Peanut plants have been growing in South America since 1500 BCE. In Peru, peanuts were highly valued – so much so that the Incans of Peru used them as a sacrificial offering and entombed them with mummies to help their deceased relatives in their spirit life.
Even before the Spanish began exploring the new world, peanuts had already migrated and were being grown as far north as Mexico. Peanuts were taken back to Spain and, from there, explorers worked with traders to take this new legume all over the world, as far as Asia and Africa.
Africans were the first to introduce peanuts to North America in the early 1700s. However, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that peanuts were grown commercially as a crop in the United States. The very first peanuts were grown in Virginia and were used for oil, food and as a cocoa substitute.
During the first half of the nineteenth century peanut production and consumption grew steadily. They became popular after soldiers of the Civil War enjoyed and ate them as a source of protein. Popularity grew in the late half of the century when they were roasted by street vendors and served at baseball games.
To maintain quality and uniformity as peanut production increased, labour-saving equipment was invented around 1900 to plant, cultivate, harvest and pick peanuts from the plants. Machines were also invented to aid in shelling and cleaning the kernels. This increase in production prompted an increase in demand for peanut products. The most popular peanut products included oil, roasted and salted nuts, peanut butter and candy.
Peanuts were first grown commercially in Canada in 1982 as an alternate cash crop for Norfolk County farmers following the decline of tobacco consumption in the 1980s. Norfolk County produces high quality crop because it is the only region in Canada that possesses ideal soil and temperature conditions.
Another important moment in the history of peanuts and peanut butter in Canada was when our fellow Canadian, Marcellus Gilmore Edson from Montreal, patented peanut butter for peanut candy in 1884. Although peanut butter actually dates back to Aztec times, the invention of it is credited to Marcellus who came up with the finished product from milling roasted peanuts between two heated surfaces.
Due to its protein, peanut butter became a vital part of the Armed Forces' rations during both wars. It is believed that the popular PB & J became well known because the U.S. army used it for sustenance during maneuvers in the Second World War.
For information about growing peanuts and current harvesting practices, please visit www.peanutbureau.ca.