Flavor Investigator: Peanuts

In the United States peanuts are the most consumed nut as it comprises 67% of all nut consumption. Despite its name peanuts are actually legumes as it belongs to the botanical family Leguminosae. Peanuts are grown across the world with China accounting for 37% of the world production. Other regions include India, Nigeria, United States and Argentina.

Similar to other cultivated ingredients, how and where the peanut is grown will create flavour variability. A peanut’s taste is largely dependent on how long the legume is able to mature as it is being grown. Light coloured peanuts are less mature while darker colours indicate a more mature nut. Overall, peanuts have a complex flavor which works well with rich meats and sweet shellfish.

The Desirable Flavour Descriptors of Peanuts

As a result of it relations in the legume family, raw peanuts have a beany flavour. Due to challenges in the past for the research and peanut industry in communicating an “off” flavor in certain crops a lexicon of terms was created by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service to communicate the differences. This lexicon sought to describe how document the sensory characteristics of peanuts. Below are some of the descriptors outlined in the system:

  • Roasted peanutty- The aromatic associated with medium-roast peanuts and having a fragrant character such as methyl pyrazine
  • Raw bean/peanutty- The aromatic associated with light-roast peanut and having legume-like character
  • Dark roasted peanut- The aromatic associated with dark-roasted peanuts and having very browned or toasted character
  • Woody/hulls/skins- The aromatics associated with base peanut character (absence of fragrant top notes) and related to dry wood, peanut hulls and skins

The Undesirable Flavour Descriptors of Peanuts

  • Painty- The aromatic associated with linseed oil (rancid), oil based paint
  • Grainy- The aromatic associated with raw grain
  • Burnt- The aromatic associated with very dark roast, burnt starches and carbohydrates (burnt toast or espresso coffee)
  • Cardboard- oxidized fats and oils reminiscent of cardboard

How Preparations Affect Flavour

A peanuts flavor will change depending on the way it is processed. For example, if you have ever eaten roasted or fried peanuts you would have noticed they take on a sweet flavor, with hints of chocolate and meat, plus a vegetal undertone. This development is a result of the Maillard reaction and its ability to cause chemical reactions to occur between the amino acids and reducing sugars present in the sample. The new chemical compounds which are produced create a greater range of flavours.

The Maillard reaction produces certain pyrazines which are known for their roasted characteristic aroma and flavours. When roasted,  peanuts will develop the compound cyclohexapyrazine, a flavor ingredient present in foods such as wheat bread, cocoa, coffee and pork.

Unique Flavour Combinations for Peanuts

  • Peanuts and Asparagus- This combination might seem a little random at first but there is some sanity in this combination. Asparagus has a complex, earthy and meat like flavour which pairs well with the complex and meaty flavour of peanuts. To try this combination by creating an Asian inspired peanut sauce to put on top of the asparagus
  • Peanuts and Cucumber- Cucumbers have a crisp, refreshing, subtle and slightly sweet flavour. These flavours are able to cut through the peanuts dense, nutty flavour. Combine these two and add an additional hint of lime and to further counter the fattiness of the nuts.
  • Peanuts and Carrot- Depending on the variety, carrots can have a high level of sweetness. They also contain flavour notes of woodiness and a pine/parsley flavour. These same qualities can be found in peanuts making them a unique match for each other.


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