Technically, peanuts are legumes (edible seeds enclosed in pods), but they are used and eaten like nuts, and when it comes to sustainability, they stack up remarkably well both against other nuts and against rival sources of protein, said Jeff Johnson, president of Birdsong Peanuts.
According to Johnson, it takes just one gallon of water to make an ounce of peanuts, compared with 23-24 gallons for an ounce of almonds.*
Thanks to some nifty nodules on their roots, peanuts – like other legumes – also ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air, which adds to their green credentials, he added.
*Water footprint data varies dramatically according to the calculation method, the growing region, the date of the study and other factors, however. For example a 2010 UNESCO report looking at global data from 1996 to 2005 is very different to US-specific data (click HERE). Almond growers have also significantly reduced water use in recent years, says the Almond Board of California.
Nonetheless, said Johnson, regardless of whose figures you look at, peanuts consistently come out with a lower water footprint than rival nuts, while a recent report by the independent research firm IHS Global Insight also shows major improvements in energy use, soil erosion, land use and greenhouse gas emissions.
And yields have risen dramatically, in part thanks to marker assisted breeding techniques, making the US the lowest-cost producer in the world, he claimed.