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
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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