The Peanut, also known as the groundnut, is a legume crop grown mainly for its edible seeds. It is widely grown in the tropics and subtropics, being important to both small and large commercial producers. Despite not being a true nut, the Peanut is referred to as a nut for culinary purposes.
The oldest known archaeological remains of Peanut Pods have been dated at about 7,600 years old. They were found in Peru, where dry climatic conditions are favourable to the preservation of organic material. The Peanut was later spread worldwide by European traders and cultivation is now very widespread in tropical and subtropical regions. In Asia, it became an agricultural mainstay and this region is now the largest producer in the world.
Peanut Pods develop underground, are 3-7cm long and normally containing one to four seeds. They grow best in light, sandy loam soil. Peanut Plants continue to produce flowers when the pods are developing, therefore even when they are ready for harvest, some pods are immature. The timing of harvest is an important decision to maximize yield. If it is too early, too many pods will be unripe. If too late, the pods will snap off at the stalk and will remain in the soil. The entire plant, including most of the roots, is removed from the soil. A machine is used to cut off the main root of the peanut plant by cutting through the soil just below the level of the Peanut Pods. The machine lifts the ‘bush’ from the ground and shakes it, then inverts the bush, leaving the plant upside down on the ground to keep the peanuts out of the soil. This allows the Peanuts to dry slowly to a little less than a third of their original moisture level over a period of three to four days. After the Peanuts have dried sufficiently, they are threshed, removing the Peanut Pods from the rest of the bush.
Peanuts are dried properly and stored in dry conditions. If they are too high in moisture, or if storage conditions are poor, they may become infected by mould.
Peanuts are used in candies, cakes, cookies and other sweets throughout the world and are eaten as snacks plain, roasted and together with dried fruit.
Peanuts are particularly common in Peruvian and Mexican cuisine and many sweets and snacks are made using Peanuts as a base. Crunchy coated Peanuts, called kabukim in Hebrew, are a popular snack in Israel.
In the Indian subcontinent, Peanuts are eaten as a light snack, usually roasted and salted (sometimes with the addition of chilli powder) and are often sold roasted in pods, or boiled with salt. They are also made into desserts or sweet snack pieces by processing with refined sugar. Roasted, crushed Peanuts give a crunchy body to salads and are added whole to vegetable stews.
This is often used in cooking, because it has a mild flavour and a relatively high smoke point. It is considered healthier than saturated oils and is resistant to rancidity.
This flour has a high protein content making it suitable as a flavour enhancer and can be used as a gluten-free solution.
Some people experience mild to severe allergic reactions to Peanuts. Symptoms can range from watery eyes to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if untreated. For these individuals, eating just a small amount of Peanuts can cause a reaction. Because of their widespread use in prepared and packaged foods, the avoidance of Peanuts is difficult. Some foods processed in facilities which also handle Peanuts may carry such warnings on their labels.
Refined Peanut Oil will not cause allergic reactions in most people with peanut allergies.