Dining on a Dime: Peanuts

by Anastassia Skarlinski

They are known as groundnuts, ground peas, and goobers, but they are commonly known in the US as peanuts. In the Nineties, Mike Meyers taught Gen X that “the peanut is neither a pea nor a nut.” It’s true, peanuts are legumes that grow underground.  Peanuts are grown year-round here in North Carolina, with the state growing enough peanuts every year to make around four billion peanut butter sandwiches a year. Peanuts, either as a nut or peanut butter, are a great food to keep on hand as they are a good shelf-stable protein source. This is why peanut butter is one of the most requested items in food banks.

The peanut likely originated from South America. It is unclear how long people have been enjoying peanuts, but 3,500-year-old South American pottery with peanut motifs was discovered buried in Incan gravesites. Spanish explorers brought peanuts back to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Peanuts became quite popular in the western tropical regions of the continent where they are often called groundnuts. Peanuts were then brought to North America where they were initially only deemed worthy as livestock feed. However, after the Civil War, peanut demand increased after soldiers on both sides enjoyed eating peanuts.

Peanuts are a good, inexpensive source of plant protein and Omega-6 acids. Peanuts are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals like copper, niacin, folate, manganese, thiamine, vitamin E, and biotin. Biotin is a B vitamin that has been widely lauded for its use in promoting hair and nail growth. There is not a lot of evidence to support these claims, but biotin is important for making enzymes that allow you to properly process foods and regulate the messages that your cells send out to genes. Peanuts are also being researched for their role in heart health and gallstone prevention.

It is said that Dr. George Washington Carver discovered over 300 uses for peanuts. I’m not sure that I can come up with that many myself, but there are several ways to add peanuts to your diet. The simplest and best-known use in the US is probably the humble PB&J sandwich. A survey in the Huffington post rated strawberry jam and smooth peanut butter as the favored flavors and textures. Elvis famously preferred his peanut butter sandwiches with bananas. Personally, I like including fresh apples or strawberries in mine. You can also throw a spoonful of peanut butter in your morning smoothie or oatmeal or use it as a dip for apples or celery. Peanuts do not just have to be served sweet. There are many African stews and soups that incorporate peanuts and several Asian curries and sauces. I often make this Asian-inspired peanut sauce. It can be mixed in with pasta, used as a salad dressing, or used as a dip for grilled meats or tofu.

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