THE STORY OF PEANUTS
Peanuts are one of the world’s oldest crops – let’s discover their interesting history!
Did you know the peanut is not a nut at all? It’s a legume – just like peas!
Around the world the peanut is called by different names including ground nuts, goobers (from the Congo word “nguba”), pinders and guinea seed.
Peanuts have been cultivated by humans for an amazing 7600 years! Anthropologists believe the earliest domesticated peanuts were grown on the slopes of the Andes mountains in South America.
In 2007, a team of scientists led by Prof Tom Dillehay from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut farming in the Ñanchoc Valley in Northern Peru.
Wild peanuts do not occur in the region naturally so the scientists believe they were domesticated elsewhere and then brought into the Ñanchoc Valley by traders or mobile farmers.
After the colonisation of the New World, Portuguese and Spanish sailers (who valued peanuts as they were easy to store on board ships) carried peanuts to Africa where they became common in the western tropical region. They were also introduced into East Asia from where they made their way into China in the 1600s.
When Africans were brought to North America as slaves, the peanut came with them. Slave traders carried peanuts as a food source because they were cheap but nutritious. An 1860 report in a Milwaukee newspaper, describing the British seizure of a slave ship, noted that it was “half-loaded” with peanuts.
Africa continued to be a major source of peanuts for many years. In 1858 it was reported that “from 50,000 to 60,000 tons a year” of peanuts were being shipped from Africa to the United States, Great Britain and France.
African exports dwindled in the 1880s after the southern states of the United States increased production.
SOME FACINATING PEANUT FACTS
- The Incas of Peru and Ecuador (1200-1532AD) were peanut farmers. They cultivated peanuts on large community farms and used irrigation ditches to transport water from streams and lakes to their crops. Llamas were used to transport the harvested peanuts.
- The people who lived at Ancon on the coast of Peru from 500 to 750BC buried their dead with peanuts so they wouldn’t become hungry in the afterlife!
- The Moche people from Peru decorated pottery with peanut shells from about 100AD to 800AD. A magnificent silver and gold peanut necklace was found in a Moche tomb near the city of Chiclayo.
- Only the women among many Brazilian Indian tribes were allowed to plant and harvest peanuts because they believed that women would ensure good harvests. The peanuts were traded with other tribal groups in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.
- The peanut was introduced into China by Portuguese traders in the 1600s and another variety by American missionaries in the 1800s. They quickly became popular and are featured in many Chinese dishes. Dr George Washington Carver
- The Portuguese also spread peanuts from South America to many other countries around the world, including Europe. This was because from the 17th century onwards peanuts were carried aboard their ships as an essential food that was easy to store over long periods at sea.
- Peanuts were used extensively during the American Civil War when soldiers on both sides carried them as food.
- Peanut butter was apparently invented by a St Louis (United States) doctor in the 1890s. Shortly afterwards Dr John Harvey Kellogg patented a “Process of Preparing Nut Meal” and in 1903 Dr Ambrose Straub patented a peanut butter-making machine.
- Many people wrongly believe that famous US botanist Dr George Washington Carver, who died in 1943, invented peanut butter. Dr Carver was keen to encourage poor Southern US cotton farmers to rotate their crops with peanuts to improve crop yields. He set out to find more commercial uses for peanuts and although he didn’t invent peanut butter, he promoted 300 other uses for peanuts in the United States including glue, printer’s ink, dyes, varnish and massage oil.
THE AUSTRALIAN STORY
- Chinese gold miners are credited with bringing the first peanuts to Australia during the Gold Rush.
- The first recorded planting in Queensland occurred near Cooktown in Far North Queensland.
- In 1901 Samuel Long planted the first peanut crop in the South Burnett. Soon many other farmers in the region were growing peanuts too.
- In 1924, the Peanut Marketing Board was established with its headquarters in Kingaroy. Kingaroy is now regarded as the Peanut Capital of Australia.
- By 1991, the Growers Co-Operative became a company to compete in a global economy. The Peanut Company of Australia was amalgamated and has grown from strength to strength, now supplying more than half of the Australian market.