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Peanuts

The peanut, or groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) is a species in the legume family Fabaceae native to South America. It is an annual herbaceous plant growing to 1 to 1-1/2 feet tall. The leaves are opposite, pinnate with four leaflets (two opposite pairs; no terminal leaflet), each leaflet 3/8 to 2-3/4 inches) long and 3/8 to 1 inch broad. The flowers are a typical peaflower in shape, 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches across, yellow with reddish veining. After pollination, the fruit develops into a legume 1 to 2 inches long containing 1 to 3 (rarely 4) seeds, which forces its way underground to mature.

Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botanical sense the fruit of the peanut is a woody, indehiscent legume or pod and not a nut.

Peanuts are also known as earthnuts, goobers, goober peas, pindas, jack nuts, pinders, manila nuts and monkey nuts (the last of these is often used to mean the entire pod, not just the seeds).

Cultivation
Evidence demonstrates that peanuts were domesticated in prehistoric times in South America, where wild ancestors are still found. Cultivation spread as far as Mesoamerica where the Spanish conquistadors found the tlalcacahuatl (Nahuatl="earth cacao"=peanut, whence Mexican Spanish, cacahuate and French, cacahu�te) being offered for sale in the marketplace of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), as they are still offered by street vendors there today. The plant was later spread worldwide by European traders. Cultivation in the English colonies of North America was popularized by African Americans, who brought the Kikongo word "goober".

In South America, the peanut (called there mane or amendoim in Brazil) is thought to have first grown in Argentina or Bolivia, where the wildest strains grow today.

The peanut gained Western popularity when it came to the United States from Africa. It had become popular in Africa after being brought there from Brazil by the Portuguese.

Cultivars 
Thousands of peanut cultivars are grown, with four major Cultivar Groups being the most popular: Spanish, Runner, Virginia, and Valencia. There are also Tennessee Red and Tennessee White groups. Certain Cultivar Groups are preferred for particular uses because of differences in flavor, oil content, size, shape, and disease resistance. For many uses the different cultivars are interchangeable. Most peanuts marketed in the shell are of the Virginia type, along with some Valencias selected for large size and the attractive appearance of the shell. Spanish peanuts are used mostly for peanut candy, salted nuts, and peanut butter. Most Runners are used to make peanut butter.

The various types are distinguished by branching habit and branch length. There are numerous varieties of each type of peanut. There are two main growth forms, bunch and runner. Bunch types grow upright, while runner types grow near the ground.

Spanish group
The small Spanish types are grown in South Africa, and in the southwestern and southeastern U.S. Prior to 1940, 90 % of the peanuts grown in Georgia were Spanish types, but the trend since then has been larger seeded, higher yielding, more disease resistant cultivars. Spanish peanuts have a higher oil content than other types of peanuts and in the U.S. are now primarily grown in Oklahoma and Texas.

Runner group
Since 1940, there has been a shift to production of Runner group peanuts in the southeastern U.S. Runners are found in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. This shift is due to good flavor, better roasting characteristics and higher yields when compared to Spanish types leading to food manufacturers' preference for use in peanut butter and salting.

Virginia group
The large seeded Virginia Group peanuts are grown in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and parts of Georgia. They are increasing in popularity due to demand for large peanuts for processing, particularly for salting, confections, and roasting in the shells.

Valencia group
Valencia Group peanuts are coarse, and they have heavy reddish stems and large foliage. In the U.S. large commercial production is primarily in Eastern New Mexico, but they are grown on a small scale elsewhere in the South as the best flavored and preferred type for boiled peanuts. They are comparatively tall, having a height of 50 inches and a spread of 30 inches. 

Peanut pods are borne on pegs arising from the main stem and the side branches. Most of the pods are clustered around the base of the plant, and only a few are found several inches away. Valencia types are three seeded and smooth, with no constriction between the seeds. Seeds are oval and tightly crowded into the pods.

Tennessee Red and Tennessee White groups
These are alike, except for the color of the seed. The plants are similar to Valencia types, except that the stems are green to greenish brown, and the pods are rough, irregular, and have a smaller proportion of kernels.

Uses
Peanuts for edible uses account for two-thirds of the total peanut consumption in the United States. The principal uses are salted, shelled nuts, peanut butter (popular in sandwiches), peanut brittle, candy bars, and nuts that have been roasted in the shell. Salted peanuts are usually roasted in oil and packed in retail size, plastic bags or hermetically sealed cans. Dry roasted, salted peanuts are also marketed in significant quantities. The primary use of peanut butter is in the home, but large quantities are also used in the commercial manufacture of sandwiches, candy, and bakery products. Boiled peanuts are a preparation of raw, unshelled green peanuts boiled in brine and typically eaten as a snack in the southern United States where most peanuts are grown.

Peanut oil is often used in cooking, because it has a mild flavor and burns at a relatively high temperature. Under the name Plumpy'nut 100 g (3.5 ounces), two small bags per day are given by the World Health Organization as a surviving base to many children in Africa. Peanuts are often a major ingredient in mixed nuts because of their inexpensiveness compared to Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, and so on. The U.S. airline industry used to be a relatively large purchaser of peanuts for serving during flights (6 million pounds annually) before the nuts were removed from flights by many airlines (largely due to allergy concerns, but also due to cost).

Peanuts are also very widely sold for garden bird feeding. Low grade or culled peanuts not suitable for the edible market are used in the production of peanut oil, seed and feed, although some owners of pet hookbills avoid these kinds for that reason.

Peanuts have a variety of industrial end uses. Paint, varnish, lubricating oil, leather dressings, furniture polish, insecticides, and nitroglycerin are made from peanut oil. Soap is made from saponified oil, and many cosmetics contain peanut oil and its derivatives. The protein portion of the oil is used in the manufacture of some textile fibers.

Peanut shells are put to use in the manufacture of plastic, wallboard, abrasives, and fuel. They are also used to make cellulose (used in rayon and paper) and mucilage (glue).

Peanut plant tops are used to make hay. T he protein cake (oilcake meal) residue from oil processing is used as an animal feed and as a soil fertilizer.

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