There has been much to celebrate this month. For example, there’s National Nutrition Month, International Women’s Day, Social Work Month, Mardi Gras, Saint Patrick’s Day and the beginning of spring, just to name a few, but did you know that March is also National Peanut Month? What a great opportunity to learn a little about the peanut.
Peanuts are enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. Whether plain, roasted, boiled or in a variety of dishes, peanuts are a popular and portable healthy snack. China, India, the U.S. and parts of Africa grow the most peanuts, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. In the United States, peanuts and peanut butter make up more than 66% of all nut consumption.
Peanuts have been present in the United States since the earlier days of colonization but did not become of commercial importance until about 1870. A USDA National Agricultural Library digital exhibit about George Washington Carver says it is not known exactly when and where the peanut was first cultivated, but there is every indication that the common peanut originally came from tropical America areas like Brazil.
Peanuts are wonderfully unique. They do not grow on trees like walnuts and pecans, and they are not a part of the root of the plant like a potato. The peanut grows under the ground, in complete darkness at the end of what is called a peg.
The peanut plant is above the ground and from the limbs of the plant grows leaves, leaflets and blossoms. When the blossoms wither, a peg begins to grow. The peg curves and grows downward until it penetrates the soil. Once the peg is under the ground, a pod forms containing two seeds that are peanuts.
The pea pod and the peanut shell are similar in function, but one grows above ground and the other grows underground. The word “nut” may be in the name, but botanically the peanut is a legume.
For more information and recipes on other legumes, check out UAF Extension’s publication “Cooking Dried Beans, Peas and Lentils” at bit.ly/2DmLrDL.
Even though a peanut is a legume, you will find peanuts in a can of mixed nuts or referred to as nuts in recipes and in general. Peanut butter is categorized under the nut and seed section for the protein food group too, so for culinary, research and nutritional purposes, peanuts are considered a nut.
Whether you want to refer to peanuts as nuts or legumes, peanuts and peanut butter are an affordable, readily available grocery option and are nutritious. Peanuts are rich in protein, unsaturated fat and fiber.
Peanut butter can be made at home with just one ingredient, which is peanuts, but when purchasing at the store, the ingredient list can vary. To make a healthier choice at the store, check the ingredient list and compare the Nutrition Facts Labels. You will be surprised how much added sugars and/or salt can be avoided when purchasing peanut butter.
Enjoy celebrating the rest of National Peanut Month with this quick, kid friendly recipe from University of Maine Extension.
Peanut Butter Balls
Calling all peanut butter lovers! Try these snack bites, sweetened with a touch of honey.
Yield: 12 servings
Cook time: 30 minutes
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup instant dry milk powder (nonfat)
1/2 cup whole grain cereal (crushed flakes)
Have a peanut allergy? Make these with another nut or seed butter instead.
Store leftover peanut butter balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
1. Mix peanut butter, honey and dry milk in a bowl.
Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in cereal.
Chill until firm for 30 minutes or longer.
Meal Type: Snack
Food group: Protein, dairy, grains
Reina Hasting is a coordinator with Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, which is administered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-474-2437.