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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch



PEANUTS--WHADA'YA MEAN IT''S A BEAN?


Peanuts at a Glance
History Uses Nutrition Medical Benefits
Growing Storing Preparation Recipe

Maybe you've always thought of the peanut as part of the nut family. You're certainly not alone in thinking so, but the plain truth is, peanuts are not nuts! To confuse us further, the supermarkets shelve them alongside the nuts, so why would anyone think they weren't nuts. Further proof that they must be nuts is their dominant presence in cans of mixed nuts and in trail mixes with dried fruits and nuts.

Would you be surprised to learn the peanut is actually a bean, and an odd one at that? While most of the beans in the legume family grow in pods on sprawling, and climbing vines, the peanut plant is a singular bush that matures its pods underground.

Origins
The common peanut has become so universally enjoyed throughout the world that most people never connect it with South America, its place of origin. The ancient Incas of Peru first cultivated wild peanuts and offered them to the sun god as part of their religious ceremonials. Their name for the peanut was ynchic

Peanut cultivation was also active in Ecuador as well as Bolivia and Brazil. The Brazilian peanut farmers were Indian tribal women who wouldn't allow the men to tend the plants, believing the plants would only produce peanuts under their own care.

As evidence of the early existence of this legume, preserved peanut shells were found at many archeological excavations in Peru dating back to 2500 BCE. Scientists believe it was the dry climate of the region that kept the shells so well preserved.

During excavations of the Moche people's burial graves in Peru, archeologists discovered earthenware pots with carved replicas of peanut shells on the covers, indicating the importance of the peanut as a dietary staple. The pottery dated back from 100 to 800 CE.

The Ancon people, who lived on the Peruvian coast, believed in an afterlife and prepared the dead with items they recognized as necessary for their journey. Other archeological finds in the Inca burial sites were string pouches that contained peanuts along with maize, beans, and peppers, provisions to sustain the departed in the next world.

Peanut Plant During the early 1500's South America was invaded by the Spanish and the Portuguese who were inquisitive about many new food plants they had never seen before, among them were peanuts the natives called mandi and mandubi.

Not long after, natives in the Caribbean were cultivating peanuts as an important food. A Spanish explorer's account from 1535 describes a plant called mani found growing in Hispaniola, an island in the West Indies. "They sow and harvest it. It is a very common crop . . . about the size of a pine nut in the shell. They consider it a healthy food."

When the explorers first encountered peanuts, they were hesitant to eat them. Bernabe Cobo, a Catholic priest living in Peru in the early 1600's, declared that eating peanuts caused the body discomforts such as dizziness and headaches. In general, these European conquistadors were rather skeptical about many of the "new foods." At first they thought peanuts were a substitute for almonds. Some even attempted to roast and grind them to create a new kind of coffee, but these did not gain acceptance. Eventually the Indians shared their knowledge of peanut cultivation with the Europeans and even traded peanuts for some Spanish goods.

When peanut plants were brought back to Spain and Portugal, they struggled to survive in a climate that was not warm enough. The few peanuts harvested did not earn an enthusiastic reception. Rather, they were considered bizarre.

Peanuts and the Slave Trade
But, don't weep for the peanuts. They were well received in Africa when they arrived with the Portuguese who introduced the plants during their slave trading missions. India, too, met up with the peanut because of the Portuguese.

Spain's active trade business began in the 1500s with routes that connected the West Coast of Mexico across the Pacific to the Philippines. The galleons that left the port of Acapulco carried silver, peanuts and other precious New World items to Manila where they were traded to buy spices, silk, and porcelain. Via the trade routes, peanuts were soon familiar food items in China, Japan and the East Indies.

By the late 1600s active slave trading brought black slaves to the American south to work the plantations, though it wasn't until the 1700s and 1800s that thousands of them were taken from their homes in West Africa to the Southern plantations. To keep the slaves nourished during the long voyage across the Atlantic, the captors took along peanuts and maize for their sustenance.

Once here in America, the slaves planted their familiar comfort food, the peanut, which they ate along with corn, beans and greens. The slave owners, however, only fed the peanuts to their cows and pigs, rejecting them as food unfit for humans to consume. Peanut Plant

Peanuts Feed the Troops
This snobbish attitude was completely reversed during the Civil War of the 1860s, when food shortages were a serious concern. Peanuts soon became appreciated as they nourished the soldiers from both the North and the South. Many days, there was nothing else to eat but peanuts. At other times troops ground and boiled them to create a substitute coffee.

During times when they were camped, the soldiers roasted peanuts over the fire. When they were marching, soldiers often found raw peanuts the day's only meal; they even began to embrace them. It may have been the soldiers who corrupted the peanut's Bantu name nguba when they called them goobers or goober peas. Peanuts were also called pinders, ground peas, and groundnuts.

The painful period during the Civil War struggle inspired one Confederate soldier's poetic talents to create this verse:

The Union soldiers who came back home introduced their friends and families to the joys of the peanut, and turned many a negative attitude around. Not long after the war, a number of soldiers who couldn't find work began roasting and selling bags of peanuts on the streets along with entrepreneurs who saw a financial opportunity.

Topping the list as a favorite snack food, roasted peanuts began to show up everywhere. In 1870, the famous Phineas T. Barnum of the renowned Barnum and Bailey Circus offered bags of roasted peanuts for sale at circus performances. People loved them. What followed brought the peanut fame and favor. Roasted peanuts appeared at baseball games. The "peanut gallery" was the name given to the cheap balcony seats at the theater where patrons snacked on voluminous quantities of peanuts in the upstairs seating.

Peanuts, a Sticky Business
Peanut butter had its start as the all-American food in 1890 when a doctor in Missouri created it for his elderly patients in an attempt to offer them good nourishment that didn't require chewing and was easy on the digestive system. The doctor's recipe contained only roasted peanuts ground into a spreadable paste. Soon entrepreneurs began adding sugar and salt to enhance their product that quickly became popular. Peanut butter rose to fame when it met up with its ideal partners--jams and jellies, and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was born. Moms loved its convenience and accepted it as healthful food for the kids.

Though we tend to think of peanut butter as an American innovation, it was actually the Indians in South America who ground peanuts into a gooey sticky paste, a practice that dates back about 3,000 years. Their peanut butter was made by hand and never reached the smooth creamy texture of ours. Today we create desserts that combine peanut butter and chocolate, but we weren't the first to create this combination either. The ancient Incas made use of their local resources and flavored their peanut butter with cocoa beans that were ground into a powder and pounded into the peanut mixture.

Today peanut butter is the end product of one half of the peanut crops grown in the United States. Interestingly, peanuts began their existence in the Americas and journeyed across oceans to Asia and Africa only to return to the Americas. The southern states of Georgia, Texas, Alabama, and North Carolina, where peanuts made their American return, still remain the U.S. peanut-growing center. More peanuts are eaten in the United States than walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts combined.

Think about the many ways peanuts have become connected to our culture--they are eaten at baseball games, fed to elephants at the zoo, munched on at the circus, served at beer parlors, and offered as airline snacks. At home we may include them as a typical party snack or pack a few peanut butter cookies in a kids' lunchbox. You can't get more American than fixing the occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich or snacking on chocolate covered peanuts. And if you enjoy cooking, you may have even prepared peanut soup, peanut sauce, peanut brittle, or even a rich peanut butter pie. Today, Americans top the list as the largest consumer of peanut butter.

The Planters Peanut Company began in the early 1900s. It was in 1916 that their mascot, Mr. Peanut, who stands tall with top hat, monicle, and cane, made his debut. Mr. Peanut was the winning entry in a contest the company's owner, Amadeo Obici, offered to school children.

Peanuts were thoroughly enjoying the limelight and appeared in many news headlines in 1977 when Jimmy Carter, a Plains, Georgia peanut farmer, became President of the United States.

If you were to combine all the peanuts grown in the world annually, you would have a grand harvest of more than 26 million tons of peanuts. China, India, and the United States are the world's largest growers. Here's a trivia tidbit you might try out at your next party: How many peanuts does it take to make a one-pound jar of peanut butter? The answer, 720.

The Peanut Wizard
Born into a slave family in 1864, scientist George Washington Carver developed more than three hundred products derived from the peanut while working at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He became known as "the peanut wizard." From the shells, leaves, and nuts of the plant, Carver introduced products such as soaps, shaving cream, and dyes. His peanut innovations also led him to create food items like cheese, coffee, ice cream and mayonnaise. His book, How to Grow Peanuts and 105 Uses for Human Consumption, was published in 1925. Peanut

It was Carver who saved many southern farmers from losing their farms. In 1905 the boll weevil destroyed half the cotton crops and left numerous farmers in debt. Carver shared his knowledge and convinced them that peanuts were easy to grow. That was the beginning of the South's peanut growing success.

In 1921, George Washington Carver was given 10 minutes to tell Congress about peanuts. His presentation so fascinated everyone that his 10 minute talk stretched into an hour and a half. His birthplace is now a national monument.

Today's peanut farmer allows nothing to go to waste, from the peanuts themselves to the oil, the shells, the plant itself, the skins, and even the roots. At present peanut oil is used in cosmetics, paints, shampoo, soap, lamp oil, textile fibers, and for lubricating machinery. The farmer appreciates peanuts because they provide an inexpensive source of high-protein livestock fodder as well as green manure to fertilize the next year's crops. The roots, too, are composted to enrich the soil.

Even the peanut shells are useful for household items such as compressed fire logs, cat litter, and wallboards, while the skins are turned into paper. In the early days of railroad transportation, peanut oil was the preferred product the engineers used to lubricate their locomotives.

Aflatoxin in Peanuts
In recent years, the public has expressed concern about aflatoxin contamination in peanuts and peanut butter. Two known strains of fungi, Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, produce aflatoxins, toxic and carcinogenic compounds, found in peanuts and peanut products. Invisible to the naked eye, the mold is linked to cancer in laboratory animals but has not been known to affect humans. Other foods affected by aflatoxins are milk and dairy products, dried figs and fig products, and corn and corn products. The aflatoxins in peanuts may have developed from mold during the critical drying process.

To prevent aflatoxin-affected peanuts from reaching the consumer, farmers have developed an efficient blanching and color sorting process. Testing for aflatoxin has revealed a connection to damaged peanut kernels. To eliminate these peanuts from entering the retail market, the farmer first removes the red skins from each kernel. Then, using an electronic color sorter he is able to discard the damaged kernels. With this system, approximately 91% of the aflatoxin in contaminated peanut lots is eliminated.

Peanuts Enter National Cuisines
It was in Africa that the peanut achieved great importance as a desperately needed diet staple. Acceptance came quickly in that continent where little meat was consumed, the land produced few plants that could sustain life, and people were hungry. Peanuts were ideal and became nourishing everyday food, especially in West Africa, where they were first roasted to bring out their flavor, then ground and cooked with yams, okra, tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables.

The Africans, who believed that peanuts had souls, so highly revered them they cast the legumes, shell and all, into bronze and gold.

West Africa's Groundnut Stew became a favorite dish that took on regional differences. In Ghana it was served with fufu, dumplings made of yams, plantains, and cooked manioc, a starchy root used in making bread and tapioca. In Mali and Senegal, chicken is added to the stew called mafi along with sweet potatoes.

During the 1700s, peanuts were often ground into a peanut butter-like paste, spread on bread, and eaten by the people of Nigeria. This innovative peanut delicacy was even enjoyed in Haiti.

The people of Southeast Asia incorporated ground peanuts into their flavorful cuisine that combined rice, meats, and vegetables seasoned with chiles, coconut milk, and lime juice. Spicy peanut sauce is a traditional Indonesian accompaniment to an appetizer called satay and is always served as a salad dressing over gado gado, a combination of cooked vegetables that are served cold.

On the island of Java, peanut fritters in a rice flour batter are a well-known delicacy. On special holidays they serve rice topped with toasted coconut, spices, and ground peanuts.

In the Szechwan region of China where spicy dishes are common, peanuts and chiles enter the stir-fry wok together, while India curries favor with the peanut, either ground or whole, in their curry dishes and sauces.

Peanuts were also revered for their clear, tasteless oil that became part of Asian and African deep-fried and stir-fried dishes. Peanut oil can be heated to high temperatures without burning or smoking, making it a favorite cooking oil even today. Though most Europeans never appreciated the peanut itself, they readily adopted its oil in which they cooked everything from the lowly dishes of England to the haute cuisine of France.

Medicinal Uses
Before 500 BCE peanuts had been brought to Mexico. There the Aztecs cultivated peanuts as a medicine. From the Log of Christopher Columbus translated by Robert H. Fuson, Friar Bernardino de Sahagun describes the Aztec marketplace medicine seller who was considered a "knower of herbs, a knower of roots, a physician." The Aztecs used ground peanuts mixed with water to cure fever.

Historians have noted that the Aztecs were applying peanut paste to soothe aching gums about 1500 CE.

Growing
The peanut is technically considered a pea and belongs to the bean family. Scientifically, the pods are legumes called Arachis hypogaea.

There are two basic kinds of peanut plants, runner peanuts and bush peanuts. The runner plant spreads out like a vine with peanuts developing from the main horizontal branches. The bush peanuts look similar to pea plants and grow about 18" to 30" high with the peanut nodules developing closer to the roots. Both varieties require about five months before peanuts are ready to harvest. Peanut

United States farmers grow four peanut varieties: Runner peanuts, Virginia peanuts, Spanish peanuts, and Valencia peanuts. Half of the peanuts grown here in the United States are Runner peanuts. Virginia peanuts have larger seeds or peanuts than other varieties. The Spanish peanuts have a higher oil content than the others, while the Valencia peanuts contain three or more peanuts to the pod.

Each peanut is actually a seed that will produce a new plant, a process that begins with the farmer planting peanuts about two inches under the ground in the spring. In a week or two, leaves begin to sprout above the ground and continue to form a strong, thick main stem with many additional stems and leaves branching off from the main stem.

By summer the plants begin to blossom with small yellow flowers that open at sunrise and wilt the following day. Within a few days a tiny shoot, called a peg, begins to grow from the base of the flower stem. Unlike other plants of the legume family, the peanut plant puts its energy into this shoot or peg that begins to grow downward toward the ground. In a few weeks, the peg miraculously burrows its way into the ground and grows in a horizontal direction.

The peanut pod begins to form at the end of the peg and develop a hard shell by late summer, while inside the peanuts are taking shape and maturing. When it is time to harvest, the home gardener will dig up the entire plant with a shovel and find about 20 peanuts on each plant. With special hybrid seeds used by commercial farmers, the yield can be more than one hundred peanuts from each plant.

Determining the ripeness of the peanut crop can be challenging. Commercial growers have hundreds of peanut plants and simply pull up several plants to examine the peanuts inside the shell as a test.

If you have only one or two peanut plants, here's what you do: Wiggle your finger into the soil at the base of the plant's tap root until you can feel a peanut pod, which will be quite soft until it is dried. Now, carefully lift it with a pulling motion. If the peanut pod breaks off the peg easily, that's a good sign. Next, open the pod and examine the peanuts inside. If their color is white to pale pink and watery, give the plant another two weeks. It's common for the peanuts to ripen at different times, so it's best to allow a little more time when most of the peanuts will be ripe.

Harvesting on a peanut farm is done with a special tractor that has a digger, a shaker, and an inverter. First, the digger delves into the soil and cuts the tap roots. Next, the shaker lifts up the plants and shakes the dirt from the peanuts. Finally, the inverter turns the plant to allow the peanuts to sun-dry for a few days before putting them into the combine to separate the peanuts from the plant. The peanuts are then put into a drying wagon, the final step before they are sorted, packaged, and sent to market.

Since freshly harvested peanuts have a moisture content of 25 to 50%, their drying process is very important or they will develop unwanted mold. As a mold prevention, warm air is pumped into the drying wagon to bring the moisture content down to10%.

Nutritional Information
Peanuts pack more protein than tree nuts, consisting of 20 to 30% protein, 5 to 15% carbohydrate, and 40 to 50% oil or fat. In fact, they are so nutritious that producer Billy Rose survived on one 5-cent bag of peanuts a day for three days when all he had to live on was 15 cents.

Dry roasted, unsalted peanuts are a powerhouse of protein, though not a complete protein, providing 7 grams for only 1 ounce. While it's easy to indulge in peanut pleasures, keep in mind that each ounce has 170 calories and 14 grams of fat, 2 of them saturated.

Peanuts Dry roasted, unsalted peanuts contain the important B vitamins, B1, B2, and B3. Niacin, vitamin B3, is extraordinarily plentiful with 1 ounce registering 3.80 mg., while folic acid measures in at a whopping 41.2 mcg. Even vitamin B6 appears with trace amounts measuring .07 mg.

The minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, and zinc are all part of the nutritional make-up that give peanuts a thumbs up.

Raw peanuts also provide 7 grams of protein for 1 ounce, with the same fat content and 162 calories. This quantity provides 2.8 g of fiber, while the dry roasted offers 2.67 g. Raw peanuts also have a natural sodium content of 2 mg for 1 ounce, with the dry roasted peanuts registering less than .5 mg.

The B vitamins in raw peanuts register only minimally higher than the dry roasted with the exception of their folic acid content listed at 68 mcg for 1 ounce. Calcium, iron, and potassium are also slightly higher in raw peanuts than the figures for dry roasted.

Let's look at the numbers for peanut butter. A two tablespoon serving of the natural, unsalted, crunchy style piles up 190 calories, with 8 grams of protein, and 16 grams of fat. The saturated fat content varies between 1 and 3 grams in different brands.

Peanut butter's B vitamins are well endowed with niacin registering 4.40 mg and folic acid climbing to 29.4 mcg. While all the minerals show healthy quantities, potassium stands out at 214 mg for the two tablespoon serving.

Francis G. Benedict, author of The Energy Requirements of Intense Mental Effort, enlightens us with this, "The extra calories needed for an hour of intense mental effort would be completely met by the eating of one oyster cracker or one-half of a salted peanut."

Storing
Always store roasted peanuts in a porous bag, such as a paper bag or even a burlap sack. Keep them in an upper cupboard away from moisture. It's important to keep them dry to avoid mold from forming. Because good air circulation is important, never store them in a plastic bag or plastic container. Peanuts can keep for up to 12 months if stored properly. Raw peanuts should be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container to prevent spoilage.

Natural peanut butter can be kept on the pantry shelf for one year. Once opened, stir well with a firm flatware knife to combine the peanut paste with the oil from which it has become separated. Then store the jar in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity.

Raw
Peanuts do not need to be cooked in order to be enjoyed. Simply eat them raw. Add them to salads whole or chop them and sprinkle the bits over your salads, raw soups, and even raw desserts. The flavor of raw peanuts is quite delicate compared to the more familiar taste of roasted peanuts.

Instead of tossing your peanut shells into the trash, be thrifty and crumble them into your houseplants to nourish the soil with minerals.

Roasting
You can roast peanuts in the shell by spreading them on a shallow baking pan, one or two layers deep, and tucking them into a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, turning them occasionally. Do a taste test after 25 minutes to check the flavor, and take care not to overdo them.

If you've shelled your peanuts and want to roast them, first remove the skins by blanching. Follow this easy method: Pop the peanuts into boiling water, turn off the heat, and leave them in the hot bath for about 3 minutes before draining off the water. The skins should slip off easily. Next, put them on paper towels and allow them to dry. At this point you can use them in cooking.

If you want to roast your blanched peanuts, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them occasionally.

Cooking
Raw peanuts provide a nutritious boost to vegetable stews and soups.

For garnishing, chop roasted peanuts and sprinkle over salads, casseroles, stir fries, and desserts.

Chopped peanuts offer diverse texture in cooked or dry cereals.

Peanut butter adds thickening as well as distinctive flavor to soups and sauces.

Homemade Peanut Butter
You can easily make your own natural peanut butter at home by putting small amounts of dry roasted peanuts into the blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. For the chunky style, simply chop roasted peanuts to a coarse texture and stir into the creamy peanut butter. It's best to make your peanut butter in small quantities to prevent rancidity.

Since March is National Peanut Month, it's only fitting to celebrate with a recipe that spotlights peanuts with an adaptation of an historical recipe.


AFRICAN PEANUT SOUP


2 lbs. (900 g) Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 T. extra virgin olive oil

5 C. (1 liter + 240 ml) water
1 8-oz. (225g) can tomato sauce
1/2 C. fresh mint leaves, minced, divided
1 T. chili powder
2 t. ground cumin
1 3/4 t. salt
1/8 t. crushed red pepper flakes or to taste

2 C. (480 ml) finely chopped Swiss chard or spinach
3/4 C. (180 ml) chunky, unsalted, natural peanut butter

1/4 C. (60 ml) crushed, salted roasted peanuts

  1. Combine the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil in a large stockpot and cook and stir over high heat for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes are softened and the onions are transparent. Turn the heat down to a simmer.
  2. Add the water, tomato sauce, 3 tablespoons of the mint leaves, chili powder, cumin, salt, and red pepper, and simmer about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Add the Swiss chard and peanut butter and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly to distribute the peanut butter. The soup will thicken slightly.
  4. 4. To serve, spoon the soup into bowls and garnish with a pinch or two of the remaining mint leaves and crushed peanuts. Makes 6 servings.


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