Is it possible that peanuts, one of the most popular nuts in the world, are not actually nuts at all? Are they legumes?
The Short Answer:
Yes, peanuts are legumes.
The Long Answer:
If you ask most people on the street to name three nuts, chances are one of their responses will be peanuts. That’s because these delightful little pods are wildly popular the world over, featured alone, in peanut butter, or various Thai recipes. In fact, peanuts make up 67% of all nut consumption within the U.S.
But those people would be 100% wrong. Peanuts are actually not a nut at all. They’re legumes. Things like walnuts and almonds are traditional nuts and they grow above ground in trees. But peanuts actually grow underground.
Peanuts have more in common with beans and peas than they do with walnuts and almonds. That’s because they belong to the plant family Leguminosae, like all other legumes. A legume is an edible seed that is grown within a pod. They’re some of the best sources of protein in the plant kingdom, which makes them a favorite of vegetarians and vegans who have cut meat protein from their diet completely.
So, why do we call them a nut? Much like a tomato being legally classified as a vegetable, we call peanuts nuts because of their use in our diet and cuisine. They’re not used the way one would eat a bean or a pea. They’re typically eaten by the handful or as part of another product, much like a nut.
The peanut plant produces green oval leaves and stands about 18 inches tall. The plant sprouts small yellow flowers around its lower half. The flowers of a peanut plant pollinate themselves and as the flower’s ovary grows, the petals fall off. The bud then grows down and away from the plant, burying itself into the soil where it begins to grow and mature into the peanuts that we all know and love today. It typically takes between four and five months for peanuts to mature.
So, botanically, peanuts are considered to be legumes. This is their scientific identity. But, because they are consumed in the way one would a nut, we typically refer to them as nuts and group them in with this unrelated food group.
Do you enjoy peanuts? Have you found any peanut alternatives? What is your favorite legume? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!