An ode to the boiled peanut
by The Press and Standard | July 12, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: July 10, 2019 at 10:36 am
The mention of boiled peanuts evokes joy in some, confusion in others. Outside the South, folks can’t rationalize why one would boil a peanut — until they get here and have one for themselves. Watching the reactions of first-timers is always a treat, from opening the pod to discovering the mushy goodness within. We take the boiled peanut very seriously here in South Carolina. After all, it is our official state snack.
Production of boiled peanuts has existed in the South since the 19th century. Originally called goober peas, their consumption is thought to be linked to slaves from Africa, where the bambara groundnut (which is related to the peanut) is harvested and consumed in similar fashion. Peanut harvests usually occur in July and August, and excess peanut crops in the South were communally boiled and served at events resembling a pig picking, where family and friends came together for food and fellowship.
Boiled peanuts have since become an integral part of Southern cuisine. As with other foods stemming from folk origins, there is much debate as to preparation, flavor and texture. Either raw or green peanuts may be used. Green peanuts are those that have been freshly harvested, but not dehydrated, as raw peanuts have been. The most commonly found varieties are either Valencia or Virginia peanuts. Cooked for 4-7 hours in heavily salted boiling water, the finished product is the soft, salty peanut that we know and love. Usually, either salt or cajun flavors are offered.
Locally, there are a wealth of boiled peanut options. Benton’s Peanuts, based in Ruffin, is synonymous in Colleton County with the snack. Beginning in 1994 in a shed at Sniders Crossroads, the business has grown considerably over the years in that spot. Neon-colored paper signs hawking their peanuts can be found in store windows across Colleton County and beyond. A visit to the farm itself is always fun, as you can see workers preparing and packing peanuts while you shop.
Benton’s Peanuts are done the traditional way, boiled to perfection in a salty solution that yields flavorful, but not too salty, results with the peanuts having a smooth, soft texture. Currently, Benton’s Peanuts are sourced from Florida, as staff says their harvest occurs from late July through August. Boiled peanuts are sold in individual packs and in quantities up to a peck. Purchase them in local stores, or visit the farm at 12703 Lowcountry Highway in Ruffin.
Uncle Chuck’s Boiled Peanuts, which is a mobile operation, usually sets up shop at Highways 17A and 61 toward Summerville. While preparing their peanuts in the traditional way, their flavor options are anything but. Starting out with salted peanuts in 2011, customers began asking for a cajun option. Instead of cajun, the owners decided to present their spin, called Carolina Spice. From there, the heat intensified, as people wanted a hotter peanut. Carolina Reaper and Gator X peppers (which are the highest on the Scoville scale) were added, culminating in their Carolina X flavor, which is an insanely fiery and intense version of the beloved snack.
Uncle Chuck’s usually sells their peanuts throughout the week. Follow them on Facebook for exact times and dates.
(Josh Taylor, who is an addict of peanuts in any form, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)