The peanut plant probably originated in Brazil or Peru, although no
fossil records exist to prove this. But for as long as people have been
making pottery in South America (3,500 years or so) they have been
making jars shaped like peanuts and decorated with peanuts.
European explorers first discovered peanuts in Brazil. The Incas
used peanuts in sacrificial offerings and entombed them with mummies to
serve the spirit in the afterlife. Tribes in central Brazil also ground
peanuts with maize to make an intoxicating beverage for celebrations.
The Portuguese transplanted peanuts to West Africa while the
Spaniards introduced them to the Philippines. Peanuts became a staple
of the African slaves on their voyages to America . In fact, the
African word for peanut, "nguba," soon was transformed into "goober."
Because of its introduction to America by slaves, the peanut was at
first relegated to an inferior status as food for the poor and
livestock. Ile Civil War introduced peanuts to Northerners, and both
Armies subsisted on this nutritious protein source.
By the turn of the century, botanist George Washington Carver
arrived at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama farmers were faced with boll
weevils decimating their cotton crop-which was their mainstay-Carver
promoted crop rotation practices and the cultivation of peanuts.
Furthermore, he developed more than 300 uses for peanuts from recipes
to new products and even non-food uses.
Soon, mechanized machinery simplified peanut harvesting and
processing. Street vendors began selling roasted peanuts from carts, as
did vendors at circuses and baseball stadiums.
Peanuts and peanut butter became an integral part of the Armed
Forces rations in World Wars I and II. Their popularity grew with the
growth of the U.S. population.
Today peanuts contribute over four billion dollars to the U.S.
economy each year. Although the U.S. is a major exporter of edible
peanuts to various countries around the World, they are grown in
countries as far flung as Africa, China, Australia and Argentina.