How The Peanut Plant Grows
The peanut is unusual because it flowers above the ground, but fruits below the ground. Typical misconceptions of how peanuts grow place them on trees (like walnuts or pecans) or growing as a part of a root, like potatoes.
Peanut seeds (kernels) grow into a green oval-leafed plant about 18 inches tall which develop delicate flowers around the lower portion of the plant. The flowers pollinate themselves and then lose their petals as the fertilized ovary begins to enlarge. The budding ovary or "peg" grows down away from the plant, forming a small stem, which extends to the soil. The Peanut embryo is in the tip of the peg, which penetrates the soil. The embryo turns horizontal to the soil surface and begins to mature taking the form of peanut.
The plant continues to grow and flower, eventually producing some 40 or more mature pods. From planting to harvesting, the growing cycle takes about four to five months, depending on the type or variety. The peanut is a nitrogen-fixing plant; its roots form modules which absorb nitrogen from the air and provides enrichment and nutrition to the plant and soils.
Types of Peanuts Grown in U.S.
Although peanuts come in many varieties, there are four basic market types: Runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia. Each of the peanut types is distinctive in size, flavor, and nutritional composition. Within each four basic types of peanuts, there are several "varieties" for seed and production purposes. Each variety contains distinct characteristics which allows a producer to select the peanut that is best suited for its region and market.
Runners have become the dominant type due to the introduction in the early 1970's of a new runner variety, the Florunner, which was responsible for a spectacular increase in peanut yields. Runners have rapidly gained wide acceptance because of the attractive, uniform kernel size. Fifty-four percent of the runners grown are used for peanut butter. Runners are grown mainly in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma.
Virginias have the largest kernels and account for most of the peanuts roasted and processed in-the-shell. When shelled, the larger kernels are sold as snack peanuts. Virginias are grown mainly in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
Spanish-type peanuts have smaller kernels covered with a reddish-brown skin. They are used predominantly in peanut candies, with significant quantities used for snack nuts and panut butter. They have a higher oil content than the other types of peanuts which is advantageous when crushing for oil. They are primarily grown in Oklahoma and Texas.
Valencias usually have three or more small kernels to a pod and are covered in a bright-red skin. They are very sweet peanuts and are usually roasted and sold in-the-shell. They are also excellent for fresh use as boiled peanuts. New Mexico is the primary producer of Valencia peanuts.
Where Peanuts Grow
Peanuts are grown in the warm climates of Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. India and China together account for more than half of the world's production. The United States has about 3% of the world acreage of peanuts, but grows nearly 10% of the world's crop because of higher yields per acre. Other major peanut growing countries include Senegal, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria.
In the U.S. these are the major peanut producing states: VIRGINIA, NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA FLORIDA, ALABAMA, TEXAS, OKLAHOMA, NEW MEXICO.
In the United States, nine states grow 99% of the U. S. peanut crop: Georgia (which grows about 39% of all U. S. peanuts), followed by Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Virginia, South Carolina and New Mexico. These states are grouped into three regions. The Georgia-Florida-Alabama region (Southeast) grows mostly the medium-kernel Runner peanuts. The Southwest region (Texas-Oklahoma-New Mexico) grows Spanish and Runner. The Virginia-Carolinas area grows mostly the large-kernel Virginia type peanut. About 55% of all U. S. peanuts are grown in the Southeast, with the Virginia/Carolina area accounting for 14% and the Southwest, about 30%.
How Peanuts Are Planted And Harvested
Peanuts are planted and harvested with specialized machinery. Peanut seeds are planted about two inches deep, one every three or four inches, in rows about three feet apart. The seeds do best in sandy soil, especially soil rich in calcium. When the soil temperature is warm (65-70 F.) given enough water the seeds will sprout. In about two weeks, the first "square" of four leaflets will unfold above the peanut field. Thirty to forty days after emergence the plants bloom, "pegs" form and enter the soil. The peanut shells and kernels develop and mature during the next 60 to 70 day period. Depending on the variety, 120 to 160 frost free days are required for a good crop.
When the plant has matured and the peanuts are ready to be harvested, the farmer waits until the soil is neither too wet or too dry before digging.
When conditions are right, the farmer drives his digger up and down the green rows of peanuts plants. The digger has long blades that run four to six inches under the ground. It loosens the plant and cuts the tap root. Just behind the blade, a shaker lifts the plant from the soil, gently shakes the dirt from the peanuts, rotates the plant, and lays the plant back down in a "windrow," peanuts up and leaves down. When dug, peanuts contain 25 to50% moisture, which must be dried to 10% or less for storage. Peanuts are generally left in the windrows to dry for 2 or more days in the field, then threshed or combined.
The farmer drives his combine over the windrows. The combine lifts the plants, separates the peanuts from the vine, blows them into a hopper on the top of the machine, and lays the vine back down in the field. The peanuts are then dumped into wagons and cured to 10% moisture with warm air forced up through the floors of the wagons. The peanuts are then taken to be sold at nearby peanut buying stations.
Peanut Butter/Peanut Spread
About one-half of all edible peanuts poduced in the United States are used to make peanut butter and peanut spreads. By law and industry standard, any product labeled "peanut butter" in the U. S. must be at least 90% peanuts. The remaining 10% may be salt, sweetener and an emulsifier (hardened vegetable oil which prevents the peanut oil from separating and rising to the top).
Other similar products which don't subscribe to the 90%/10% rule are labeled peanut spread. Many are reduced fat products with added vitamins and minerals. These standards are subscribed to by the industry to assure consumers of uniformly nutritious products.
The ancient South American Indians were the first to make and eat peanut butter, and one of the peanut foods invented by Dr. George Washington Carver was similar to peanut butter. Historical reference has it, however, that peanut butter was invented by a physician in St. Louis about 1890 as a health food for the elderly. No one remembers the physician's name, although records show that in 1903 Ambrose W. Straub of St. Louis patented a machine to make peanut butter. Also during that period (1895), Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of breakfast cereal fame) patented the process of making peanut butter for the patients at his Battle Creek Sanitarium, a health food retreat in Michigan.
Basically, all peanut butter is made by a similar process. First the raw, shelled peanuts are roasted and cooled, then the skins are removed (blanched.) Some manufacturers split the kernels and remove the heart of the peanut as well. The hearts can be saved to make peanut oil and the skins left over from blanching can be sold for animal feed. The blanched peanut kernels are electronically sorted or hand picked one last time to be sure only good, wholesome kernels are used in peanut butter.
Commercial peanut butter is made very similar to our old fashioned home cooked recipe. The peanuts are ground, usually through two grinding stages, to produce a smooth, even-textured butter. The peanuts are heated during the grinding to about 170 degrees F . Once the emulsifiers are added and mixed, the butter is cooled rapidly to 120 degrees F or below. This crystallizes the emulsifiers, thus trapping the peanut oil that was released by the grinding. To make chunky peanut butter, peanut granules are added to the creamy peanut butter. The peanut butter is then packed into containers for sale at stores.
Roasted Peanuts/Snack Peanuts
Old fashioned home cooked roasted peanuts are still prepared by same recipes used for over 100 years. To be roasted in the shell, peanuts are cooked at medium heat for about 15 minutes. They may be plain roasted or seasoned. The most popular are salted in-the-shell, however the new cajun flavor is getting accolades from consumers as well. To season peanuts in the shell - prior to roasting,- the peanuts are washed and then the seasonings, which are dissolved in water, are forced through the shells by a pressure process. When dried during the roasting process, the seasonings remain inside the shells.
Most often, snack peanuts are shelled, blanched, roasted and salted, (although Spanish peanuts are usually roasted with their skins on.) Peanuts may be roasted in oil or by a dry-roasting process. Peanuts are oil-roasted in continuous cookers that take a steady stream of peanuts through hot oil for about five minutes. After draining, the kernels may be salted.
Dry-roasted peanuts are cooked in a large oven by dry, hot forced air after which spicy seasonings are applied. The roasted peanuts are then packed in containers ranging in size from bags holding a handful, to large cans and jars. Frequently, peanuts are mixed with other nuts and dried fruits for "health-food" snacks.
Peanuts are used in candy-making in a seemingly infinite number of ways. A lrge variety of candy bars combine peanuts (whole, chopped or as butter) with such treats as chocolate, nougat, marshmallow, caramel, other nuts and dried fruits. Peanut brittle and chocolate-covered peanuts are always popular. The high protein content of peanuts make them ideal for high energy snacks. Six of the top ten candy bars sold in the U.S. contain peanuts and/or peanut butter. While many new exciting recipes have evolved, many of the commercial peanut candy recipes used today are the same old fashioned home cooked recipes of our country cooking forebears.
Non-Food Uses for Peanuts-Interesting Peanut Facts
The shells, skins and kernels of peanuts may be used to make a vast variety of non-food products. For example, the shells may be used in wallboard, fireplace logs, fiber roughage for livestock feed and kitty litter; and, the skins may be used for paper making. Peanuts are often used as an ingredient in other products such as detergent, salves, metal polish, bleach, ink, axle grease, shaving cream, face creams, soap, linoleum, rubber, cosmetics, paint, explosives, shampoo, and medicine.
When Africans were brought to North America as slaves, peanuts came with them. Slaves planted peanuts throughout the southern United States Records show that peanuts were grown commercially in South Carolina around 1800 and used for oil, food and a substitute for cocoa. However, until 1900 peanuts were not extensively grown,
The first notable increase in U.S. peanut consumption came in 1860 with the outbreak of the Civil War. Northern soldiers, as well as Southern, used the peanut as a food. During the last half of the 19th century, peanuts were eaten as a snack, sold freshly roasted by street vendors and at baseball games and circuses. While peanut production rose during this time, peanuts were harvested by hand which left stems and trash in the peanuts. Thus, poor quality and lack of uniformity kept down the demand for peanuts.
George Washington Carver began his research into peanuts in 1903 at Tuskeegee Institute. Research that would lead him to discover improvements in horticulture and the development of more than 300 uses for peanuts
Today, peanuts contribute over four billion dollars to the U.S. economy each year.