Peanuts is an inexpensive food for common people. All types of people would eat them for a variety of reasons. Workers going home after late hours can buy at bus stop or train station or motorist driving home stuck in traffic can buy on roads when vendors come with roasted peanuts wrapped in paper cone. Families have bought chikki or gajak at picnic or excursion at Lonavala. Some have started using peanut butter to reduce fat and increase protein intake. Roasted or boiled peanuts have been used in many recipes for making chutney, gravy or salan etc. Even those who enjoy parties have peanuts among snacks.
Peanuts are also known as groundnuts as they grow underground. For harvesting the shrubs are dug out and after the wet pods are dry, they are removed for cleaning from plant and further processing. Actually, peanut is not a nut unlike almonds or walnuts, but legume like soybean and pulses. But because of similarities in appearance, taste and texture etc it is commonly grouped in nuts. Global production is over 50 million tons and India, with over 10 million tons production, is the second largest producer of peanuts after China (1).
Health Benefits and Some Issues of Peanuts
Peanuts are rich in protein and fat. They contain in 100 g, proteins 23.65 g, fat 39.63 g, dietary fibre 10.38g (insoluble 8.58g & soluble 1.79g) and carbohydrates about 17.27g (2). Some other varieties may have higher protein and fat contents.
Peanuts are excellent source of B-vitamins with high contents of thiamine (B1), niacin (B3) and folate (B9) along with very good amounts of riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5) and pyridoxin (B6). They are also rich in vitamin E and zinc (3).
Peanuts are rich source of protein. Although the quality of proteins is not as high as milk, egg and other animal proteins, it is better than grains (4). Protein contents in different varieties range from 22 to 30%.
Although peanuts are excellent source of inexpensive and abundant protein, about 2.5% of US children may be allergic to peanuts. About 20% of them outgrow peanut allergy but those allergic to peanuts should avoid it and products containing peanuts or peanut ingredients are labelled to contain them. Refined peanut oil has no allergic reaction. Peanut allergy is less prevalent in India.
Peanuts contain about 40% fat of which almost half is monounsaturated due to oleic acid. This along with about one fourth of polyunsaturated fat due to linoleic acid is heart friendly. However, that does not mean one can consume any amount of peanuts, as consuming too much would add total fat intake and calories which is not healthy for heart.
Peanuts are low in carb, about 17%, most of which, about 10%, is dietary fibre. This makes peanuts low GI food. Dietary fibre helps control blood sugar, helps to avoid constipation and acts as prebiotic to promote the growth of probiotics, the friendly microbes providing gut health.
Peanuts also contain some beneficial phytochemicals including polyphenols, phytosterols and antioxidants. Resveratrol present in peanuts can reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer. Thus, peanuts are quite healthy when used as part of diet.
Peanuts can get contaminated with mould Aspergillus flavus. When peanut pods are not dried adequately or peanuts are stored under humid conditions, the mould may produce toxin named aflatoxin. This causes many illnesses including cancer in animals but there is likelihood of it being toxic to humans as well. Thus, care needs to taken in drying and storing pods and peanuts to avoid this problem.
Products from Peanuts
Dr Carver in the US prepared over 300 products from peanuts including food products, stock foods, cleaning products, beverages, medicines, cosmetics, dyes, paints and many more.
Some of the popular food products being produced include salted & roasted peanuts, peanut butter, boiled peanuts, coated peanuts, various sauces, pastes & relishes, peanut brittle/chikki & candy bars and many more.
Peanut oil is a very important commercial product. Peanuts are either crushed and pressed to remove oil from it but this leaves good amount of oil in the defatted cake. Solvent extraction recovers more oil but then the cake needs to be heated at high temperature to remove the solvent remaining. That lowers the quality of proteins but it becomes an inexpensive material for many products including those for animals.
CFTRI had developed a process of separating and isolating proteins from groundnut and use it as milk extender. This way milk supply was extended without lowering protein content and this process was awarded IFT’s Industrial Achievement Award.
Indian cuisine loves to add peanuts either boiled, roasted or fried in many recipes. They are added in dabeli as well as in sabudana khichdi or vada where peanuts provide crunch to the food. Upma and kanda poha can accommodate roasted peanuts while chivda is made appealing with peanuts. It goes well with jaggery in sweet dishes including chikki, laddu and others. Since peanut is acceptable during fasting many faraali foods are made using it to provide both taste and nutrition, with thalipeeth and pattice. Both Punjabi and Hyderabadi salan uses peanuts while many south Indian dishes add peanuts. Snacks also use peanuts generously especially in bhel and chaat items (5).
Thus, peanuts have now regained its importance not just because of its low cost but also because of its nutrients and healthy components and most importantly due to its taste and flavour.
- Peanut (Groundnuts with shell) production in 2020. FAOSTAT, Food & Agri. Org. of the UN, Statistics Div. 2020.
- Longvah & others, Indian Food Composition Tables, 2017, National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR) Hyderabad.
- Peanuts, Food Data Central USDA (https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172430/nutrients)
- Arya et al. Peanuts as Functional Food: a Review, J Food Sci & Tech 2016, 53(1):31-41 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711439/pdf/13197_2015_Article_2007.pdf)