The peanut, also known as the groundnut (botanical name Arachis hypogaea) is a member of the bean family known as Fabaceae. Perhaps, the domestication as well as cultivation of the peanut was first done in the valleys situated in Paraguay. In effect, the peanut is an annually growing herbaceous species that usually grows up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 50 cm (1.0 foot and 1.6 feet). The leaves of this species appear opposite to each other on the stalk and are feather-like having four leaflets of two opposite pairs, but do not have any terminal leaflet. Each leaflet of the peanut plant measures between 1 cm and 7 cm in length, while they are 1 cm to 3 cm in width.
The blossoms of the peanut have the characteristic shape of pea flower measuring about 2 cm to 4 cm in diameter and have a yellowish hue with red veins. The term ‘hypogaea’ denotes ‘below the ground’ – in effect, following the pollination process, the stalks of the flowers lengthen causing them to curve till their ovary comes in contact with the ground. Continuous growth of the stalk subsequently drives the ovary below the ground, where the ripened fruit grows into a legume pod, called the peanut – a typical instance of geocarpy. Usually, these pods grow up to a length of about 3 cm to 7 cm and each encloses anything between one to four seeds. In fact, peanuts have several other common names, for instance, ground nuts, earthnuts, pig nuts, pygmy nut as well as monkey nuts. Notwithstanding the name as well as its form, the peanut is actually not a nut, but a legume.
As aforementioned, the peanut plant is an undersized herb that grows annually and is thought to have its origin in Central America from where the Spanish explorers carried this plant was dispersed to the remaining parts of the world. Currently, peanuts are grown extensively in the form of oil yielding seeds and it has established itself in the form of a major commercial crop in India, China, in several African countries as well as the USA.
The peanut plant is propagated by means of its seeds and it takes anything between 120 and 150 days for the plants to bear the legumes from the date of sowing the seeds. It may be noted that the method for developing peanuts is somewhat remarkable. Following self-pollination, the yellow blossoms of the plant grow into ‘ovaries’, which are known as pedicles. These pedicels get longer very fast and twirl downwards and are buried some inches below the ground, where the fruits, which are familiar as peanut pods, develop.
The harvesting process of the peanut plants comprises digging out the entire plant from the ground. On an average, each peanut plant bears as many as 10 to 150 fruit pods. These pods have crumpled shells, which are compressed between two to four seeds in each pod. Every seeds are coated with a slender brown cover and can be cracked into two halves, as in the case of all other legumes.
Peanuts enclose elevated amounts of healthy fats, a reasonable quantity of low glycemic carbohydrates and are also a feasible and natural source of proteins for people who have vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian diets. Consuming one ounce of peanuts, sans the shells, will supply the body with approximately 160 calories, which come from nearly eight grams of protein, 14 grams of fat and about five grams of carbohydrates.
Besides providing a fair intensity of macronutrients, peanuts are also rich in vitamin E, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc content, while they do not contain any cholesterol, whatsoever. In fact, these minor, but potent nutrients present in peanuts supply the body with great quantities of important as well as essential elements.
The protein contained by peanuts actually provides your body with the amino acids and fuel required to develop the muscles. In addition, the amino acids enclosed by peanuts are also a natural source of nitrogen for our body.
In addition, peanuts also enclose lipids that are healthy for our body. These lipids are also called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Dissimilar to the saturated type of fats that are harmful for our health, the unsaturated fats function to bring down the cholesterol levels in the bloodstream and, at the same time, reducing the storage of fats and triglycerides. In fact, the saturated fats simply work on the contrary.
The elevated levels of vitamin E present in the potent peanuts work in the form of essential nutrients which control vitamin A, and also acts to shield the skin from damage caused by the sun as well as aging. On the other hand, the vitamin E present in the peanuts works in the form of an antioxidant within our body making this fruit among the extremely important as well as useful nourishments that are essential for a hale and hearty livelihood.
Besides vitamin E, peanuts also enclose vitamin B, which works in the form of a vital issue in the case of healthy metabolism. A number of B vitamins, such as those that are present in peanut provide folate, which helps to avoid several types of defects at birth as well as sustains the health of the heart.
Your body requires fiber for appropriate digestion of ingested foods as well as to control specific metabolic tasks. In this respect, peanuts supply your body with almost 10 per cent of your dietary fiber requirements every day, providing a minimum of two grams for each one ounce of the nuts. Several peanut butter spreads enclose lesser levels of fiber owing to preservatives as well as the manufacturing procedures.
Peanuts are also rich in magnesium content and this mineral facilitates in the formation of bones and teeth. In addition, magnesium also enables the body to assimilate additional amounts of another vital element for the health of our bones – calcium. Presence of excessive amounts of sodium shoots up the blood pressure, however, consuming salt-free peanuts are free from this risk, as they contain just 5 mg of sodium. Consuming such low intensity of sodium assists you in sustaining a healthy heart as well as appropriate water retention.
Peanuts contain several vital macronutrients that are essential for the normal functioning as well as the health of our systems. Peanuts offer sufficient quantities of potassium, a very essential mineral present in the human body. It may be noted that in addition to assisting in the formation as well as ability of healthy muscles, potassium also facilitates in regulating your blood pressure. Presence of high levels of potassium in the body enhances the metabolic pace of sugars, which, in turn, leads to a minor risk of hypoglycemia, obesity and weight gain, in addition to diabetes as well as kidney ailments.
You may take delight by consuming peanuts in their normal variety or by means of peanut butter as well as addition varieties bought from stores. The nut works in the form of a wonderful staple food for individuals who are endeavouring to lose the surplus flab or achieve lean muscles mass. You may give peanuts a try by consuming them in the form of a snack or a side dish to your meals.
Health benefits of peanuts
Peanuts are actually a storehouse of energy and enclose several nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are not only beneficial for our health, but also essential for maintaining best possible health.
As aforementioned, peanuts are particularly rich in monounsaturated fatty acid content, such as oleic acids that facilitate in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or ‘bad cholesterol, while augmenting the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or ‘good cholesterol’ in the bloodstream. Several studies have hinted that taking Mediterranean diet, which is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, assists in avoiding development of coronary heart disease as well as strokes by means of promoting a robust blood lipid profile.
Peanuts are also an excellent natural supply of dietary protein and are made up of superior quality amino acids that are vital for growth as well as development.
Many scientific researches have demonstrated that peanuts enclose an elevated intensity of poly-phenolic antioxidants, basically p-coumaric acid, which is thought to lower the chances of developing stomach cancer by means of lessening the development of carcinogenic nitrosamines.
It may be noted that peanuts are also a very good resource of resveratrol, an additional polyphenol antioxidant. It has been found that resveratrol possesses protective functions against a number of life threatening diseases, including heart ailments, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, degenerative nerve disease as well as viral and fungal contagions.
Findings of numerous studies have hinted that resveratrol also lessens the chance of having a stroke by modifying the molecular mechanisms in the blood vessels. This, in turn, lessens the vulnerability to any harm to the vascular system by means of reduced actions of angiotensin – a systematic hormone that results in the narrowing down of the blood vessels, which would have otherwise raised the blood pressure. Resveratrol also diminishes the risks of stroke by means of augmenting the production of nitric oxide – a hormone that dilates the blood vessels.
Latest research findings have hinted that when peanuts are boiled in water, it augments their concentration of antioxidants. In fact, it has been discovered that there is a two-fold and four-fold increase of genistein and biochanin A content in boiled peanuts. In addition, peanuts are also a wonderful resource of vitamin E (e-tocopherol), enclosing approximately 8 grams in every 100 grams. It may be noted that vitamin E is an extremely potent antioxidant soluble in lipids and it facilitates in sustaining the reliability of the cell membranes of the skin and mucus membranes by means of safeguarding them from detrimental free radicals.
In addition, peanuts are loaded with several essential vitamins belonging to the B-complex group, for instance, thiamine, vitamin B6, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin and folate. On an average, 100 grams of peanuts offer approximately 85 per cent of the RDI of niacin that helps in promoting the health of the brain as well as the blood circulation to the brain.
Peanuts are also an excellent natural resource of a number of vital minerals, such as iron, copper, zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium and the trace mineral selenium. Consuming only some peanuts daily offers sufficient recommended intensities of minerals, phenolic antioxidants, protein as well as vitamins.
You may buy peanuts from your local markets during any season of the year. However, various types of peanuts are available at the stores, including shelled, sweetened, salted and unshelled. While purchasing peanuts, it is advisable that you get unshelled nut (peanuts with their cover intact) rather than the processed varieties. Generally, peanuts are sold in airtight packages and also in bulk bins. The peanut pods ought to be compact, have an off white hue, be identical in size with a heavy feel in the hand and the shells should appear healthy. Prior to buying unshelled peanuts, ensure that they do not have any mold, cracks or spots and are free from any decomposing smell.
If you have bought unshelled peanuts or groundnuts, you may store them in any cool dry location for several months. On the other hand, shelled groundnuts (peanuts minus their shells) ought to be stored in sealed containers and placed in the refrigerator with a view to prevent them from decaying.
Preparation and serving methods
Generally, peanut is consumed in its normal form. You need to crack their shells by applying a little pressure between your fingers or by employing clippers or using a nutcracker machine. In addition, you may also enjoy the groundnuts consuming them after roasting, salting, boiling or sweetening.
Despite they nutty flavour, groundnuts or peanuts have a delightful sweet taste. When you roast the peanuts, it improves the flavour of the nuts, enhances their antioxidant contents, such as p-coumaric acid, and also facilitates in getting rid of the toxic aflatoxin. Even boiled peanuts have a distinct essence and taste. In effect, boiling peanuts makes them richer in their antioxidant profile as well as nutritional value.
It may be noted that peanut butter is actually a food paste prepared from pulverized roasted peanuts. The preparation may include the addition of oil or done without it too. People around the world love to consume peanut butter and it is generally used in the form of a spread. In addition, people also prefer peanut-milk in the form of a lactose-free milk drink that is also healthy.
The oil obtained from peanut is also a healthy resource of edible oil that is used for cooking, very much like olive and soy oils. Peanut oil is extensively used in cooking for its aromatic essence, particularly by the inhabitants of several southern states in India as well as in Sri Lanka.
In addition, roasted as well as crushed peanuts are frequently peppered over salads, especially sundaes and different other preparations based on ice cream. When you toss roasted and/ or split peanuts onto salads, it makes them more flavourful. You may also prepare peanut ‘chutney’ (actually a paste) using groundnuts, coriander leaves, salt, chili peppers, and garlic as well as mustard seeds. Peanut ‘chutney’ is a favourite preparation in the southern states of India as well as Sri Lanka.
Here is a word of caution: peanut allergy is a form of hypersensitive reaction endured by some people when they consume foods containing peanuts. Consequently, the over-response of the immune system may perhaps result in serious physical symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, engorgement of the lips and throat making breathing troublesome, congestion in the chest and in some cases, eventual death. Hence, it is advisable that people who are susceptible to peanut allergy ought to be careful to keep away from foods/ edible products that have been prepared using peanuts.
It may also be noted that peanuts are among the crops, which are disposed to fungal contagions (mold), particularly owing to the fungus aspergillus flavus – the microbe that produces aflatoxin. In effect, aflatoxin is an extremely potent as well as dangerous carcinogen (any substance that results in cancerous growth), which may be responsible for cancer as well as liver cirrhosis. However, roasting the peanuts before consumption facilitates in getting rid of their noxiousness and, hence, provides some safeguard from the effects of aflatoxin.