Home Pulses Peanuts



(Pulses Sprout)

Did you know that the Peanut is not a nut at all? It's in the legume family. Some other familiar names for it are goobers, ground pea, guinea seed, and monkey nut. Peanuts have been around for 3500 years. It's original home is believed to originate on the slopes of the Andes in Brazil and in Peru. Portuguese traders, explorers and missionaries transported the peanut to Africa and Spain. From Africa they traveled by ship to "The New World", and were planted throughout the south. Peanuts were an excellent food source aboard ships because they were inexpensive and nutritious.

In 1870 P.T. Barnum's circus introduced "HOT ROASTED PEANUTS". As his circus wagons traveled from city to city the Roasted Peanut became famous, and began showing up in ballparks and movie theaters. Remember when the cheap theater seats were called "P-Nut Galleries"?

A St. Louis doctor invented Peanut Butter around the 1890's. More than half of the US Peanuts are used to make this creamy, crunchy treat. Imagine a jelly sandwhich without Peanut Butter, and it's nutty taste!
In 1903 George Washington Carver researched the uses of P-Nuts at Tuskeegee Institute. This research led to the development of over 300 uses of the Peanut including soap, shampoo, cheese, mayonnaise, ice cream, medicine, ink, bleach, axle grease, and a wonderful snack.

Today Peanuts contribute over four billion dollars to the US economy and are an important crop in Virginia and North Carolina. Every year Americans consume an average of 12 LBS. of P-Nuts per person. Virginia has 3,000 Peanut farms and produces an average of 350 million LBS. per year.

Would you be surprised to learn the peanut is actually a bean, and an odd one at that? While most of the beans in the legume family grow in pods on sprawling, and climbing vines, the peanut plant is a singular bush that matures its pods underground.

The common peanut has become so universally enjoyed throughout the world that most people never connect it with South America, its place of origin. The ancient Incas of Peru first cultivated wild peanuts and offered them to the sun god as part of their religious ceremonials. Their name for the peanut was ynchic

Peanut cultivation was also active in Ecuador as well as Bolivia and Brazil. The Brazilian peanut farmers were Indian tribal women who wouldn't allow the men to tend the plants, believing the plants would only produce peanuts under their own care.

As evidence of the early existence of this legume, preserved peanut shells were found at many archeological excavations in Peru dating back to 2500 BCE. Scientists believe it was the dry climate of the region that kept the shells so well preserved.

During excavations of the Moche people's burial graves in Peru, archeologists discovered earthenware pots with carved replicas of peanut shells on the covers, indicating the importance of the peanut as a dietary staple. The pottery dated back from 100 to 800 CE.

The Ancon people, who lived on the Peruvian coast, believed in an afterlife and prepared the dead with items they recognized as necessary for their journey. Other archeological finds in the Inca burial sites were string pouches that contained peanuts along with maize, beans, and peppers, provisions to sustain the departed in the next world.

During the early 1500's South America was invaded by the Spanish and the Portuguese who were inquisitive about many new food plants they had never seen before, among them were peanuts the natives called mandi and mandubi.

Not long after, natives in the Caribbean were cultivating peanuts as an important food. A Spanish explorer's account from 1535 describes a plant called mani found growing in Hispaniola, an island in the West Indies. "They sow and harvest it. It is a very common crop . . . about the size of a pine nut in the shell. They consider it a healthy food."

When the explorers first encountered peanuts, they were hesitant to eat them. Bernabe Cobo, a Catholic priest living in Peru in the early 1600's, declared that eating peanuts caused the body discomforts such as dizziness and headaches. In general, these European conquistadors were rather skeptical about many of the "new foods." At first they thought peanuts were a substitute for almonds. Some even attempted to roast and grind them to create a new kind of coffee, but these did not gain acceptance. Eventually the Indians shared their knowledge of peanut cultivation with the Europeans and even traded peanuts for some Spanish goods.

When peanut plants were brought back to Spain and Portugal, they struggled to survive in a climate that was not warm enough. The few peanuts harvested did not earn an enthusiastic reception. Rather, they were considered bizarre.

Peanuts and the Slave Trade

But, don't weep for the peanuts. They were well received in Africa when they arrived with the Portuguese who introduced the plants during their slave trading missions. India, too, met up with the peanut because of the Portuguese.

Spain's active trade business began in the 1500s with routes that connected the West Coast of Mexico across the Pacific to the Philippines. The galleons that left the port of Acapulco carried silver, peanuts and other precious New World items to Manila where they were traded to buy spices, silk, and porcelain. Via the trade routes, peanuts were soon familiar food items in China, Japan and the East Indies.

By the late 1600s active slave trading brought black slaves to the American south to work the plantations, though it wasn't until the 1700s and 1800s that thousands of them were taken from their homes in West Africa to the Southern plantations. To keep the slaves nourished during the long voyage across the Atlantic, the captors took along peanuts and maize for their sustenance.
Once here in America, the slaves planted their familiar comfort food, the peanut, which they ate along with corn, beans and greens. The slave owners, however, only fed the peanuts to their cows and pigs, rejecting them as food unfit for humans to consume.

Peanuts Feed the Troops

This snobbish attitude was completely reversed during the Civil War of the 1860s, when food shortages were a serious concern. Peanuts soon became appreciated as they nourished the soldiers from both the North and the South. Many days, there was nothing else to eat but peanuts. At other times troops ground and boiled them to create a substitute coffee.

During times when they were camped, the soldiers roasted peanuts over the fire. When they were marching, soldiers often found raw peanuts the day's only meal; they even began to embrace them. It may have been the soldiers who corrupted the peanut's Bantu name nguba when they called them goobers or goober peas. Peanuts were also called pinders, ground peas, and groundnuts.
The painful period during the Civil War struggle inspired one Confederate soldier's poetic talents to create this verse:

Sitting by the roadside, on a summer day,
Chatting with my messmates, passing time away,
Lying in the shadows, underneath the trees,
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!
Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas!
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!

The Union soldiers who came back home introduced their friends and families to the joys of the peanut, and turned many a negative attitude around. Not long after the war, a number of soldiers who couldn't find work began roasting and selling bags of peanuts on the streets along with entrepreneurs who saw a financial opportunity.

Topping the list as a favorite snack food, roasted peanuts began to show up everywhere. In 1870, the famous Phineas T. Barnum of the renowned Barnum and Bailey Circus offered bags of roasted peanuts for sale at circus performances. People loved them. What followed brought the peanut fame and favor. Roasted peanuts appeared at baseball games. The "peanut gallery" was the name given to the cheap balcony seats at the theater where patrons snacked on voluminous quantities of peanuts in the upstairs seating.

Peanuts, a Sticky Business

Peanut butter had its start as the all-American food in 1890 when a doctor in Missouri created it for his elderly patients in an attempt to offer them good nourishment that didn't require chewing and was easy on the digestive system. The doctor's recipe contained only roasted peanuts ground into a spreadable paste. Soon entrepreneurs began adding sugar and salt to enhance their product that quickly became popular. Peanut butter rose to fame when it met up with its ideal partners--jams and jellies, and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was born. Moms loved its convenience and accepted it as healthful food for the kids.

Though we tend to think of peanut butter as an American innovation, it was actually the Indians in South America who ground peanuts into a gooey sticky paste, a practice that dates back about 3,000 years. Their peanut butter was made by hand and never reached the smooth creamy texture of ours. Today we create desserts that combine peanut butter and chocolate, but we weren't the first to create this combination either. The ancient Incas made use of their local resources and flavored their peanut butter with cocoa beans that were ground into a powder and pounded into the peanut mixture.

Today peanut butter is the end product of one half of the peanut crops grown in the United States. Interestingly, peanuts began their existence in the Americas and journeyed across oceans to Asia and Africa only to return to the Americas. The southern states of Georgia, Texas, Alabama, and North Carolina, where peanuts made their American return, still remain the U.S. peanut-growing center. More peanuts are eaten in the United States than walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts combined.

Think about the many ways peanuts have become connected to our culture--they are eaten at baseball games, fed to elephants at the zoo, munched on at the circus, served at beer parlors, and offered as airline snacks. At home we may include them as a typical party snack or pack a few peanut butter cookies in a kids' lunchbox. You can't get more American than fixing the occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich or snacking on chocolate covered peanuts. And if you enjoy cooking, you may have even prepared peanut soup, peanut sauce, peanut brittle, or even a rich peanut butter pie. Today, Americans top the list as the largest consumer of peanut butter.

The Planters Peanut Company began in the early 1900s. It was in 1916 that their mascot, Mr. Peanut, who stands tall with top hat, monicle, and cane, made his debut. Mr. Peanut was the winning entry in a contest the company's owner, Amadeo Obici, offered to school children.

Peanuts were thoroughly enjoying the limelight and appeared in many news headlines in 1977 when Jimmy Carter, a Plains, Georgia peanut farmer, became President of the United States.

If you were to combine all the peanuts grown in the world annually, you would have a grand harvest of more than 26 million tons of peanuts. China, India, and the United States are the world's largest growers. Here's a trivia tidbit you might try out at your next party: How many peanuts does it take to make a one-pound jar of peanut butter? The answer, 720.

The Peanut Wizard

Born into a slave family in 1864, scientist George Washington Carver developed more than three hundred products derived from the peanut while working at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He became known as "the peanut wizard." From the shells, leaves, and nuts of the plant, Carver introduced products such as soaps, shaving cream, and dyes. His peanut innovations also led him to create food items like cheese, coffee, ice cream and mayonnaise. His book, How to Grow Peanuts and 105 Uses for Human Consumption, was published in 1925.

It was Carver who saved many southern farmers from losing their farms. In 1905 the boll weevil destroyed half the cotton crops and left numerous farmers in debt. Carver shared his knowledge and convinced them that peanuts were easy to grow. That was the beginning of the South's peanut growing success.

In 1921, George Washington Carver was given 10 minutes to tell Congress about peanuts. His presentation so fascinated everyone that his 10 minute talk stretched into an hour and a half. His birthplace is now a national monument.

Today's peanut farmer allows nothing to go to waste, from the peanuts themselves to the oil, the shells, the plant itself, the skins, and even the roots. At present peanut oil is used in cosmetics, paints, shampoo, soap, lamp oil, textile fibers, and for lubricating machinery. The farmer appreciates peanuts because they provide an inexpensive source of high-protein livestock fodder as well as green manure to fertilize the next year's crops. The roots, too, are composted to enrich the soil.

Even the peanut shells are useful for household items such as compressed fire logs, cat litter, and wallboards, while the skins are turned into paper. In the early days of railroad transportation, peanut oil was the preferred product the engineers used to lubricate their locomotives.

Peanuts Enter National Cuisines

It was in Africa that the peanut achieved great importance as a desperately needed diet staple. Acceptance came quickly in that continent where little meat was consumed, the land produced few plants that could sustain life, and people were hungry. Peanuts were ideal and became nourishing everyday food, especially in West Africa, where they were first roasted to bring out their flavor, then ground and cooked with yams, okra, tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables.

The Africans, who believed that peanuts had souls, so highly revered them they cast the legumes, shell and all, into bronze and gold.

West Africa's Groundnut Stew became a favorite dish that took on regional differences. In Ghana it was served with fufu, dumplings made of yams, plantains, and cooked manioc, a starchy root used in making bread and tapioca. In Mali and Senegal, chicken is added to the stew called mafi along with sweet potatoes.

During the 1700s, peanuts were often ground into a peanut butter-like paste, spread on bread, and eaten by the people of Nigeria. This innovative peanut delicacy was even enjoyed in Haiti.

The people of Southeast Asia incorporated ground peanuts into their flavorful cuisine that combined rice, meats, and vegetables seasoned with chiles, coconut milk, and lime juice. Spicy peanut sauce is a traditional Indonesian accompaniment to an appetizer called satay and is always served as a salad dressing over gado gado, a combination of cooked vegetables that are served cold.

On the island of Java, peanut fritters in a rice flour batter are a well-known delicacy. On special holidays they serve rice topped with toasted coconut, spices, and ground peanuts.

In the Szechwan region of China where spicy dishes are common, peanuts and chiles enter the stir-fry wok together, while India curries favor with the peanut, either ground or whole, in their curry dishes and sauces.

Peanuts were also revered for their clear, tasteless oil that became part of Asian and African deep-fried and stir-fried dishes. Peanut oil can be heated to high temperatures without burning or smoking, making it a favorite cooking oil even today. Though most Europeans never appreciated the peanut itself, they readily adopted its oil in which they cooked everything from the lowly dishes of England to the haute cuisine of France.

Medicinal Uses

Before 500 BCE peanuts had been brought to Mexico. There the Aztecs cultivated peanuts as a medicine. From the Log of Christopher Columbus translated by Robert H. Fuson, Friar Bernardino de Sahagun describes the Aztec marketplace medicine seller who was considered a "knower of herbs, a knower of roots, a physician." The Aztecs used ground peanuts mixed with water to cure fever.

Historians have noted that the Aztecs were applying peanut paste to soothe aching gums about 1500 CE.

The peanut is technically considered a pea and belongs to the bean family. Scientifically, the pods are legumes called Arachis hypogaea.

There are two basic kinds of peanut plants, runner peanuts and bush peanuts. The runner plant spreads out like a vine with peanuts developing from the main horizontal branches. The bush peanuts look similar to pea plants and grow about 18" to 30" high with the peanut nodules developing closer to the roots. Both varieties require about five months before peanuts are ready to harvest.

Vitamins A, B, C and E
Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium
Amino Acids
Protein: 20-25%



Peanuts, all types, raw

Scientific Name: Arachis hypogaea

Nutrient Units Value per
100 grams of
edible portion
Water g 6.50 31 0.093
Energy kcal 567 0
Energy kj 2372 0
Protein g 25.80 78 0.242
Total lipid (fat) g 49.24 98 0.297
Ash g 2.33 26 0.064
Carbohydrate, by difference g 16.14 0
Fiber, total dietary g 8.5 0
Calcium, Ca mg 92 45
Iron, Fe mg 4.58 49
Magnesium, Mg mg 168 45
Phosphorus, P mg 376 45
Potassium, K mg 705 47
Sodium, Na mg 18 35
Zinc, Zn mg 3.27 45
Copper, Cu mg 1.144 45
Manganese, Mn mg 1.934 44 0.057
Selenium, Se mcg 7.2 0
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid mg 0.0 0
Thiamin mg 0.640 24 0.034
Riboflavin mg 0.135 20 0.005
Niacin mg 12.066 24 0.305
Pantothenic acid mg 1.767 8 0.100
Vitamin B-6 mg 0.348 8 0.020
Folate, total mcg 240 8 15.874
Folic acid mcg 0 0
Folate, food mcg 240 8 15.874
Folate, DFE mcg_DFE 240 0
Vitamin B-12 mcg 0.00 0
Vitamin A, IU IU 0 0
Retinol mcg 0 0
Vitamin A, RAE mcg_RAE 0 0
Vitamin E mg_ATE 9.130 0
Tocopherol, alpha mg 8.33 0
Fatty acids, total saturated g 6.834 0
4:0 g 0.000 0
6:0 g 0.000 0
8:0 g 0.000 0
10:0 g 0.000 0
12:0 g 0.000 0
14:0 g 0.025 0
16:0 g 5.154 0
18:0 g 1.100 0
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated g 24.429 0
16:1 undifferentiated g 0.009 0
18:1 undifferentiated g 23.756 0
20:1 g 0.661 0
22:1 undifferentiated g 0.000 0
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated g 15.559 0
18:2 undifferentiated g 15.555 0
18:3 undifferentiated g 0.003 0
18:4 g 0.000 0
20:4 undifferentiated g 0.000 0
20:5 n-3 g 0.000 0
22:5 n-3 g 0.000 0
22:6 n-3 g 0.000 0
Cholesterol mg 0 0
Phytosterols mg 220 0
Amino acids
Tryptophan g 0.250 128
Threonine g 0.883 144
Isoleucine g 0.907 140
Leucine g 1.672 140
Lysine g 0.926 147
Methionine g 0.317 22
Cystine g 0.331 29
Phenylalanine g 1.337 141
Tyrosine g 1.049 137
Valine g 1.082 141
Arginine g 3.085 140
Histidine g 0.652 140
Alanine g 1.025 135
Aspartic acid g 3.146 135
Glutamic acid g 5.390 133
Glycine g 1.554 134
Proline g 1.138 130
Serine g 1.271 134

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15 (August 2002)