Raw peanuts are probably the healthiest way to get nutritional benefits from this popular food. Just shell, pop into your mouth and enjoy the crunchy texture and taste! Have you heard the trick question, “Can you eat just one peanut”? Of course you can but you might find it difficult!
Peanuts are so versatile - grind them into a paste, use them for cooking, roast them or coat them with spices, salt or sugars, add to home-made sauces or serve with curries and fried rice.
Also called ‘ground nuts’, peanuts (arachis hypogaea) belong to the legume family, grown world-wide in warm, sub-tropical climates, but originating in South America. In Australia most of the peanut crop is grown in Queensland.
The seeds of these legumes, instead of growing inside a hard shell on a tree, as do true nuts, are inside a pod.
Once the peanut plant has flowered, its seeds and the stems which have held the flower upright, bend over and allow the seeds to develop into a soft shelled pod with two or three ‘nuts’ cocooned inside.
I am thinking of growing peanuts in my small garden so shall keep you posted with their progress. I am fascinated at the thought of the parent peanut plant encouraging its little ones to plant themselves. There is quite a large peanut growing industry on the Atherton Tablelands, near Mareeba, an hour’s drive from where I live so they should thrive.
In Australia most of the peanut crop is grown in Queensland, being introduced to the country by Chinese gardeners near Cooktown, North Queensland, during the Gold Rush. Peanuts grow best in well-drained fertile soils and take about 3 - 5 months to mature. Crops are often rotated with other types of crops such as corn or soy or plants are returned to the ground after the peanuts are harvested to enrich the soil. By utilizing overhead sprinklers or flood irrigation soils are kept moist and the peanut disease, aflotoxin, can usually be avoided.
Raw peanuts are harvested mechanically and dried, initially on the ground by the sun and, later, after they have been separated from the plant, in circulating hot air. They are used for multiple products, the poorer grades being utilized for peanut butters, oils and stock feed. The shells are frequently sold for garden mulch.
Raw peanuts’ health benefits include being very rich in monounsaturated fats – the best type for your heart. Boiling, salting or roasting them will, of course, alter those benefits, sometimes in a positive way (eg boiling increases the concentration of beneficial antioxidants).
We hear a lot these days about resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grapes, red wine, dark chocolate, blueberries – and, to a lesser extent - peanuts! Resveratrol relaxes muscles and increases the production of nitric oxide, hence blood flow to organs, such as the brain, thereby giving some protection against stroke and some cancers.
High in fibre and protein, peanuts contain beneficial levels of antioxidants, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, niacin, folate, thiamin, iron, potassium, magnesium, copper, selenium, zinc, oleic acid, biotin and phosphorus – which does sound as though they deserve their ‘superfood’ status!
Peanut allergies (an over-reaction of the immune system) and mould contamination (which may produce cancer causing aflatoxins) are two of the potentially negative aspects of peanuts.
Many foods can cause allergic reactions, the most common being eggs, milk, shellfish, fish, wheat, tree nuts, soy beans and peanuts. Unfortunately for some children, reactions to peanuts can be caused by just their smell so they need to take precautions to not become exposed to the nuts at all. However, they can sometimes outgrow this potentially life-threatening predisposition.
Apart from their protective role in heart disease, diabetes and stroke, peanuts, when eaten in moderation, can assist in weight loss because they keep one feeling full for longer than most other snacks. They also help to keep the skin supple.
Try a spoonful of peanut butter as a quick and satisfying snack!