Peanuts are native to South America. The ancient Incas of Peru stashed peanuts in jars at burial sites to nourish departed spirits. Peanuts made their way to the southern colonies of North America with slaves from West Africa, who planted them as a food crop to feed themselves. They called the nut “nguba,” which was the origin of the word “goober,” one of many names for the peanut.
Peanuts are not really nuts. Nuts grow on trees. The peanut plant is a vine. Peanuts are legumes, related to beans and peas. Legumes help restore poor soils by capturing nitrogen from the air and making it available to the plants through their root systems.
Peanuts grow underground. The peanut is the fruit of the plant. The peanut seed grows into a small green bush, about 18 inches tall. It has delicate yellow flowers. After the flower loses its petals, the flower stalk, or peg, is pulled by gravity toward the ground. The peg grows into the ground and forms peanuts about one inch below the soil surface. It takes about four to five months for the peanut plant to grow from planting to harvest.
To harvest a peanut plant, the farmer cuts the main taproot and pulls the plant gently from the soil. The plants are left in the field for a few days to dry. Then the peanut pods are taken from the plant with a machine called a “combine.”
Peanuts need a long growing season to produce mature seeds. They will not tolerate frost. Although they form underground, the edible portions of the plant are not tubers but seeds housed in a capsule—a nutlike shell.
The peanut is about 28 percent protein, 50 percent oil, 18 percent carbohydrates, and 4 percent ash. They are rich in Vitamin B complex (for strong muscles and tissues). They can be used in soup, salads, puddings and breads. In the US, one-fourth of all edible peanuts end up in candy bars, and over half are used for making peanut butter. The average American eats about 11 pounds of peanuts a year, enough to make over 10 billion peanut butter sandwiches. Worldwide, about two-thirds of the peanut crop is crushed for oil. Peanut oil supplies about 8 percent of the world’s edible oil production. Peanut products are used in food processing and for animal food. The peanut shell and residues left after oil pressing can be fed to animals. Plants can also be left in the ground to provide excellent forage for cattle and swine and to help enrich the soil.
The peanut is now cultivated in more than 40 countries on six continents. India and China produce more than half the peanuts in the world, followed by Nigeria, Senegal, the US, Indonesia, Sudan, and Burma. In the US, the major peanut-growing states are Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas. Oklahoma ranks ninth among the states that raise peanuts in our country.
Americans buy over 800 million pounds of peanut butter each year—
The standard recipe for manufactured peanut butter calls for 90 percent
Peanut butter slices, wrapped individually like American cheese, are now
Student read and discuss a passage about the scientist George Washington Carver and outline the information. (Grade 4: Social Studies, ELA)
Student sprout peanuts and grow peanut plants. (Grades K-2: Science)
Students will read a short text about the peanut plant and answer sequencing and comprehension questions. (Grades 2-4: Science)
Students will use peanuts in estimation and graphing activities. Students will create art with peanut shells. Students will play games with peanuts. (Grades PreK-2: Math)
Students will create books showing the main ingredients of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Students will use their five senses to explore peanut butter. Students will give and follow directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and write about their experiences. (Grades PreK-2: ELA, Math)
Ag in Art: Arachis hypogaea
Arachis hypogaea (Peanut Plant), Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H Youth Development, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.