The seeds of the plants—peanuts, also known as goobers, pinders, earthnuts, groundnuts, and ground peas—are eaten fresh or roasted and are used in cookery and confectionery. They are ground for peanut butter, an important article of commerce, and yield an oil used for margarine, cooking oil, soap manufacture, and industrial purposes. The herbage is used for hay, the residue from oil extraction (called peanut-oil cakes) for stock feed, and the whole plant, left in the ground, as pasturage for swine. Peanut crops are usually harvested by hand except in the United States. Europe is the chief importer and processor, especially for oil manufacture. In the United States the amount of the crop converted to oil depends on the demand for whole peanuts; it is usually only 15% to 20%. Because of its numerous uses (George Washington Carver developed several hundred), high protein content, and adaptability to varying demand, the peanut is an advantageous agricultural crop.
Peanut allergy became an increasing problem in the early 21st cent., leading many parents to avoid exposing their children to peanuts. After a study reported (2015) that young children with a peanut sensitivity were more likely to develop a peanut allergy if they avoided, instead of being regularly exposed to, peanuts, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommended (2017) that children begin to be exposed, with medical supervision in some cases, to foods containing peanuts by around six months of age to reduce the likelihood of peanut allergy.
Peanuts are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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