Where Do Peanuts Come From?
Peanuts are probably one of your favorite snacks. Perhaps you eat them while watching your favorite sports or while watching a movie. Maybe you eat them already peeled from their shells or you prefer to crack the shells yourself. Whether you go to the grocery and buy a package of Planters, or get them elsewhere, there are many ways to enjoy this ubiquitous snack. But perhaps at one point, you may have wondered: just where do peanuts come from anyway?
Peanuts Come From South America
Although peanuts are grown and enjoyed around the world, the plant itself is native to South America. They are the seeds of the peanut plant (Arachis hypogaea), which has grown in the area for millennia. They were considered a sacred plant among the Inca people. In addition to being consumed as food, the seeds were also given as offerings to the gods. Interestingly enough, the Incas believed that if men grew and harvested the plants, they would not bear seeds. Thus, only women were allowed to handle them.
When European colonizers arrived in the Americans, they discovered the plant and spread it around the world. The plant gained particular popularity in Africa, where it became wildly grown.
Over time, peanuts became a popular snack worldwide. In America, they gained particular popularity during the Civil War. They were easy to grow and were a convenient source of nutrition. This made them widely consumed during those times. They also gained demand when they were served in circuses.
Today, peanuts are grown and consumed anywhere. No longer is the joy of eating them limited to their native range in South America.
Are Peanuts Nuts?
You may have noticed that in this article, peanuts have not been referred to as nuts. That’s because they aren’t! While they are commonly called nuts, they are not in the botanical sense. They are actually classified as legumes, meaning they are more closely related to beans, peas, and soy than they are to true nuts like acorns and hazelnuts.
You may be surprised to learn that peanuts are not the only “nuts” you enjoy that aren’t nuts at all. Cashews, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, and other examples aren’t true nuts either! These “nuts” are actually drupes. This means they are the singular seeds of fleshy fruit. This means that they are more closely related to cherries and coconuts than they are to true nuts.
Incidentally, most of the “nuts” mentioned above are classified as “tree nuts” along with true nuts like acorns. This is because they are nuts or hard seeds that come from trees. Peanuts are not classified as tree nuts for reasons we’ll get into in the next section.
How Do Peanuts Grow?
Peanuts, as mentioned earlier, are the seeds of the peanut plant. They are legumes: this means the seeds are contained inside pods. Unlike other legumes, however, these pods do not grow above ground. Instead, they grow underground. This is why peanuts, unlike other “false” nuts like almonds and cashews, are not even classified as tree nuts either.
Peanuts can grow in a wide variety of climates. They normally grow in tropical areas, but can also be grown in temperate climates as long as frost is avoided. The plants can grow in a wide variety of soils as well. Experts recommend that they be grown in slightly acidic soil, ideally soil that is sandy or loamy.
When peanut plants are ready to be harvested, they are removed from the soil. The pods are removed, then cleaned and boiled in saline water to give them flavor. Finally, they are processed in various ways: either sold unshelled or unshelled and used as ingredients in other foods.
Fun fact: Did you know that peanuts are also called goobers? If you are familiar with the “Goofy Goober” song from SpongeBob SquarePants, you may have noticed all the peanut imagery. This is the reason!
What Are The Ways to Eat Peanuts?
Peanuts are enjoyed in a variety of ways. They can be eaten while still shelled, meaning the consumer is the one who removes the seeds from the shell. As mentioned earlier, these shelled peanuts are usually boiled in saline water in order to give them flavor.
Peanuts removed from their shells can also be eaten in many ways too. For example, planters sell peanuts in different flavors, including honey and sugar. Peanuts can also be crushed and used as a topping for cookies, cakes, and other desserts.
Perhaps the most loved way to enjoy processed peanuts is through peanut butter. Peanut butter is commonly used as a spread in bread, as well as an ingredient in various forms of pastry. It can even be used as a flavor for donuts and cakes. In recent years, it has also been used as an ingredient in cookies.