Peanut aka Groundnut
Peanut is a plant species grown mainly for its fruit. The peanut is a legume--that is, it bears fruit in the form of pods (shells) that contain one or more seeds. The peanut is more closely related to peas than to nuts. There are two seeds in most peanut pods. These tasty seeds are also called peanuts. They are a favorite food, whether eaten alone or mixed into candy, cookies, or pies. Peanut butter is also a popular food. Worldwide, peanuts are grown chiefly for oil.
The peanut plant is unusual because its pods develop underground. For this reason, peanuts are often called groundnuts. Other names for peanuts include arachides, goobers, mani, and pinders.
Peanuts are an important crop, especially in the warm regions of the world. Farmers in Africa and Asia grow about 90 percent of the world's peanuts. The leading peanut-growing countries are China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United States. Georgia produces more peanuts than any other U.S. state--about 40 percent of the country's annual peanut crop.
Peanuts are a nutritious food. There are more energy-giving calories in roasted peanuts or peanut butter than in an equal weight of beefsteak.
Uses of peanuts
As food. Manufacturers roast peanuts inside the pods and sell them as whole roasted-in-shell peanuts. In addition, they remove the shells and roast and sell only the seeds. Manufacturers usually salt peanuts to improve their flavor.
Manufacturers make peanut butter by roasting and blanching (removing the skins or seed coats from) the peanuts, and then grinding them into a thick paste. Peanut butter is eaten alone and in sandwiches. About half of the peanuts consumed in the United States are eaten as peanut butter. About a fourth are sold as roasted peanuts.
Roasted peanuts are eaten alone or mixed into candies, cookies, pies, and other bakery products. Some ice cream is flavored with peanut butter. Peanut bread is made from ground peanuts. Peanut bread is rich in proteins and low in starch. Peanuts are sometimes sold fresh as boiled peanuts. Instead of drying the peanuts after picking, farmers wash the peanuts and boil them in salt water.
Peanut seeds consist of almost 50 percent oil. Peanut oil is used to fry foods. It smokes only at high temperatures and does not absorb odors easily. Many salad oils and dressings, margarine, and other vegetable shortenings also contain peanut oil.
In industry. Low grades of peanut oil are used as an ingredient in soaps, face powders, shaving creams, shampoos, and paints. They are also used in making nitroglycerin, an explosive. Peanut oil has also been tested as an alternative fuel source.
The solid that remains after the oil is removed from peanuts is a high-protein livestock feed. Peanut protein can also be used to make a textile fiber that is called Ardil.
Even the shells of peanuts have uses. Manufacturers grind the peanut shells into powder. This powder is an ingredient in plastics, cork substitutes, wallboard, and abrasives.
On farms. Peanut foliage makes good hay. But most farmers return the harvested plants to the ground to fertilize the soil.
Peanuts are native to South America. South American Indians were growing peanuts at least 1,000 years ago. Early North American settlers grew peanuts, but no one knows whether peanuts were cultivated in North America before the settlers arrived. Early colonists fed peanuts to hogs. Peanut growing increased rapidly during and after the Civil War. But peanuts did not become an important commercial crop until about 1917.
George Washington Carver made an extensive study of peanuts. Carver is credited with having found more than 300 uses for the plant and its fruit. See CARVER, GEORGE WASHINGTON..
Since the 1930's, peanut yields in the United States have increased dramatically. In Georgia, for example, the average yield per unit of peanut farmland is about five times greater today than it was in the 1930's.
Scientific classification. Peanuts belong to the pea family, Leguminosae. Cultivated peanuts are Arachis hypogaea.
Contributor: William D. Branch, Ph.D., Prof. of Agronomy, Univ. of Georgia.