While most people have likely never thought to pose the question, the answer is truly baffling. Although they have the word “nuts” in their name, peanuts are in fact not truly a type of nut.
While many may associate peanuts with nuts, they may also associate their invention with the more recent George Washington Carver. However, it would appear that both pieces of information are incorrect.
While George Washington Carver did encourage farmers to grow alternative and nutritious crops such as peanuts, he by no means invented them. In fact, it is believed that some strains of peanut date as far back as 7,600 years ago.
Historically, it seems peanuts originated in South American countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. Having gained popularity all over the world, the peanut is an important global ingredient in dishes today.
It is unknown whether the peanut’s true classification was known before it was given its misnomer. Still, the fact remains that peanuts are not actually nuts, but legumes.
While most associate legumes with beans, the actual definition, and classification of nuts, is slightly more complex than that. In truth, legumes are any sort of seed or plant that grows inside of a pod.
This is one of the reasons we mostly associate legumes with beans, as the green bean is typically what comes to mind when we think of legumes. When looking at them this way, it is easy to see how peanuts fit in this classification.
Because of this classification, the peanuts themselves are easily classified as seeds rather than nuts.
Interestingly enough, peanuts are classified as much more than legumes. They are also considered an oil crop. This is due to the high oil production of peanut crops.
What’s more, another qualification most nuts have is that they must grow on trees. Peanuts are unlike nuts in that they mature underground, similar to other legumes and beans people are familiar with.
But that’s not all; using that definition of nuts means that many foods we already classify as nuts actually miss the mark. Foods such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts are all technically seeds of their trees rather than nuts themselves.
While this may shock many, readers can rest assured. There are some nuts that are not complete imposters. These are foods such as hazelnuts and pecans, which grow in the exact right way to allow themselves to be classified as nuts.
Hazelnuts and pecans fit the bill as they do not grow in bunches like the aforementioned foods. Additionally, these foods produce a single nut that is surrounded by a hard shell.
While the truth about these foods typically thought of as nuts can be slightly confusing, there is a bit of a through-line. Experts give us a bit of leeway as to how we think of the peanut and other legumes, saying that although they are technically classified as legumes, their usage makes the lake of a clear line understandable.
In fact, because peanuts and these other legumes are typically consumed in the same was as nuts, experts give us some grace when it comes to referring to them as nuts. In other words, because we eat them like nuts and include them in foods we would normally eat with nuts, it is more than alright to consider them as nuts culturally.
While the peanut not being technically considered a nut may be shocking for some, noting the reasons behind this classification can be illuminating. However, knowing that peanuts are legumes rather than a nut will likely have little to no effect on how you incorporate them into your diet.