In the United States, peanuts are mostly eaten dried or dry-roasted, as a snack, in candies, or in the form of peanut butter. Peanuts also come oil-roasted and blanched.
In the South, raw, unroasted peanuts are popular. These are often eaten right out of the shell, or they can be boiled in the shell and then eaten. At certain times of the year green peanuts, sometimes fresh from the field, are available. Because they spoil quickly, green peanuts are often sold boiled.
Peanuts are also pressed to make peanut oil, which has a high smoke point and thus is often used for frying foods.
In specialty stores, you can buy high-protein, partly defatted peanut flour, which may be used as a thickener for soups or a flavor enhancer for breads and main dishes.
Four major types of peanuts are grown in the United States:
Runners: These peanuts were introduced in the 1970s, and are known for their uniform, medium-sized kernel. Runner peanuts now dominate the industry, and are the main type used in peanut candies and snack nuts. They are mainly produced in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Spanish peanuts: Small round peanuts with a reddish-brown skin, Spanish peanuts are the smallest of the four types. Because they have higher oil content than the others, Spanish peanuts they are mostly used in peanut oil, as well as in candies, salted peanuts, and peanut butter. They are primarily grown in Oklahoma and Texas, and account for only a small part of U.S. production.
Valencia: These peanuts, grown almost exclusively in New Mexico, typically have three or more small dark-red to bright-red kernels in a long pod. Very sweet, they are usually roasted and sold in the shell. They are also excellent for fresh use as boiled peanuts.
Virginia peanuts (cocktail nuts): Grown in North Carolina as well as Virginia, these peanuts have large plump pods that contain two large crunchy kernels. They are the type most familiar to consumers and are especially popular at sporting events. When shelled, they are sold as snack peanuts.
A primer on peanut butter
Peanut butter first made its appearance in the United States in 1890. It was then that an unnamed doctor in St. Louis supposedly began grinding peanuts in a hand-cranked meat grinder to use as a nutritious protein substitute for people with poor teeth who couldn’t chew meat. A few years later, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg also began experimenting with peanut butter as a vegetarian source of protein for his patients at the renowned Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan.
In 1904, a man named C. H. Sumner introduced peanut butter to the world at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis. It is said that Sumner sold a remarkable $705.11 worth of the treat at his concession stand there. It was not until 1922, however, that peanut butter became commercially available. In that year, J. L. Rosefield, owner of the Rosefield Packing Company in Alameda, Calif., received a patent for a shelf-stable peanut butter that would stay fresh for up to a year because the oil didn’t separate. Rosefield was also the first to develop crunchy-style peanut butter by adding chopped peanuts to his creamy peanut butter.
Today, approximately half of all edible peanuts cultivated in the United States are used to make peanut butter. By FDA regulation, any product labeled “peanut butter” must consist of at least 90 percent peanuts with no more than 10 percent by weight of seasonings and stabilizing ingredients. These optional ingredients may include salt, sugars, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. They cannot include lard or other animal fats, artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives, or colors.
Similar peanut butter products that don’t adhere to the 90 percent/10 percent rule must be labeled “peanut spread.” Many of these are reduced-fat products (25 percent less fat than regular) that use a type of cornstarch to replace some of the fat from peanuts. Some reduced-fat products also contain soy protein and mineral supplements.
Peanut butters labeled “natural” can use only peanuts and oil, usually peanut oil. The oil separates to the top of the jar and must be stirred in to blend with the peanut butter.
Because there are so many different peanut butter and spread products available today—some containing jelly, honey, chocolate, apples, cinnamon, or other ingredients—read the nutrition labels carefully. And look for the “sell by” date on the jar. You can store peanut butter that contains preservatives at room temperature for two to three months, or it can be refrigerated. Avoid excessive heat, which can cause the oil to separate, or excessive cold, which can change the texture.