CultureFood & Drinks

The Traveling Peanut

Peanuts are believed to have originated when travelers brought the plant Arachis duranesis (native to the Andean mountains) to a place where Arachis ipaensis grew.  The two plants crossed in a rare genetic event and formed what would become the modern peanut.

Finding the origin story became the passion of botanists.  They believed that the parent plant Arachis ipaensis was extinct, until they found it grown near a small town in Bolivia.  This is why they now believe the peanut to have originated in Southeastern portion of Bolivia, although the lines that create the boundaries of politics had no bearing on their springing into being.  

Arachis Duranensis
Arachis Duranensis
A Ipaensis
A Ipaensis

These two simple plants cross pollinated, forming an alloploid, a more complex organism, but the resulting organism did not gain the ability to walk.  

Or did it?   As horticulture took hold among humans, plants were exchanged and grown in different areas.  This journal of travel; the taking over the world by a relatively obscure chance crossing of two non-descript plants is the more interesting story.  

The story of the birth is a wonder, but the real story lies in what happens after, in the adoption of cultivars, the movements and interactions of populations and the greater cultural contexts in which the movements take place.  

From Bolivia, the next page that has been found is where the plant shows up in Peru, before the use of ceramics.  The evidence of peanut use has been found in “sealed house floors and hearths in buried preceramic sites in a tropical dry forest of the Ñanchoc Valley, a tributary of the Zaña Valley located at 500 m above sea level, on the lower western slopes of the Andes in northern Peru”.  

The evidence of farming – stone hoes, garden plots, along with the presence of peanuts and other crops gives a tantalizing glimpse into life in the Andes as far back as 10,000 BP  (BP is a carbon dating time – which means before present.  ‘Present’ is set at 1950, when carbon dating began to be used).

People were interacting and sharing ideas and crops with other people thousands of miles away across the Andes highlands and lowlands.  

These networks of communities that shared new information and brought new crops have continued to develop and thrive.  That growth has continued to this day, as people carried with them plants from the “New World” to the “Old World” and visa versa. While a plant may seem static, it has legs, wings, and fins that take it throughout the world.


Colin Khoury, working with CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical) asserts that “globally, foreign crops made up 69 percent of country food supplies and farm production.”


For a visual estimation of what that means, click here.


The peanut has become a mainstay of life in the United States, where it is the 12th most important agricultural crop.  Peanuts have become important in Africa, where ground nuts (as peanuts are known there) are an important source of protein and pleasure in diets.  Peanuts show up in Thailand, where they are added to a variety of dishes.


The peanut, whose origin is in the Andes, and the hulls of which have been found under hearth stones in homes in Peru dating back thousands of years ago, has traveled the world and become an important member of the community of life.

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