and the oil was used for cooking.
Before 1800 in the Caribbean and in colonial North America African slaves grew peanuts for consumption. White colonists do not appear to have consumed peanuts directly, but they used peanuts to fatten pigs and chickens.
Throughout the nineteenth century, peanuts were mainly sold roasted in their shells
Test your peanut knowledge
Try growing your own peanuts at home
Peanuts start growing as a bright yellow flower, but because of the plant’s heavy weight after pollination, the stalk below the flower starts to grow and curve downward. After about 10 days it will penetrate the soil. A week later, the pod and seeds begin to develop. The ‘nuts’ mature in nine to 10 weeks.
The soil around the plants should be kept loose so the stems can easily penetrate the soil surface.
Peanuts are warm-season annuals that need at least 120 frost free days to reach maturity. You may want to start them indoors.
It is a day-neutral plant meaning it is not affected by day length, however growth is restricted if there is not enough light. A temperature between 25 to 30oC is optimum for plant development
Once established peanuts are drought resistant, and to some extent will also tolerate flooding. Once pods are mature, too much rain may damage the crop.
Harvest peanuts when the leaves begin to yellow. Dig up the plants, carefully shake off the loose soil, and hang the plants in a warm, dry place. After one or two weeks, pick the peanut pods from the plants. Dry the peanuts for an additional one or two weeks. Once dried, place the nuts in mesh bags and store them in a cool, well-ventilated place. And then roast them and eat them.