Where did peanuts originally come from?

No fossil evidence links the peanut plant to Brazil or Peru. In South America (3500 years ago), people created jars shaped like peanuts and decorated with peanuts. In Inca tombs along South America’s dry west coast, a common sight is jars of peanuts left with the dead for afterlife nourishment. Tribes in Central Brazil drank a drink made of peanuts and maize.

By the time the Spaniards came, peanuts were grown as far north as Mexico. Explorers have kept Spain growing peanuts, while Afro-Asians trade in peanuts. The plant then expanded throughout western tropical Africa; a fun fact, many Africans thought the peanut had a soul. Peanuts were first developed for oil, food, and as a chocolate substitute in South Carolina about 1800. Until about 1900, when labor-saving technology was created, peanuts were considered a poor man’s food.

After the Civil War began, Americans ate more peanuts, so did the Northern and Southern soldiers. In the late 1800s, street vendors, baseball events, and circuses offered fresh roasted peanuts. However, manual harvesting left branches and debris in the nuts. Thus, inconsistent quality hindered demand.

Peanut farming evolved about 1900. Nuts, roasted and salted, peanut butter, and confectionary became popular. George Washington Carver studied peanuts at Tuskeegee in 1903, and his work improved horticulture and led to over 300 peanut uses. The talented botanist recommended planting peanuts as a rotation crop in the Southeast cotton-growing regions threatened by the boll weevil infestation. Farmers listened, and southern farming changed.

Machines soon made collecting and processing simpler. The popularity of the peanut among Allied soldiers and the postwar baby boom boosted production during and after WWII. Suddenly, roasted peanut vendors appeared in circuses and baseball stadiums.

Peanuts now bring in almost $4 billion yearly. Although the US supplies edible peanuts, they are also grown in China, Australia, Argentina, and Africa.