Peanuts: Benefits, varieties, nutritional values and where to find them

Peanuts: Benefits, varieties, nutritional values and where to find them


In Italy peanuts still mainly represent a sort of entertainment food: fried and salted, they are consumed during aperitifs, at the cinema or during a football match at the bar with friends, thus becoming synonymous with moments of socialisation and conviviality, but not with a healthy lifestyle.

Actually, natural peanuts, not fried nor salted, are much more than this.

They are a source of proteins, minerals, vitamins, good fats and fibre and represent thus a concentrate of nutritional substances that are useful for the organism. Peanuts are slowly gaining value as both healthy snacks for children and adults, and as part of eating habits aiming at losing weight or supporting physical activity. Let’s discover together the most interesting features and the curiosities of the famous American peanuts.

Botanical aspects

The identification of the place of origin of peanuts has been under discussion for years. It was Alphonse De Candolle (natural scientist) who in 1855 proved the absence of the plant in ancient times and in the Arabic world as well as its recent introduction in Africa, China and Japan. For this reason, he supposed that peanuts originated in the area between Peru and Brazil. Such hypothesis was then confirmed by archaeological evidence.

Although commonly being included in the "nuts" category, peanuts actually belong to the legume family, just as beans.

Peanuts belong to the Magnoliopsida class, the Fabales order and the Fabacea (or Leguminosae) family. The yellow flowers, after fertilisation, are buried about 2-7 cm underground giving rise to the fruit which then grows and develops underground. A peanut plant can produce over 100 flowers and ripen 20-60 legumes. The most common, cultivated and commercially interesting species is the Arachis hypogaea.

An interesting aspect about the peanut plant concerns the fact that it is an "improver culture": a culture is defined as "improver" when it is able to increase the fertility of a soil leaving it in better fertility conditions from a physical, microbiological or chemical point of view. The latter is the case with peanuts which, thanks to their ability to perform nitrogen fixation in symbiosis with bacteria of the Rhizobium genus, are able to fix nitrogen in the soil making it rich in nutrients for subsequent crops.

The fruits

The peanut is an oblong legume, 2-4 centimetres long, yellowish in colour, with a series of veins, generally containing two oval, whitish seeds, covered with a thin brown or purplish-red skin. Sometimes it may even happen that the same pod contains more than two seeds.

They are commonly known by different names: spagnolette (probably due to the fact that the Spanish Fernando de Oviedo was the first to describe this plant in 1520), American peanuts, bagigi (in Veneto), Japanese, cecini or cacaoetti (from tlālcacahuatl, which in Aztec language literally means 'earth cocoa', from which Spanish cacahuete derives directly).

Their leguminous nature explains the herbaceous flavour, similar to that of fresh legumes, which characterises raw peanut seeds that have not yet undergone the roasting process.

Production and processing

The main producing countries are China, India, USA, Nigeria, Sudan, Myanmar, Argentina, Tanzania, Senegal and Chad.

The harvesting of peanuts is usually carried out during the dry season and is divided in different phases. The first phase consists in the uprooting of the plant from the ground by means of a special digging machine. Once uprooted, the plants are gently shaken to remove excess soil and then turned over to expose the peanuts to the sun. At this point a sun-drying phase of the legumes begins. This phase lasts about ten days or so or until the optimum moisture content is reached (18%) in order to move on to the next threshing phase and prevent the pods from being damaged.

Peanuts are then transported to the processing plants where they undergo a cleaning procedure. If the moisture content is still too high, peanuts may be subject to a further drying procedure by means of warm air.

The further steps of the processing procedure are distinguished on the basis of the commercial purpose of the peanut that may be:

Peanuts in shell: a calibration stage through rotating cylinders, also allowing the distancing of single legumes and the removal of peduncles.

Shelled peanuts or peeled peanuts: removal of the shell, calibration, possible removal of the cuticle or peeling.

The step that provides peanuts with their typical aroma is certainly the roasting process. By means of roasting what is obtained is the removal of humidity. Moreover, both the internal seed and the external shell gain the typical colouring of peanuts to be found on the market. After the roasting process, the product is ready for further processing or for being packaged.

Commercial features

Both for peanuts in shell and shelled peanuts, the calibre is used to define the quality of the product and its commercial purpose. The calibre corresponds to the number of pieces/seeds contained in an ounce (28.35g): the more pieces contained in an ounce, the smaller the size of the seeds and the less valuable the product. As far as Israeli peanuts are concerned, a distinction and classification is also made according to colour.

To mention a practical example, American peanuts in shell may be taken into consideration.

There are 3 main calibres:

Super Jumbo: 7/9 means that 7 to 9 fruits are contained in an ounce, it is thus the case of rather big fruits.

Jumbo: 9/11 means that 9 to 11 fruits are contained in an ounce.

Fancy: 11/13 means that 11 to 13 fruits are contained in an ounce, meaning that these are far smaller than Super Jumbo.

Besides this, there are further parameters and tolerance levels to take into consideration for the classification into one of these calibre classes: varieties of peanuts, % of fruit below size present, % of broken shells, % of empty shells, % of foreign matter, % of damaged seeds, % moisture, etc.

From a quality point of view, the most appreciated peanuts on the market are the peanuts of Israel for their particular features: a yellowish/golden shell that resists the roasting process and a great taste that remains unaltered even months after roasting.

Nutritional values

Peanuts are a practical food, easy to store and rich of nutritional substances. For years they have been part of the sustenance of travellers, mountaineers, sailors and it seems that they represented one of the main foods that were given to the slaves during the crossings to the New Continent.

Today peanuts are famous in particular for their high protein content, to the point that roasted seeds and their derivates (in particular peanut butter) cover approx. 10% of the US recommended daily intake of proteins.

Peanuts are also rich of several minerals: among these are copper, phosphor, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc. Besides this, they represent a great source of fibre and vitamin E, that carries out an important antioxidant action for the protection of cells. Unfortunately for some people the consumption of peanuts may have severe consequences: with the increase in the consumption of peanuts, as a product or as an ingredient both at industrial level and in the kitchen, the cases of allergies and intolerances have increased as well.

Allergy to peanuts ranks third among the population preceded only by allergy to milk and eggs, and the symptoms of allergic reactions can also be very serious. Peanut allergy sufferers are therefore not allowed to consume peanuts at all and, unlike some other types of allergies that decline with age, peanut allergy has a very early onset and lasts a lifetime.

Where can you buy peanuts online?

Discover all the varieties of natural peanuts and roasted peanuts on, the online shop for true lovers of nuts and dried fruit with no added salt or sugar.


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