Monday, October 1
For the Love of Peanuts: Pea? Or Nut?
This nearly irresistible childhood palliative and adult guilty pleasure turns out to be a legume, so it's closer to a pea than a nut. But don't get your hopes up diet-conscious eaters, it doesn't count as roughage--especially when roasted and ground into Skippy.
Originally domesticated by our neighbor-nations to the south, the thirsty peanut plant grows close to the ground in warm climates with sandy soil. This explains, in part, why most of the US peanut crop is grown in the southern states. Peanut pods mature under the surface of the soil upon pollination, and harvesting involves pulling the entire plant up by it's roots.
If you drive the highways of Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia or the Carolinas you may encounter a roadside boiled peanut truck. Eaten and enjoyed for it's edamame-like qualities, this preparation method yields a salty, damp, grassy-tasting snack. I know it doesn't sound that good, but try some if you get the chance. It'll really open your eyes as to the Hyde nature of the groundnut. It's an acquired taste that couldn't be further from the sweet, smooth super-market peanut butters on which most of us were raised.
I think we all know that peanuts are loaded with fat, but in moderation, that's not a problem. What's more of a problem is a fungal by-product called aflatoxin. It's a potent carcinogen, so it behooves all of us to avoid open-air storage of any peanut product. Those red bins in the health food store have been shown to be ideal breeding grounds for the fungus, so it's best to stick with name brands in sealed jars.
Commercial peanuts are sprayed with anti-fungals and carefully monitored in production, so aflatoxin contamination isn't much of a problem for buyers of the big three: Skippy, Peter Pan, and Jiff. If you're like me and you prefer natural peanut butter, be aware that organic peanuts may contain more aflatoxin than non-organically raised peanuts. In this case, organic may not be necessarily better. I wish I could be more specific than this, but peanut butter manufacturers are not required to make aflatoxin content information public. I called a couple of companies and wasn't able to get any details.