PEANUTS (Arachis hypogaea L.)

They brought me from Peru a very funny fruit, which grows under the soil, and very beautiful to see and very tasty to eat.

Nicolas Monardes (1580) - ‘Primera y segvnda y tercera partes de la Historia Medicinal’

The peanut or groundnut is a herbaceous plant, between 30-50 cm tall. Although the peanut is considered to be a nut, it is in fact a legume. After pollination, a stalk (the ‘peg’) grows from the base of the flower into the soil, pushing the ovaries underground where they remain buried until the development of the fruit, a phenomenon known as geocarpy.

It is believed that the genus Arachis originated in the south-west of Mato Grosso do Sul or in the north-east of Paraguay, where the oldest species of the genus are found. Cultivation of the commercially grown species Arachis hypogaea L. was well established in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Europeans, with the earliest indications of its cultivation in Peru dating from 5000 BCE.

The peanut is today the most widely cultivated legume and is one of the five most economically important oilseeds. Other species are grown on a small scale, as fodder, soil improver or as ornamentals. Wild peanut species were an important source of proteins in the past and some continue to be used for food and medicinal purposes, especially in Brazil and Paraguay. The peanut is consumed raw, roasted or cooked as an ingredient in a variety of dishes; it is also used to make oil and peanut butter.