Our Beloved Peanut Plant
Arachis Hypogaea L
The peanut plant originated in South America.
Modern day Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil have the greatest diversity of wild varieties of this groundnut, suggesting these regions as the likely birthplace of Arachis hypogaea.
Discovery of 7,600 year old fossilized peanut hulls in the Ñanchoc Valley of Peru indicates the importance of peanuts to ancient South Americans. Peanuts, cotton, and squash are among the oldest cultivated crops in America, according to the Ñanchoc fossils. Remains of garden plots, irrigation canals, and storage structures were uncovered at the site.
Development of agriculture by the Ñanchoc people fueled cultural, and social changes, leading to new towns, and political structures in the Andean highlands, and coastal regions, more than 4,000 years ago.
After Portuguese explorers arrived in Brazil in 1500, they carried peanuts from South America to Western Africa. Peanuts were quickly accepted by African growers due to the similarity of peanut plants to the native bambara groundnut. Bambara groundnuts, and peanuts are both subterranean legumes. Peanuts largely replaced bamara in Africa.
Bartolome de las Casas was the first European to document the peanut plant.
De las Casas arrived on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola in 1502. Returning to Spain in 1547, he wrote "Apologética historia de las Indias". A translation of his comments on peanuts,
"They had another fruit which was sown, and grew beneath the soil, which were not roots, but which resembled the meat of the filbert nut of Castille. I say, that they were neither more nor less than filbert nut without the shells, and these had thin shells or pods in which they grew, and were covered in a different fashion than filbert nuts because they were in a manner similar to how beans are found in the pods, because these pods were not green nor soft, but were dried in a manner of the sweet pea or chick pea of Castille at the time they were ready for harvest, they are called maní, with an acute accent on the last syllable, and were so tasty that neither hazelnuts not walnuts, not any other fruit fruit of those in Castille whatsoever could compare for taste. And because still if you ate too much of them for their good taste, then you got a headache from them, but not eating too much does not hurt the head nor cause other damage; it is always eaten, for they know it very well, with cassava bread, or wheat if they have it."
1769 is the earliest documented account of peanuts in the North American British colonies. Peanuts were likely brought to North America by slaves from Africa, and the Caribbean before the USA existed.
Once Europeans found peanuts they distributed them far, and fast.
Peanuts provide food, oil, and seed in a natural, protective shell. Peanut plants grow well in moderate soil, require little attention, and replenish the soil with nitrogen. Dried peanuts can be stored for months, and transported long distances without spoiling.
Humans have cultivated, and eaten peanuts for thousands of years, because they are easy to grow, flavorful, nutritious, and transportable. Few new world plants have integrated themselves into the recipes, and cultures of the old world as determinedly as the tiny peanut.
Peanuts feed the world.