Although many people consider peanuts a nut, they are really a legume of the plant Arachis hypogaea. This "mighty mite" of legumes comes to us from a low-growing plant that produces its fruit below the soil.
The peanut, while grown in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, is native to the Western Hemisphere. It probably originated in South America and spread throughout the New World as Spanish explorers discovered the peanut's versatility.
Peanuts were not grown extensively in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s. Though commercial peanut farms existed, peanuts were not a popular crop as growing and harvesting techniques were slow and difficult. Until the Civil War, the peanut was a regional food associated with the southern United States.
Then, by the end of the nineteenth century, improvements in peanut production, harvesting, shelling and processing contributed to the expansion of the peanut industry.
At the same time, an American scientist named George Washington Carver was researching alternative crops to cotton for southern U.S. farmers. Peanuts became an important focus of his research. He discovered improvements in horticulture and developed more than 300 uses for peanuts – from salted peanuts, to shoe polish, to shaving cream!
Today, farms in the United States typically produce between 3 billion and 5 billion pounds of peanuts annually, and there are approximately 25,000 peanut farmers in the major producing regions (Georgia, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Oklahoma.)
Canada is one of the largest consumers of quality USA peanuts, accounting for one third of the total export.
This well-loved legume is also fondly referred to as earthnut, ground nut and goober pea.