PEANUTS: How They Reach the Consumer
Few people who buy a small bag of roasted or salted peanuts from a street vender know of their origin or of the man processes the peanuts have passed through since leaving the ground. Peanuts are supposed to have originated in Brazil, but were taken in slave ships to Africa, Spain, and other countries at a very early date, and the types of peanuts that we know in America were probably developed in Spain and various parts of Africa.
The growth of the peanut industry in the United States was slow until the introduction about 45 years ago of labor-saving machinery for the various cleaning and shelling processes. The increase of the boll weevil in the cotton-growing States was responsible for a wave of peanut planting throughout the Southern States 10 or 12 years ago. During the last three or four years peanut production in this country has been less than during some of the war years, largely because of lessened returns and the preference of the southern farmer for planting cotton when reasonably profitable.
Peanuts require a long summer in which to mature properly, and to are not planted commercially north of a line running west from southern Virginia. Virginia-type peanuts are large-podded and seem to do best in the soils of southeastern Virginia, northeastern North Carolina, and- central Tennessee. Elsewhere in the peanut belt the small-podded Spanish is the preferred type, although many Runners, with pods of medium size, are planted in Alabama and Florida.
After the peanut plants are dug or pulled from the ground, they are left in a stack or windrow to cure for a month. This lessens the tendency of the kernels to shrivel. Then the pods are picked from the vines by means of a mechanical picker or threshing machine and taken to the cleaning or shelling factory. Large storage houses at a number of the factory points provide a means for holding over peanuts from the time of harvest until they are needed later in the season. Millions of pounds of peanuts are also stored in the cleaning and shelling plants.
As the peanuts come from the farm the pods are often partially covered with dirt and accompanied by sticks, stones, and other foreign material. In consequence, cleaning operations are necessary as a preliminary step in making the peanuts ready for sale. This is especially true in the Virginia-North Carolina section, where the best of the large-podded nuts are sold in the shell for roasting. Before peanuts in the shell are considered ready for bagging they pass through a revolving reel, where excess sand and dirt drops out, through a machine for cutting off the little stems attached to the pods, past various fans to blow out chaff, light stems, and lightweight, pods, through grading machines, and even a polishing drum, which contains a white, dustlike powder in which the pods tumble around sufficiently to give them all a fairly uniform color. Finally, the pods pass along revolving, endless belts, along which workers are seated to remove discolored misshapen pods and any remaining foreign material.
Peanuts that are to be shelled and sold for salting, peanut butter, or peanut candy do not need such elaborate preparation, but usually pass through some recleaning machinery before being shelled. It is important that stones be removed, however, and a device using air currents and gravity is employed for this purpose with Spanish peanuts. The shelling is accomplished by forcing the pods between two cylinders, the inner one revolving, while the outer is stationary. To the revolving cylinder are attached two steel “beaters,” which strike and crack the hulls of the nuts. Shelled Virginia-type peanuts are graded into two sizes, the larger of which is salted and the smaller worked into peanut butter and peanut candy. Peanuts which have been split in going through the machinery are used for cheaper grades of butter and candy.
Spanish and runner peanuts are always sold shelled. Shelled Spanish are so uniform in shape that they are well adapted to the penny vending machines, so numerous in some cities for the sale of salted peanuts, and enormous quantities are sold for this purpose. Spanish peanuts are also used to blend with Virginia-type nuts in making peanut butter, and a considerable and increasing volume is used in peanut candy. Runners are used primarily as a substitute for Virginias in peanut butter and peanut candy.
Shelled peanuts of the Virginia type which are to be salted have the thin outer skin removed before being placed in the vegetable oil in which they are cooked. With salted Spanish, however, the thin red skin is left on.
Peanuts in the shell are roasted from 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon the size of the roaster and the amount of heat used. Scorching is likely to result if the heating is too rapid. The machinery for roasting peanuts on a large scale is similar to that used for roasting coffee. In fact, coffee roasters are using their equipment increasingly for roasting peanuts as a side line.