What is a peanut?



Did you know that a peanut (Arachis hypogaea), is actually not a nut. It is a legume. (Think peas and beans)
Yes it's true!
Peanuts are also called other names, like goober pea (who came up with that one), monkey nuts, and pig nuts.

It is an annual herbaceous plant. After pollination, the frut develops into a legume 1.2 to 2.8 inches long, containing 1 to 4 seeds, which forces its way underground to mature. Hypogaea means "under the earth".



Peanuts were known as early as 950 B.C.  Believed to have originated in Peru or Brazil then later carried to Africa on ships by explorers and missionaries. (I discovered this to be true in 1980 as I was quite surprised to encounter peanuts in African food. In Tanzania by campfire we enjoyed a tasty stew made of peanuts,vegetables and a little meat. Very good!)  From there traders took them to Spain and "The New World". Ultimately peanuts arrived in American aboard slave ships etc. The peanut's introduction to the United States dates back to colonial times. There is some historical discrepancy about dates but either by the late 1700's to early 1800's peanuts were grown commercially in the South (N.Carolina 1818). Peanuts became established along the James River in Virginia. (Aha- thus the famous Virginia Peanuts).  After the Civil War, Union troops brought peanuts home to the North. (very interesting).  P.T. Barnum's circus wagons helped introduce peanuts across the country in the late 1800's. (who'd of "thunk it").

Varieties of peanuts classified according to their habit of growth and bunching varieties; according to the redness of their skin into white and red varieties; and according to the size of the pods. Those with large pods, usually sold for roasting include include the "Virginia runner", "Virginia Bunch", "African" and those with small pods, known as  "Spanish" and "Valencia" or "Tennessee Red".  By the way, my grandmother's first name was Tennessee.  What a cool name.  We called her Mama T.

The peanut kernel has a high percentage of fat. They contain  21-36% protein. Peanuts are widely used in cooking. Prevalent in many types of cuisine. Some chefs even use peanut butter to thicken spaghetti sauce.
(So beware). For those allergic to peanuts incredible caution must be taken. (I will write about this later)

Some unusual uses for peanuts include making peanut biodiesel fuel, using hulls in kitty litter and using peanut oil as an ingredient in soap!



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