General facts about peanuts and peanut butter
Peanuts are the fruits of a legume which is part of the pea and bean family. The peanut is classified as Arachis hypogaea and it is also known as groundnut, goober, or monkey nut. They do not grow on trees as many of us might think, but they are harvested from below the soil. The peanut plant is a small bush that grows one to two feet tall and the fruit that we call peanut comes from a yellow flower that bends over and infiltrates the soil, and the peanut starts to grow underground.
The peanut plant originated in South America and it is believed that the Incas of Peru and Aztecs used to ground the peanuts into a paste and use it in various ways. The Spanish explorers brought the plant to Spain and then to the rest of the world. In 1884 in Canada, Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec obtained a patent for a method of producing peanut butter and then a businessman from St. Louis named George Bayle produced and sold peanut butter in the form of a snack food in 1894. In USA, the inventor of peanut butter was John Harvey Kellogg in 1898 and at first it was served to patients at expensive health care institutes (because of high protein intake and no need to be chewed). (1)
Today, the biggest producers in the world are China (40%), India (14%), USA (7%), Nigeria (7%) and other countries. Peanuts are grown in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay being the biggest producers there), Africa (Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Tanzania etc), South Asia (Myanmar, Indonesia Vietnam) and Middle East (Egypt, Israel and Turkey). In Europe, peanuts are harvested in southern countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and others.
As legumes, peanuts have a higher protein concentration than any other nut (25.8 gr per 100 gr). They also come packed with healthy fats (mainly monounsaturated 24.5 gr and pluri-unsaturated 15.6 gr), and fibers. Peanuts supply a valuable blend of minerals (potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium, iron and zinc) and vitamins (B-3, E, B-1, B-6, B-2. B-9). Overall, peanuts support heart health, help control blood sugar levels (low glycemic index – GI) and they positively affect weight loss diets.
Peanuts are harvested from late August to October. In order to produce the peanut butter, they are first cracked and then sent for screening where they are checked for contaminants. Then the peanuts will be roasted and the skin will be removed. Blanching is used to eliminate the remaining seed coats, the burnt, rotten, light and discolored peanuts. After blanching the peanuts undergo grinding to be manufactured into peanut butter, crunchy or chunky and smooth or creamy type.
How to chose the best peanut butter
- Buy from certified producers from countries/areas with a dry climate. And here is why. Peanuts might be affected by aflatoxins (poisonous substances produced by a certain type of fungi or mold that are found on agricultural crops). Extreme heat and drought before harvest, as well as moist and humid storage conditions, increase susceptibility. Although aflatoxins are of global concern, their negative impact is greater in developing countries located in the tropical and sub-tropical regions. (2) Buying only major commercial brands and/or from certified producers can reduce the exposure to aflatoxins. Before you buy it, be sure that the product was manufactured according to the regulations required to guarantee its best quality. (3) Ensure that the product was not stored under improper conditions that favor mold growth after harvesting and packaging. Peanuts are not the only food that may expose you to aflatoxins. Dairy products, meat, cooking oils, corn, spices, coffee, etc. may also have a potential risk under certain circumstances. (4) The good news is that some companies, especially in the US, mention on the label the levels of aflatoxin which must not exceed 20ppb. Some producers go even further and mention that the levels are lower than 5ppb. Also, buying peanut butter made of peanuts grown in a very dry climate like New Mexico for example, would be a great choice.
- Peanuts are susceptible to pesticides – choose only organic. Pesticides are heavily used on peanut crops. Peanuts have soft shells that grow underground and any pesticides sprayed on the ground penetrate the shell and reach the product. If you can, choose organic! It will also help the environment, prevent water pollution and land contamination and support local farming with respect to our planet.
- Choose 100% peanuts as ingredients. Some peanut butters have sugar added or/and other oils, especially palm oil. We should avoid those. There are plenty of quality peanut butters that contain nothing else than peanuts and these are the right and the only choices we should make.
Ways to consume it: Peanut butter is usually used to make sandwiches and it is served as a spread on bread, toast, crackers, etc. It is widely used in desserts (smoothies, croissants, brownies, cookies, crepes, cakes, etc.).
Storage conditions: All nuts should be kept in a cool and dry place (best in the freezer). After opening the package – best is to keep them refrigerated.
Here on veganolio we promote only organic peanut butter from producers we can trust and from peanuts grown in a dry climate. Choose wisely and enjoy!