The peanut is the fruit of a trailing plant, botanically called Arachis hypogaea, which belongs to the bean family (Leguminosae). It is known in different localities as the earthnut, groundnut, ground-pea, goober, pindar, jar-nut, and Manila-nut. Strictly speaking, it is not a nut at all, and should more properly be called the ground-pea. The plants are annuals, growing from one to two feet high, with thick, pale-green, hairy stems; some varieties have long, spreading branches. The blossom is at the end of a long, pedicel-like calyx tube, the ovary being at the base; after the blossom drops off, the peduncle or "spike" with the ovary on the end elongates and bends downward, pushing several inches into the ground, where the ovaries develop into a pale yellowish, wrinkled, and slightly curved pod, often contracted in the middle, and containing from one to three seeds. Should the spike not be able to thrust itself into the ground within a few hours after the fall of the flower, it withers and dies. It is therefore very necessary that the ground should be kept as light and porous as possible to. insure a good crop.
The "Farmers' Bulletin No. 25," published by the Agricultural Department of the United States, treats upon the culture of peanuts, and names the following varieties :-
"The Virginia running variety of the peanut, being most widely known and most popular with the trade, may be taken as the typical American peanut. Its vines are large, with spreading branches, growing flat on the ground and bearing pods over almost their entire length. The pods arc large and white, weighing about twenty-two pounds to the bushel.
Peanut Plant (Virginia Running Variety).
"The Virginia bunch variety grows erect and fruits near the tap-root, but produces pods very closely resembling those above described.
"There are two varieties in Tennessee, the white and red, the white closely resembling the Virginia running variety, and the red producing somewhat smaller pods with kernels having a dark red skin. This variety matures earlier than the white, yields fewer pops, or imperfect pods, has a less spreading habit, and on account of this difference in growth is perhaps somewhat more easily cultivated. "The North Carolina (or African) variety grown in Wilmington section of the State-has much smaller pods than those just described, weighing twenty-eight pounds to the bushel; the kernels contain more oil than those of other varieties.
Pod of the Virginia Peanut.
KErnels of Virginia Peanut.
"The Spanish variety has a relatively small, upright vine, forms small pods near the tap-root, and can be planted much closer together than any of the others, thus producing a very heavy crop to the acre. The North Louisiana Station found the Spanish a desirable variety, easily harvested, all of the pods adhering to the vine. It required a much shorter period to mature, and planted as late as July 1, matured a full crop in that latitude before frost. The pods filled out well, forming few if any pops.
"The Georgia red-nut, like the similar variety in Tennessee, has medium-sized vines growing up from the ground and fruiting principally near the tap root, with three or four kernels to the pod.
"These comprise all the varieties cultivated in this country, but in Costa Rica there is a variety with long pods, without divisions, containing four or five seeds, and in the Argentine Republic a large-sized variety with a deep, orange-colored shell. In the Malay Archipelago there are two varieties, called the white and brown, resembling probably the white and red Tennessee varieties, excepting as to size.
"The peanut of India and Africa resembles the North Carolina variety in size, and is raised principally for the oil which is contained in its kernels." The varieties which are usually sold in the markets, appear under the following names : Spanish (shelled) are small and nearly round, having a sweet and mild flavor; they are never sold in the pod, as they are so tight to the peanut that they are hard to break open. This variety is considered the best for butter-making, although some prefer the Virginia.
"The Virgina (shelled) peanut is larger than the Spanish nut, having a stronger peanut flavor, but equally rich in oil. These are usually assorted into three grades, the Nos. 1 and 2, and the Extra Large, Hand-picked. The No. 2 nuts are small, shrivelled, and split; they are therefore difficult to roast and blanch, and make an inferior grade of butter.
Pod of Spanish Peanut.
"Statistics tell us that there are 4,000,000 bushels of nuts used yearly by Americans, which cost the consumers $10,000,000, and that fully three fourths of this amount was sold to venders of the roasted peanut, either directly or through jobbing houses, and the remainder and poorer grade of the peanuts are sold to confectioners, to be used in the manufacture of peanut candy and cheaper grades of chocolates. A small amount is also sold to be made into oil. Thus, it will be seen that the greatest part of the peanuts that have been used by Americans, has not formed a part of the regular articles of food, but are eaten at odd times.
"The peanut planter makes use of the vine, under the name of peanut hay, which is carefully saved and fed to all kinds of live stock. They also use the thin skins enclosing the kernel, as a fodder. The vines, when plowed under just before blossoming, are an excellent fertilizer, and are considered better than clover to enrich the soil. The peanut has been valued most for the oil which it contains. In the Old World millions of bushels of peanuts are being used annually for the production of oil, which is considered equal to olive-oil, and may be used in every way in which that is employed. This oil forms from thirty to fifty per cent. (by weight ) of the shelled nut. It has an agreeable taste and smell and very much resembles the olive-oil, so much so that a great deal of the olive-oil sold in the country is nothing but peanut oil.
"During the years between 1861 and 1865, peanut oil was manufactured by at least lour mills in the Southern States, and used as a lubricant by railroads for locomotives, by wool and cotton spinners for their spindles, and by housewives instead of lard as shortening in bread and pastry. The cake was eaten by many living in the vicinity of the mills, and was very highly spoken of by those who used it, as a palatable and nutritious food for man."
Thus we see that over thirty years ago, peanuts were not only used as titbits between meals, but also for culinary purposes. But since the invention of machinery for family use, for grinding the nuts into a butter, their use has spread over a greater territory. This is partly due to the fact that the expense is thus lessened, and not only this, but because the nut as it comes from the mill is in a much healthier condition to eat, being easier of digestion than the oil or the raw residue that remains after the oil is taken out. The nut butter can be easily mixed with water, forming an emulsion, and by thinning it sufficiently, it makes an excellent substitute for cream and milk. It can also be made into various nut foods.
The following is a comparison made by Professor Konig, based on the price in Germany of the following twelve principal foods reduced to units of nutrition: -
Nutritive Units Per Pound.
Cost 1,000 Units in Cents.
It follows, therefore, that peanut meal is not only the most nutritious, but by far the cheapest of the whole list of food materials.