Health Benefits of Peanuts & Peanut Butter

The peanut, Arachis hypogea, is really a legume - same as a bean or pea. The plants are grown as an annual crop and look like a rather robust clover plant. The nuts originate from the stems, but are pushed into the ground by the plant at an early stage, and it is underground that they mature. Although a legume seed, peanuts are firmly embedded in our mind as nuts.

The species originates from semi-arid areas of Brazil. It was domesticated by the ancestors of the the present Arawak Indian people at least 5,000 years ago, and probably much longer than that. It was spread to Asia by the Spanish, and to Africa and then India by the Portuguese. It was introduced to the USA from Africa.
In 1903, George Washington Carver began his peanut research at Tuskeegee. Dr. Carver developed more than 300 uses for peanuts and improved peanut horticulture tremendously.

India, tropical Africa, and China are the leading peanut producing countries. The round 'Spanish' peanut has a full rich taste, and is usually used for roasting. The 'Virginia' peanut is larger and oblong, and is commonly sold in-shell. It has a more 'nutty' flavor. The most common commercial variety is the redskin 'jumbo runner'.

Whole peanuts are a very important human food. Peanuts are very high in protein ( 25 grams per 100gram serving) of good quality. They are a very good source of energy, with 50 grams of fats and 16 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving. About half their fat content is monounsaturated fats, about a third are polyunsaturated, and the remaining about fifth are saturated. Of the polyunsaturates, only a passing small amount is omega - 3.

Peanuts are a very good source of niacin (B3), with a healthy 112 mg/100 gram serving. They also contain vitamin E (8mg/100gms). Nuts in general, and peanuts in particular, are high in the bioflavonoid 'resveratrol'. This bioflavonoid is also found in red wine and is believed to help prevent the formation of arterial plaques. Peanuts have more resveratrol than grapes. Studies adding even small amounts of 'peanut products' to the diet have recorded a 14% reduction in the 'bad' LDL cholesterol. One ounce, or one small handful of peanuts contains 2 big grams of fiber. This is 9% of the fiber you need each day!

Researchers at Purdue University studied the effects of chronic peanut consumption on well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. One of the principle investigators, Dr. Richard Mattes, Department of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, says, "We wanted to determine the impact of peanut consumption on total diet quality. We found that including peanuts in the diet significantly increased magnesium, folate, fiber, copper, vitamin E, and arginine consumption, all of which play a role in the prevention of heart disease." These findings are consistent with several clinical and epidemiological studies, such as the Nurses Health Study, that show that people who consume about one ounce of peanuts, nuts and peanut butter per day improve blood lipid levels and decrease risk of cardiovascular disease.

Peanuts contain the same amount of beneficial chemicals as strawberries. University of Florida researchers report that peanuts are rich in antioxidants which protect cells from damage linked to heart disease and cancer. Peanuts also contain high levels of protein and "good" monounsaturated fat.

The researchers tested the antioxidant content of a dozen different varieties of peanuts. Antioxidants are the naturally occurring substances in plants that protect the body from free radicals - 'volatile' chemicals in the blood. Although free radicals do play an important role in the immune system, they also alter cholesterol in a process known as oxidation, which is thought to speed up the hardening of the arteries.

They found peanuts contain high levels of polyphenols, a family of chemicals commonly found in foods, which have strong antioxidant properties. The nuts contain a high level of one particular polyphenol called p-coumaric acid. The researchers discovered that roasting peanuts can increase the level of the acid in nuts, thereby increasing their overall antioxidant content by up to 22%.

Steve Talcott of the University of Florida, who led the research, said: "When it comes to antioxidant content, peanuts are right up there with strawberries. We expected a fairly high antioxidant content in peanuts, but we were a bit shocked to find that they're as rich in antioxidants as many kinds of fruit." He added: "Compared to foods long-considered rich in antioxidants, mostly fruits and berries, peanuts come out somewhere in the middle." The team are now looking at the possibility of specifically breeding peanuts high in antioxidants.

In 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield received the first patent for a shelf-stable peanut butter which would stay fresh for up to a year because the oil didn't separate from the peanut butter. One of the first companies to adopt this new process was Swift & Company for its E.K. Pond peanut butter, renamed Peter Pan in 1928. In 1932, Rosefield had a dispute with Peter Pan and began producing peanut butter under the Skippy label.

In 1955, Procter & Gamble entered the peanut butter business by acquiring W.T. Young Foods. They introduced Jif in 1958 and now operate the world's largest peanut butter plant, producing 250,000 jars every day.
Peanut butter makes delicious spreadables for breads, waffles, bagels, toast, crackers, apple slices, celery, or carrots. Spread it on plain or make some of the spreads below. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Spicy Apple: Heat a little applesauce, then remove from heat. Stir in twice as much peanut butter as applesauce and add a dash of apple pie spice.

Chocolate Peanut: Stir in a little chocolate syrup and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts.

Maple Cream: Combine peanut butter with an equal amount of softstyle cream cheese. Stir in enough maple syrup or honey to soften.

Honey Raisin: Stir in a few raisins and a splash of honey.

Orange Ginger: Blend in a little grated gingerroot and finely shreded orange peel. Spread on raisin bread or toss with hot rice or pasta.

Top Banana: Mash a banana and stir in some peanut butter and honey.

Peanut Butter Soup

This nutritious and delicious soup is made with sweet potatoes, peanut butter and chicken stock.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 or 4 medium to large sweet potatoes/yams peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 large chopped onions
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
8 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups peanut butter
1 tablespoon chili sauce (optional)
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or chives

1. Heat oil and saute onions
2. Add cumin and garlic and stir-fry 30 seconds over medium heat
3. Add chopped sweet potatoes, cover and cook for 10 minutes over low heat, stir to prevent sticking
4. Add Chicken stock, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes
5. Add peanut butter and chili sauce, stir
6. Simmer uncovered for half an hour, stir occasionally
7. Puree with a hand held blender or regular blender
8. Add peanuts, cilantro or chives and serve hot

Peanut Butter & Honey Cake

A sweet, delicious and nutritious cake for a snack or desert.

1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Mix honey and peanut butter
2. Add vanilla and eggs
3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt separately
4. Combine and mix ingredients
5. Pour in 7 by 11 inch or 9 inch square pan
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes

Crispy Peanut Butter Chews

3/4 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup dry roasted peanuts
3 cups Rice Krispies
10 large marshmallows

1. Melt honey and peanut butter in microwave
2. Bring to boil
3. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips and marshmallows until melted
4. Add Rice Krispies and peanuts
5. Pat firmly into a 9 inch square pan
6. Cut into squares and serve

Peanut Butter Snacks

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1 cup toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup coconut or sesame seeds

1. Combine and mix honey, wheat germ, peanut butter and dry milk
2. Stir in raisins
3. Shape into balls
4. Roll in coconut or sesame seeds - coating well
5. Store covered in refrigerator if any remain

Peanut Butter Salad Dressing

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup honey
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup cream cheese

1. Blend ingredients together with a blender or electric mixer
2. Serve over salad or fresh fruit

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