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Foods

Peanuts

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Peanuts, America's favorite nut, are not true nuts, but legumes--the shell-enclosed seeds of a leguminous bush or vine. These legumes have more protein than other nuts and the fat content falls in the moderate range for this class of foods. They are a good source of niacin and manganese, and also provide some folate (folic acid), vitamin E, and magnesium. Peanuts are rich in dietary fiber. The latest findings about peanuts show that they contain resveratrol--a phytochemical (also found in red wine and grape juice) that is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease. The red skin found on Spanish peanuts is a concentrated source of resveratrol.

Varieties

Three major types of peanuts are grown in the American South and Southwest:

Runners: Runners, which were introduced in the Seventies and are now the most popular type, are primarily made into peanut butter.

Virginia peanuts: Virginia peanuts are sold roasted in the shell.

Spanish peanuts: Small round nuts with a reddish-brown skin, Spanish peanuts are used in candies and peanut butter, and are also packed as salted nuts.

Peanuts are sold oil-roasted, dry-roasted, blanched, and boiled (boiled peanuts are very popular in peanut-growing regions). Peanuts are always sold partially defatted. They are roasted under pressure in safflower or sunflower oil, a process which--strange as it seems--removes about 60% to 80% of the fat. Defatted peanuts are available salted and unsalted. There are a number of peanut products available, primarily peanut oil and, of course, peanut butter.

Availability

Peanuts, in and out of the shell, are in supermarkets year round. Shelled peanuts are sold vacuum packed in cans, jars, and in small, snack-size bags. Peanuts in the shell, roasted or unroasted, are sold in bags and sometimes in bulk in the supermarket produce department.

Shopping

When buying packaged peanuts, look for a freshness date on the jar, can, or bag. The kernels, if visible, should be plump and uniform in size, crisp and fresh, not limp or rubbery, musty, or rancid smelling.

When selecting in-shell peanuts from a basket or bin, choose those with undamaged shells free from cracks, scars, or tiny wormholes. Each nut should feel heavy, and the kernel should not rattle loudly when the nutshell is shaken; if it does, the kernel may be withered and dry.

Storage

The high fat content of peanuts makes them susceptible to becoming rancid from prolonged exposure to heat, light, and humidity. Raw unshelled peanuts, however, keep very well for about six months if stored in a cool, dry place.

Shelled peanuts should be refrigerated once the vacuum-sealed package is opened. A jar should be closed tightly. Transfer peanuts from non-recloseable packages to plastic bags or freezer containers. Shelled peanuts will keep for up to one year in the freezer. If they are properly wrapped, freezing will not significantly affect their texture or flavor. They need not be thawed for cooking purposes. Nuts for eating should be thawed at room temperature and then toasted or freshened in the oven briefly before serving. Do not chop whole peanuts until you are ready to use them.

Preparation

Peanuts have soft shells that are easy to crack with your fingers.

If shelled peanuts seem a little soft (but do not smell rancid), they can be freshened by spreading them on a baking sheet and heating them in a very low oven (150°F) for a few minutes.

Chop peanuts using a chef's knife on a large cutting board. For efficient chopping, spread the nuts on the board; hold down the tip of the knife blade with one hand and raise and lower the knife, moving it fanwise across the nuts. A curved chopper used in a wooden bowl works well, too, as does an inexpensive mechanical nut chopper.

When chopping peanuts in a food processor or blender, process a small amount at a time and pulse the machine on and off. Overprocessing the nuts will release the oils and turn them to paste.

If you do want to make your own peanut butter, it couldn't be simpler: just process the peanuts in a food processor until the butter is as chunky or smooth if you like it. Add a little oil and/or salt, if you wish. Because it does not contain preservatives, homemade peanut butter should be kept in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Chart

Peanuts/1 ounce dry-roasted unsalted

166
Total fat (g)
14
Saturated fat (g)
2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
7
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
4.5
Dietary fiber (g)
2.3
7
Carbohydrate (g)
6
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2
Niacin (mg)
3.8
Manganese (mg)
0.6


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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