I heard some coworkers discussing peanuts yesterday, likely uses for cooking or pros and cons or even allergies, but all I caught was that the conversation was about peanuts and that got me thinking about the nomenclature of peanuts. Because I’m weird like that. Everyone (or near it) has heard from a cartoon or some person in their lives who’s trying to sound smart (I know because I used to and can still occasionally be that kind of person who uses trivialities to express some supposed intellectual superiority) how peanut is such a weird common name for Arachis hypogaea because you know, those aren’t nuts. And you know what? They’re right! Peanuts aren’t nuts at all because a nut is botanically classified as a fruit who’s ovary wall becomes hard at maturity and peanut shells are laughably brittle.
Peanuts are legumes what with the whole growing in pods, nitrogen bacteria symbiosis, etc. But you know what else are legumes? Any kind of bean thing and that includes peas! So peanuts are a legume like peas, but they aren’t peas. They’re a legume that isn’t like legumes at all, it’s a legume that culinarily and behavior wise acts more like a nut…. So it’s a nut-like legume that grows in pods and is about the same size as peas…. You could argue that it’s a nut-like pea even…. or the nut of the pea…. or, you know, a PEA-NUT!
Huh, so maybe peanut is about the best name we can give the fruit considering what we know about the plant. And now if you ever hear someone try to sound smart by decrying the peanut’s nomenclature you can correct their smug ass and get to be pedantically more correct! Yeah!