Peanuts are popular legumes that are grown underneath the ground in many areas of the southeastern United States. The nuts inside the shells can be eaten whole, cooked, and used to make foods such as peanut butter. There are four types of peanuts: runners, Spanish, valencias, and Virginias. Each type of peanut originates from unique seeds that hold up best in certain climates, and the resulting foods also have different tastes. Specific types of peanuts are also used for the commercial processing of oils as well as snack foods.
Runners are the most common types of peanuts grown because of their appearance in packaged snacks. These nuts that are grown in the shells tend to look identical to one another, which makes them highly marketable. Runner peanuts are derived primarily from the southeastern United States, although they are also grown in some southwest areas of the country. Another commercial advantage to runners is their ease in processing for peanut butter.
Spanish peanuts are also used in peanut butter, as well as in snacks, such as crackers and cookies. The nuts themselves can be eaten whole, but some consumers do not like the fact that they have to unwrap each kernel from skins within the peanut shells. Some processing plants utilize Spanish peanuts more than runners because they are smaller in size, a trait that is beneficial for use in canned mixed nuts. Spanish peanuts are also used for heart-healthy cooking oils.
Valencias are the sweetest type of peanuts, and they are most often roasted within their shells. Consumers can purchase the shelled peanuts for roasting at home, or they can buy them already cooked and ready to eat. These peanuts are also popular for boiled peanuts, which consists of boiling the peanuts whole in their shells in a brine for hours. Valencia peanuts are small, but there are at least three kernels to every shell.
Virginia peanuts are the most popular for roasting because they contain the largest kernels of all of the different types. These nuts are generally sold for snacking and are not used for processing due to their large size. Virginias get their name for the area in the United States in which they are grown, but the peanuts are also planted in surrounding regions within the country.
Although all types of peanuts have a high fat content, they also contain high-density lipoproteins (HDL) that might help to prevent cholesterol problems in the future. In order to reap the health benefits of different types of peanuts, it is important that consumers limit their portions so that they do not consume too many calories at once. Special care might also be taken in people with food sensitivities, as peanuts are considered an allergenic food.