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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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groundnuts often called peanuts or, in southern states of the USA, goobers or goober nuts (and, in the past, monkey nuts), are not, in the eyes of botanists, true nuts. The plants which produce them, notably Arachis hypogaea, are legumes like peas or beans, but have developed the habit of thrusting their flower stems into the ground after flowering and pollination, so that the fruit pods develop underground.

The groundnut, which thrives in both tropical and subtropical climates, was first grown in pre-Inca times in ancient Peru, and ranks among the half-dozen most important New World foods which were made available to the Old World as a result of Columbus’ voyages at the end of the 15th century. Its importance was quickly perceived, and from S. America it spread rapidly around the world, being taken to both W. and E. Africa by the Portuguese, to the Philippines and E. Asia across the Pacific from Mexico, and to N. America from Africa. It is now one of the world’s major food crops, vital to the nutrition of some peoples and to the economy of some countries. Although India is the main producer, and China lies second, the USA has become the principal exporting country and has provided some of the most picturesque personalities and marketing ploys associated with the nuts (see Smith, 2005).