There was this alter ego of the Walt Disney Goofy (of Mickey Mouse fame) called Supergoof and he got his powers from the super goober patch in his backyard. Goobers and groundnuts are the other names for the more common peanuts. This otherwise super goofy character got his sinews and jet power from gobbling all those peanuts, sneaking out of his back door and emerging from the goober bushes transformed!

In the real world, Peanuts are a legume crop grown for its power packed edible seeds, grown in the sub-tropics and the tropics where the weather is warm and the soil well drained. India is the second largest producer of peanuts in the world.

The secret world of legumes

Though peanuts are commonly classified as nuts, they are actually legumes. Peanut pods develop underground and this has given rise to its scientific name Arachis hypogaea – hypogaea meaning underground. These legumes have nitrogen fixing properties. In their root nodules, they harbour symbiotic bacteria which make ammonia from nitrogen in the air. Ammonia is used by the peanut plant to make amino acids and nucleotides (protein). In turn the bacteria use sugars from the plant. However, peanuts are similar to tree nuts like almonds and walnuts in their nutritional profile.

A complete food for complete health care

Peanuts are rich in essential nutrients and are an excellent source of protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals:

Protein: A cup of peanuts contains 38 gms of protein which is a source of many of the amino acids required by the human body to perform hormonal and neurological functions.

Fats: Fats are essential for a balanced diet; it is a fallacy that a diet should be fat free. 78% of the calories in raw peanuts are from fat: but this is the good mono and poly unsaturated kind which actually lowers LDL cholesterol and the twin risks of diabetes and coronary disease.

Vitamins: Peanuts also contain niacin, folate, Vitamins E and B6, thiamine, riboflavin. These help protect levels of Vitamins A and C. They also keep the body in good ticking order by regulating appetite and healthy digestion and metabolism: all great for good skin. Folate is good for the developing foetus as it lowers the risk of birth defects, both spinal and neurological.

Minerals like magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, iron, potassium and calcium are essential for bone and tooth health, muscle contraction, blood clotting and general immunity. Peanuts are a rich source of them all.

Fibre: Peanuts contain insoluble dietary fibre which is considered necessary for weight loss and beneficial for controlling type 2 diabetes.

Peanut milk is being promoted in Africa to fight malnutrition: it is lactose free, extremely nutritive and affordable.

Benefit more than the human body

The nitrogen fixing property of this leguminous plant means that they improve soil fertility. As a consequence, the soil needs less nitrogen based fertilisers. Rotating crops involving peanut plants is sensible agricultural practice as a peanut crop leaves behind nitrogen enriched soil for a different crop to utilise.

Peanut oil is used in cooking and is a healthy alternative as it is unsaturated fat, resistant to rancidity. The residue protein- rich cake after oil manufacture is used as soil fertiliser and supplemental feed for livestock.

Industrial use of peanut oil may not be common knowledge. Nevertheless, it is used in paint, varnish, lubricants, insecticides and even nitroglycerin. Many cosmetics and soaps also use this oil or its derivatives.

Peanut shells, believe it or not, are used to manufacture hardboard, abrasives, fuel, cellulose and glue!

Can peanut butter be far behind?

This protein packed product should ideally have peanuts, salt and not much else, but it is usually sold sweetened. It is a good and easy way to supplement your protein in-take: a serving of 2 tablespoons is recommended. It is often the body builder’s good friend.

A word of care

We increasingly hear of peanut allergies. The symptoms range from mild allergic reactions like watery eyes and skin rashes to the life threatening anaphylactic shock. These allergies have been traced to family history and the consumption of soy products. But unless there is an actual diagnosis of an allergy, there is no need to avoid peanuts. The good news for allergy sufferers is that designer peanuts without the allergy causing protein trigger are on the block.

Peanuts are also susceptible to a type of fungal infection which produces a toxic compound called aflatoxin. Still, organic and modern methods of farming can go a long way in ensuring crop safety.

Common sense also dictates that no food supply is ever 100% safe. We live in a sea of toxins and have always stayed afloat. In fact there is a much greater possibility of getting e-coli infection from contaminated food than danger of exposure to aflatoxin.

Peanuts have a very high calorific content. The way to get a mouthful of the benefits would be to replace empty calories from snacks like chips and pastries with these tasty and health filled legumes.

Gastronomic paths

Raw peanuts are mostly used in cooking. Spicy peanut sauces are widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine including those of Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. In India, cooking, particularly in the Deccan plateau region involves multiple and extensive use of this nutritive legume: in masalas, chutneys and as additions to vegetable dishes.

Tender peanuts are delicious, boiled in their cases with a dash of salt. Roasting is another popular choice and actually improves the antioxidant properties.

There are many packaged brands in the market which offer peanuts batter fried or dusted with exotic flavours.

So, the next time you pick up a packet of peanuts, just remember that it is a super-goober, indeed!

Peanuts – More Than Just a Way to Pass the Time of Day by Karthik Guduru