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Archeologists Study |The Origin of Peanuts in South America
According to most authorities, peanuts originally came from South America. They are said to have started in the lower lying hills of Bolivia and then later in Peru and Brazil. To back this up, archeologists will tell you that there is evidence of peanuts in South America as early as 3000 B.C. They found fossilized peanut shells in excavations, Inca necklaces with gold Peanuts, and pre–Incan pottery shaped like a peanut. Anya von Bremzen, a three time, award winning food writer says the Incan diet had a “miracle combination of carbohydrates from corn and protein from peanuts and other beans.” It was an agricultural economy at the time, based on the ability to store things – dry them out, put them aside, then reconstitute them as needed-and peanuts fit right in.
The graves of ancient Incas found along the dry western coast of South America, often contained jars filled with peanuts. They were left with those who had passed away to provide food in the afterlife. Tribes in central Brazil also ground peanuts with maize to make an intoxicating beverage for celebrations.
The Portuguese had a habit of carrying food around the world. They took the cashews to India. They took cassava (tapioca) to Africa. So why wouldn’t it make sense that they also took peanuts to places on their trading itinerary? India’s enormous peanut production can be traced directly back to Portuguese traders and explorers in Goa. Peanuts were almost certainly introduced through the Portuguese colony of Macao on the China coast. By the sixteenth century, the peanut was everywhere, including Africa. Where peanuts come from was dependent trader appetites, trade routes and taste trends.
Trade and The Spread Of The Peanut
The peanut became very important there, and there is good evidence that when African slaves were brought to Virginia and the Carolinas in the eighteenth century, they carried with them their own food traditions, which, by that time, included mastery of the South American peanut. They brought their own name for them as well the Bantu word, Nguba. From this came the common southern word, “goober,” as in “goober peas.”
Still Spanish colonists in South America did their best. They devised ways to thicken a sauce with ground peanuts, and they invented sweet nut confections. Later they took New World foods to Spain, where they were not embraced with much passion. For a while, peanuts were roasted, ground, and used as coffee by the Spanish. Later, after the Civil War, Americans would do the same thing. Some in Spain thought peanuts could cause afflictions-quite the reverse of what we now know to be the truth. A Frenchman named Condamine, who had lived in Ecuador in the’ eighteenth century, praised the peanut when he got home, but to no avail; the peanut had a slow start in Europe. It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteen.th century that French cooks, taking advantage of its abundance, cheapness, and ability to withstand high neat, started frying things in peanut oil.
Von Bremzen says that as the colonial society developed in the Americas, the wealthy moved in the direction of almonds and walnuts for their cooking, leaving the cheap peanut for the poor. For decades in this country the peanut has carried the stigma of its budget price.
George Washington Carver | A Peanut Legend
George Washington Carver, in his legendary work on peanuts, changed agriculture in the southern United States. At Tuskegee Institute in Alabama he pioneered at least three hundred uses for the peanut and peanut byproducts. Peanuts became a major crop, and made the agricultural diversification of the South inevitable.
Still, it was only in recent times that it has been used in upscale foods. That may be because chefs and food writers finally found that many Asian cuisines used peanuts in a forward and creative way. For example, after Arab traders brought the peanut to Indonesia, cooks there created the now classic satay (sate). It is dazzling to see and taste the scores of ways peanuts are used across the continent.
Peanut Production and Consumption
The peanut is a legume, much closer to the pea and the bean than to the pecan or the pistachio. Consumers eat more peanuts than all of the tree nuts of the world combined. The United States alone consumes more than one and a half billion pounds of peanuts a year. Half of that amount is in the form of peanut butter.
Peanuts are a major world crop with production approaching twenty-nine million metric tons. It ranks in the top twenty-five foods of the world. India and China each grow about nine million tons and the United States holds the number three spot.
In the United States, peanuts are the twelfth largest farm product, worth more than $2 billion a year. The average American eats six pounds of peanuts a year. Peanuts need heat and sandy soil so that the deep roots can grow easily, and plenty of water at the appropriate times. They are planted when there is no longer a risk of frost. In the United States, where peanuts come from starts with Georgia, the single largest producing state. Four main varieties are grown and sold in America: Runner, Virginia, Spanish, and Valencia. These peanut varieties are usually served as raw peanuts roasted in oil and unsalted, or roasted in oil and salted.
As a legume, peanuts send nitrogen into the soil, and the peanut crop is an important player in crop-rotation practices. They grow fast, and flower early and also self pollinate. After fertilization, a spike grows from the flower and goes straight down into the soil where the nut forms.
The United States Peanut Harvest
In the United States, the peanut harvest is mechanized. The nuts are undercut, pulled up, shaken, dried, and then either stored in their shells (for up to six months) or shelled and put in refrigerated storage. A tiny part of the peanut production is brought right out of the field, boiled, and sold at once. The rest is processed as needed, either with the shell or without. Because of the high fat content, rancidity is a potential problem. The popular peanuts served at ballgames in America are soaked in brine and then roasted in their shells.
Peanuts are shelled, sorted, sized, and packaged by a machine. Each nut is inspected by light-sensitive screeners and a blemish gets the culprit banished. If they are to be blanched, they get a roasting or a boiling, and the dark skins are brushed off. After this process, they are packaged for consumers at the snack market, bakers, candy makers, peanut butter factories, or oil mills.
We’ve mention that the United States peanut butter industry is a major consumer. Yet worldwide, well over half of the peanuts grown are pressed for cooking oils and for industrial processes. The remains of compressed nuts can be used as livestock food or fertilizer and the shells themselves can be used industrially as well.
Nutrition of The Peanut
The peanut is truly a near-perfect food. The human body could probably get by on peanuts alone. They contain daily nutrition needs such as protein, fat (most of that unsaturated), plenty of carbohydrates, and several essential vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, peanuts are probably the number one allergen. In the United States, there are about three million people who are allergic to peanuts. Food processors that use peanuts need to label their products carefully to avoid problems. Although rarely seen in the United States, Afiatoxins, which can cause severe health problems, can contaminate peanuts through certain molds. Safe processing is an important part of minimizing the risk.
We now know beyond dispute that peanuts are good for you. They can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. They hold an important spot on the latest food pyramid as a food we can thankfully eat often and even regularly.