Peanut—the heart-healthy nut that isn’t a nut

PeanutHarvestingThe groundnut, or peanut (Arachis hypogaea), native to Peru and Brazil, is actually not a nut at all, but a legume, cousin to peas, lentils and beans.

Its flowers bend after fertilization and push underground where the seeds ripen in brittle, papery shells.

Peanuts were cultivated extensively in antiquity by the Incas and Mayans. Spanish explorers took the peanut to Spain and Africa, from where the peanut traveled to Java, China and Japan, becoming an important food throughout Africa and Asia.

African arachis was carried back to America on slave ships as cheap food for the black slaves enroute. This brought the peanut into complete scorn and disrepute for slaves and masters alike.

Thus, in the following centuries, peanuts were cultivated in the gardens of Virginia and the Carolinas only as a floral curiosity.

The commercial history of the peanut in North America began in the Civil War when Union soldiers discovered that the nuts roasted in their campfires made excellent eating.

In the years after the war peanut cultivation spread rapidly in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Ironically, it was a brilliant black man, George Washington Carver, a botanist, chemist and educator who was the pioneer of peanut agriculture. Dr. Carver invented over 300 uses for the ‘nut that isn’t a nut,’ and today peanuts and peanut butter are as familiar to Americans and many others as their own faces.

And peanuts are heart healthy and good for us in many other ways. The peanut is rich in monounsaturated fats, a fundamental of the Mediterranean Diet, and is rich in an array of other nutrients, including antioxidants, biotin, copper, manganese, vitamin B3, molybdenum, vitamin E, folate, phosphorus, vitamin B1, healthy protein and resveratrol (the heart-healthy compound found in red grapes and red wine).

A study of 30,000 men and women age 65 or older found that those who ate a niacin-rich diet, including peanuts, were 70 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. It was suggested that a handful of peanuts daily would benefit these senior citizens.

And as far as weight gain— another study of almost 9,000 adults in Spain found that those who ate nuts (including, peanuts, the nutlike legume) at least twice a week were over 30 percent LESS likely to gain weight!

It is said that some people are allergic to peanuts, but if not, enjoy your moderate daily snacks of the food, that like garlic, was once so scorned in America!

Sources:, Folklore and Odysseys of Food and Medicinal Plants (book).

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