While “nut” is in their name, peanuts are in fact legumes.
However, for culinary purposes and in common English language usage, peanuts are usually referred to as nuts.
Scientifically known as Arachis hypogea, peanuts go by a variety of names, such as groundnuts, earth nuts, and goobers.
Although today ubiquitous across the globe, the peanut (Arachis hypogaea) was native only to South America, and it is believed to come from the foothills of the Andes in Bolivia and Peru. Ancient, anthropologists have found evidence of peanut cultivation dating back at least 7,600 years.
Peanuts were grown as far north as Mexico by the time the Spanish began their exploration of the New World. The explorers took peanuts back to Spain, where they are still grown. From Spain, traders and explorers took peanuts to Africa and Asia. In Africa the plant became common in the western tropical region. The peanut was regarded by many Africans as one of several plants possessing a soul.
When Africans were brought to North America as slaves, peanuts came with them. Slaves planted peanuts throughout the southern United States.
Records show that peanuts were grown commercially in South Carolina around 1800 and used for oil, food and a substitute for cocoa.
However, until 1900 peanuts were not extensively grown, partially because they were regarded as food for the poor, and because growing and harvesting were slow and difficult until labor-saving equipment was invented around the turn of the century.
Peanut is an annual herbaceous plant growing 30 to 50 cm (1.0 to 1.6 ft) tall.
The leaves are opposite and pinnate with four leaflets, each leaflet is 1 to 7 cm (0.4 to 2.75 in) long and 1 to 3 cm (0.4 to 1.18 in) across. Like many other legumes, the leaves are nyctinastic, that is, they have “sleep” movements, closing at night.
Peanut pods develop underground, an unusual feature known as geocarpy.
The pods begin in the orange-veined, yellow-petaled, pea-like flowers, which are borne in axillary clusters above ground and last for just one day.
Following self-pollination, the flowers fade. The stalks at the bases of the ovaries, called pegs, elongate rapidly, and turn downward to bury the fruits several inches in the ground to complete their development.
Pods are 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.8 in) long, normally containing one to four seeds.
Peanuts grow best in light, sandy loam soil. They require five months of warm weather and an annual rainfall of 500 to 1000 mm (20 to 40 in.). The pods ripen 120 to 150 days after the seeds are planted.
Although peanuts come in many varieties, there are four basic market types: Runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia. Each of the peanut types is distinctive in size, flavor, and nutritional composition.
Peanuts are rich in energy, in a 100 g (3.5 ounces) serving, peanuts provide 570 calories.
Peanuts are an excellent source of several B vitamins, vitamin E, several dietary minerals, such as manganese, magnesium and phosphorus, antioxidants and dietary fiber.
They also contain about 25 g protein per 100 g serving, a higher proportion than in many tree nuts.
Peanuts are a significant source of resveratrol, a chemical compound that is reported to have a number of beneficial health effects, such as anti-cancer, antiviral, neuroprotective, anti-aging,
anti-inflammatory, and life-prolonging effects.
Peanuts are high in fat. In fact, they are classified as oilseeds. A large proportion of the world’s peanut harvest is used for making peanut oil.
Some of the health benefits of peanut oil include its ability to reduce cholesterol levels, protect heart health, prevent cancer, boost cognitive function, improve the nervous system, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and protect the skin.
Peanut butter is a paste made from dry, roasted peanuts. This paste is generally used as a spread on toast or sandwiches. It is a healthy food that is full of nutrients.
In the United States, any peanut butter branded product must be at least 90 percent peanuts. It’s required by law.
It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce (340-gram) jar of peanut butter. That’s approximately 45 peanuts per ounce (28 grams) of peanut butter.
Boiled peanuts are a popular snack in the southern United States, as well as in India, China, and West Africa.
George Washington Carver began his research into peanuts in 1903 at Tuskeegee Institute. Research that would lead him to discover improvements in horticulture and the development of more than 300 uses for peanuts (which, contrary to popular belief, did not include peanut butter, but did include salted peanuts).
Peanut shells have all manner of strange uses. According to Southern Peanut Growers, a nonprofit trade association, peanut shells are used in everything from kitty litter to fireplace logs to fuel for power plants.
Half of the top ten selling candy bars in the US contain peanut or peanut butter.
Two peanut farmers have been elected president of the United States: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
Alan Shepard, commander of Apollo 14, brought a peanut with him to the moon.
The farthest distance to throw a peanut is 37.92 meters (124 ft 4 in), achieved by Colin Jackson (UK) at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, UK on 20 February 2008.
Mr. Peanut is the advertising logo and mascot of Planters, an American snack-food company and division of Kraft Foods. He is depicted as an anthropomorphic peanut in its shell dressed in the formal clothing of an old-fashioned gentleman: a top hat, monocle, white gloves, spats, and a cane.