Did you know that the peanuts in peanut butter are not the same as the peanuts you snack on at the ballpark? If you didn’t know, you’re not alone. But don’t worry, we’ve got all the answers.
All peanuts come from the same plant, Arachis hypogaea, and today’s peanut is genetically almost completely identical to its original ancestor dating back over 10,000 years. That said, today we have different “varieties” of peanuts as a result of years of both wild and selective breeding. Peanuts are grown across the South and Southeastern U.S., and all have different characteristics and uses. Here’s a closer look at the four varieties of peanut grown in the U.S., and how they’re used.
Making up more than 80% of the peanuts grown in the U.S., runners are mostly used to make peanut butter and confections. Given that peanut butter is a pantry staple in over 90% of households, it’s no wonder that 1.3 million acres of runners were planted in 2020 across all 12 major peanut producing states. The kernels for runner peanuts are mostly uniform in size, which makes them perfect for evenly roasting so that your peanut butter has a consistent taste in every jar.
Considered the “gourmet” peanut variety, Virginia peanuts have large kernels, and are the variety you get in the shell at ballpark stadiums. Because of their large size and premium characteristics, this variety is best suited for snacking instead of in peanut butter. As Vice President Tom Nolan of in-shell peanut company, Hampton Farms, says, “Peanuts that end up as in-shell peanuts are the biggest and prettiest out there. They not only have to pass grade for size, they have to pass for color. Using them in peanut butter would be a loss, like the best winemaker using his best grapes to make cheap wine.” This variety is grown mostly in Virginia and the Carolinas, but in recent years is also being produced in Florida and Georgia, and as far west as Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
A smaller variety of peanut compared to others, Spanish peanuts are known for their red skins and nutty flavor profile. They have a slightly higher oil content, which adds to their flavor when roasted. These peanuts are almost exclusively grown out West, in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Spanish peanuts are typically used in candy, confections, and peanut butter, and most of the organic peanuts produced in the U.S. are of the Spanish variety.
Having three or more kernels per shell, the Valencia has a sweet flavor and is commonly used for all-natural peanut butter. Also, they are excellent for use as boiled peanuts. Valencia peanuts are grown mainly in Texas and New Mexico and account for less than one percent of U.S. production.