While some people are allergic to them, there are enough peanut lovers to make this “nut” (it’s actually a legume) the overwhelming nut of choice in America.
Although peanut butter makes up a large percentage, 67% of American nut consumption comprises peanuts. Almonds are second at 13%, with the remainder filled out by pecans (4%), pistachios and almonds (each 2%) and other tree nuts (12%).
Yet, the grand winner in the nut category is not an actual nut, but a legume—a botanical group that includes alfalfa, beans, carob, clover, lentils, mesquite, peas, soybeans and climbing vines like wisteria.
Peanuts actually grow underground,* as opposed to true nuts, which grow on trees (and in recent times have engendered the differentiating term, “tree nuts”). Tree nuts are packed with protein and other excellent nutrition; legumes, as a group, provide the best source of concentrated protein in the plant kingdom.
Today’s tip covers ways to use this nutritious nut/legume in cooking.
*As the budding pod begins to enlarge, it grows down away from the plant, into to the soil.
The most common way to eat whole peanuts is as a snack. But add them to your recipes as well. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.
TYPES OF PEANUTS
There are four categories of peanuts; if you taste them side-by-side, you’ll notice subtle flavor differences.
Runner Peanuts: The smallest and most inexpensive variety, these are the “airline peanuts” and the ones most often used to fill the nut bowl on bars. Runners account for 80% of total U.S. production.
Valencia Peanuts: Valencias usually have three or more small kernels to a pod. They are very sweet peanuts and are usually roasted and sold in the shell. Valencias are the best variety for fresh (un-roasted) use as boiled peanuts. Because of the greater demand for other varieties, Valencias account for less than 1% of U.S. production.
Spanish Peanuts: Spanish-type peanuts have smaller kernels covered with a reddish-brown skin. They are used predominantly in peanut candy, with significant quantities also used for salted nuts and peanut butter. They have higher oil content than the other types of peanuts, so are also crushed for peanut oil. They account for 4% of U.S. production.
Virginia Peanuts: Virginias have the largest kernels and account for most of the peanuts eaten from the shell. When shelled, the larger kernels are sold as salted peanuts. Virginia-type peanuts account for about 15% of total U.S. production.Grown in the southeastern U.S., Virginia peanuts are the largest in size…and wine experts say they are terrific with Pinot Noir.
Peanuts are grown mainly in southeastern U.S., Texas and Oklahoma; New Mexico grows the small crop of Valencia peanuts.
Thai beef salad. Photo by Nathalie Dulex |
WAYS TO USE PEANUTS
There’s a world of peanut-liciousness beyond peanut butter, which is terrific in baked goods, sauces, and delicious peanut soup (try these peanut soup recipes). Many Asian cuisines add nuts to cooked dishes, from curries to stir frys.
Appetizers & Snacks, deviled peanuts
Candy: candied peanuts and peanut brittle
Garnish: chopped and sprinkled on just about anything (we like to add them to rice, along with some fresh herbs)
Meatloaf and meatballs
We love the Thai Beef Salad recipe below. It’s just one example of how to add peanuts to dishes; serve it as a first course or main course. The recipe makes six first-course servings. Is from The Peanut Institute, which has many more peanut recipes.
THAI BEEF SALAD WITH SPICY PEANUT DRESSING
Ingredients For Dressing
1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1/3 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts
1-1/2 pounds cooked, rare roast beef sirloin, cut into 1 1/2 x 1/4-inch strips (about 4 cups)
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 pound snow peas, stemmed, blanched 30 seconds
1/2 pound bean sprouts
1-3/4 cups julienned red bell peppers (about 2 medium)
2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts, plus more for garnish
Ingredients For The Salad
1. WHISK together all the dressing ingredients except peanuts. Stir in peanuts just before mixing with salad.
2. COMBINE the beef, cucumbers, snow peas, bean sprouts, peppers, cabbage and onions with dressing.
3. ARRANGE salad on lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with peanut garnish. Serve.
A BRIEF PEANUT HISTORY
Today, peanuts are grown in tropical and subtropical regions around the globe, but they most likely originated in South America. When the Conquistadors returned to Europe from Mexico in the early 1500s, peanuts went with them.
Traders brought peanuts to Asia and Africa, and the versatile legume made its way to North America on sailing ships in the 1700s. Yet, peanuts were not grown extensively in America; harvesting techniques were slow and difficult. Until the Civil War, the peanut was a regional food in the southern U.S. (It’s the “goober” in the famous Civil War song, “Eating Goober Peas”; and why Nestlé calls its chocolate-covered peanuts Goobers.)
After the Civil War, the demand for peanuts increased rapidly. According to PeanutsUSA.com, by the end of the 19th century, the development of equipment for production, harvesting and shelling peanuts, as well as processing techniques, led to the expansion of the peanut industry. Twentieth century labor-saving equipment resulted in a rapid demand for peanut oil, roasted and salted peanuts, peanut butter and confections.