The peanut plant is generally thought to have originated in South America. Spread by European explorers, the plant eventually reached Asia, Africa, and North America. The current top three producers of peanuts are China, India, and the U.S.
The production of peanuts in the U.S. started to rise around the early 1900s. This can be credited to the growing popularity of peanut butter, peanut-based candies and other peanut products, a need for more plant oils during World War I, and the research of Dr. George Washington Carver.
Carver is considered by many to be the father of the peanut industry. He began his peanut research in 1903. He suggested to farmers that they rotate their cotton plants and cultivate peanuts. While cotton depletes nitrogen from the soil, peanuts, as legumes, naturally add nitrogen back into the soil.
Throughout history, peanuts have been enjoyed in many culinary applications from Chinese to African to Western cooking. Used in stews, sauces, porridges, and mixed dishes, whether boiled or eaten out of hand, peanuts have continually (and deliciously!) nourished different populations. Millions of peanuts are grown and consumed around the world. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, China, India, the U.S., and parts of Africa grow the most peanuts. In the U.S., peanuts and peanut butter comprise more than two-thirds of all nut consumption and they are considered an all-American favorite. Plus, peanuts and peanut butter are an affordable and readily available grocery option.