The Humble Peanut's Many Hats

Everyone knows the peanut as a tasty snack; the other treasure in a box of Crackerjacks; and the ubiquitous offering in all those candy bars.

Peanut oil, however, is used for everything from cooking to cosmetics and paints, and even the shells are ground up for wallboard and other industrial products.

Though the peanut is often associated with a small size or intellect, in Georgia, the nation's leading peanut producer, arachis hypogaea is big business. The dimpled peanut, first brought to North America from Africa by slaves, has a farm value of almost $500 million.

The peanut may not have the class of romantic allure of cashews or almonds, but the old-fashioned goober - popularized by botanist George Washington Carver - has long been part of the American diet and landscape. A fistful of the salty nuts is the time-honored snack at stadiums, local fairs, and on airplanes.

Peanut butter, the gooey mixture developed by a St. Louis physician in 1890, is one of the 12 most commonly purchased items in American supermarkets, with annual retail sales of more than $1 billion.

At least half a dozen peanut butter ice cream and yogurt flavors fill the freezers in national supermarket chains, regional dairies, and mom-and-pop stores around the country. Peanuts in some form or another are in four of the nation's 10 best-selling candies - Snickers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Peanut M&Ms, and Butterfingers. The confectionary industry uses about 25 percent of US crop annually.

Not really a nut and not a seed, peanuts are members of the legume, or pea family. Unlike walnuts, pecans, and other nuts, peanuts grow underground and are often dubbed groundnuts. The folksy foodstuff has inspired half a dozen songs, including the Civil War ditty "Eatin' Goober Peas." And when Jimmy Carter, the world's most famous peanut farmer, was campaigning for president in 1976, supporters formed the Peanut Brigade to propel him to the White House.

Peanut butter, one of the original fast-foods of the masses, has inspired a world-wide fan club with more than 4,000 members over age 18. (In fact, adults actually eat more peanut butter annually than do children.) The membership roll boasts a long list of celebrities including Elvis Presley, President Clinton, Madonna, and newscaster Dan Rather.

Leslie Wagner, the president of the Adult Peanut Butter Lovers Fan Club, says, "Our members are fans in the true sense of the word. They put peanut butter on everything - chili, orange slices, corn on the cob, and hot apple pie. Some even carry jars of peanut butter when they travel."

While the modest groundnut has long been used in African and Asian dishes, it is now showing up in regional fare and on gourmet menus. Along with being eaten out of the shell, the peanut can be boiled, fried, steamed, and pured and added to soups, stews, sauces, and glazes.

Spicy Peanut Garlic Roast Pork

1 3-pound boneless pork loin - rolled and tied

3 cloves of garlic, cut in slivers

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Glaze

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon hot sauce (or to taste)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

With a sharp knife, make incisions in roast and insert cloves of garlic. Rub meat with a mixture of coriander and pepper and let rest at room temperature for one hour. Place pork on rack in roasting pan and cook uncovered in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F., for 1-1/4 hours, or until done (145 degrees F. on meat thermometer). Mix ingredients for glaze, creaming well. Spread glaze over roast and return to oven for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F. The roast will have a rich, crunchy glaze.

Serve with buttered noodles and steamed broccoli or peas.

Serves six.

- Based on a recipe from

'The Great American Peanut Butter Cookbook,'

by Larry and Honey Zisman

Peanut Soup

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons grated onion

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

3 teaspoons lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery and saut five minutes. Stir in flour and mix well. Gradually add chicken broth stirring to keep mixture smooth; simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Return soup to pan and stir in peanut butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Heat thoroughly; garnish with chopped peanuts and parsley.

Makes 4 cups.


*The word goober comes from "nguba," the African word for peanut.

*The expression "peanut gallery" originally referred to the higher, cheaper seats in a theater where the audience munched on peanuts.

*Botanist George Washington Carver discovered more than 300 uses for peanuts - everything from baby massage cream to dyes for leather and clothing.

*Two peanut farmers have been elected president of the United States - Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.

*America raises peanuts primarily for food. Other countries raise peanuts primarily for cooking oil.

*The average American eats 3.3 pounds of peanut butter a year.

*The average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter sandwiches by the time he graduates from high school.

*Astronaut Allen B. Sheppard took a peanut to the moon.

*Peanut butter can be used to remove gum stuck in hair.

*The average 12-ounce jar of peanut butter contains about 540 peanuts.

*Peanut shells are used to make kitty litter, fireplace logs, animal feed, and fuel for power plants.

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