The peanut is a unique member of the nut family. To start with, peanuts aren't tree fruits, seeds, or kernels. Peanuts are legumes that trace their roots to the pea family (thus the descriptive name) and grow underground on a vine instead of on a tree.
Peanuts grow best in warm climates with mild winters, which makes the American South an ideal location. According to the American Peanut Council, seven Southern states (ranked in order of production, greatest to least: Georgia, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Oklahoma) account for 99 percent of all American-grown peanuts. The United States is the third-largest producer of peanuts in the world, right behind China and India.
Peanuts are usually planted in the late spring, and after most of the pods have matured, a mechanical "digger" loosens the soil around the pods, and a "shaker" sifts away the soil. The pods are allowed to dry in the sun for a few days and then a peanut combine separates the vines from the pods. The pods are cured to remove moisture in order to increase storage time, and then the cured pods are inspected, cleaned, and sorted according to size. About half of the peanuts produced in the United States get used for peanut butter. The others are used for snack foods or as candy ingredients.
No matter how you enjoy your peanuts or any other nut, you can do so without guilt, as long as you eat them in moderation.
To learn more about nuts, see:
- Nut basics
- History of Nuts
- Health Benefits of Nuts
Michele Price Mann