Planting and Harvesting
A digger-shaker uproots the peanut plant, shakes off the dirt and turns the plant upside down to dry.
- Peanuts are planted after the last frost in April, when soil temperatures warm up. The shelled peanut – or kernel – also is a seed. The kernels are planted two inches deep, and about one to two inches apart.
- The plant sprouts in about 10 days. Flowers form about 40 days after planting and pollinate themselves. The petals fall off when the peanut ovary forms and penetrates the soil.
- The peanut plant is unusual because it flowers above the ground, but fruits below the ground.
- Peanuts are harvested 120-160 days after planting, usually in September and October. The soil can’t be too wet or too dry or the peanuts will stick in the ground.
- Farmers use machinery to loosen the plant and cut it free from the root. The plant is lifted off the ground and shaken to remove soil. The plant sits in the sun for two to three days to dry. After drying, machinery picks the peanuts off the vine.
- Harvested peanuts are taken to buying stations where they are weighed, graded and inspected to determine quality and value.
- After the buying station, peanuts travel to shelling plants. Here, farm materials such as sticks and rocks are removed, and the peanuts are sorted by size. They are shelled and inspected to eliminate immature kernels. The sheller packs the peanuts into bags, boxes or railcars for delivery to manufacturers.
- Peanut butter manufacturers inspect the peanuts to ensure high quality, and then roast them in special ovens. After roasting, the peanuts are cooled rapidly to halt the cooking process, retain an even color and prevent the loss of oil.
- Another machine rubs the peanuts between rubber belts to remove the outer skin. This process is called blanching. The kernels are split, the hearts removed and the peanuts are cleaned and sorted a final time.
- Finally, the peanuts are ground twice, as one long grinding would produce too much heat, damaging the flavor. First, the peanuts are ground alone, then with ingredients like salt, sweetener and stabilizer (to keep the oil from separating).
- Peanut butter today is remarkably similar to that produced a century ago. To legally label the spread as peanut butter, it must contain a minimum of 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. Some brands add natural sweeteners and salt, plus stabilizers for freshness. Natural peanut butter has no stabilizer but may contain natural sweeteners and salt.
The most common peanut varieties grown in the United States are (from left) Virginia, Spanish and Runner.
- Virginia Peanuts: Virginia peanuts are often called”cocktail nuts.” Their size makes them wonderful for processing, particularly for salting, confections and in-shell roasting. They are grown primarily in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas.
- Spanish Peanuts: Grown mostly in Texas and Oklahoma, Spanish peanuts are easily identifiable by the reddish-brown skin that covers them. They are primarily used in peanut candies, snacks and peanut butter, but are also the best choice for extracting oil because of their high oil content compared to other varieties.
- Runner Peanuts: Runner peanuts are the most widely consumed variety and are the perfect size for producing peanut butter. Mostly grown in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma, the Runner thrives in the warm climate and sandy, well-drained soil.