Are the world’s peanuts becoming less flavorful because of me? A guilty pleasure revealed.

January 18, 2009

I like nuts.

Cashews and macadamias are among my favorites, but I’m also quite fond of peanuts.

So it is with some alarm that I admit that I may have (quite inadvertently) contributed to a decrease the flavor of the world’s peanuts. (Peanuts are not, technically speaking, actually nuts. Instead, they are legumes, related to beans and peas. Still, my crime is no less offensive, my guilt no less shameful.)

The other day I was eating some roasted and salted-in-shell peanuts, cracking the little buggers open and chomping them down. Some were single-shelled ones that looked like marbles, others contained three or four peanuts, and when held a certain way, strongly resembled the humps of a lake monster.

Anyway, as I enjoyed the peanuts, I noticed, as I have noticed on many warm, lazy summer afternoons spent munching peanuts, that some tasted better than others. All were good, of course, but some were especially, sublimely tasty, coming close to some Platonic ideal of what a peanut should taste like. I’d say about every 20 or 25 peanuts there would be a Ridiculously Tasty Super Peanut (RTSP), one that you just wanted to sit back and savor like a full body massage.

The RTSPs  were especially nutty and flavorful, and I almost wanted to spit one out to look at it to try and discern what made it so good. But by the time I had identified the otherwise ordinarly looking peanut as a RTSP, it was of course mosly masticated and soon to be swallowed. So I just popped a few more back, until a horrible thought came to me: Was I contributing in some small part to decreasing the overall flavorfulness of peanuts?

Yes, this is the sort of thing I sometimes think about. This may be one reason why people avoid me at parties. But bear with me here.

Let’s say that one out of twenty peanuts is a RTSP. That’s five percent of peanuts, the cream of the crop so to speak. I’m an investigator and a naturally inquisitve fellow. I like to know why things are the way they are, and by eating those RTSPs, I was digesting any chance to figuring out what made them so good: were they better roasted than the others? Was there some special chemical compound, some magical mystery mixture, that made them so good? But by eating and swallowing those Ridiculously Tasty Super Peanuts, I was destroying valuable scientific evidence:  I was the equivalent of Kato Kealin burning OJ’s bloody glove, or Nixon destroying the Watergate tapes.

Then an even worse realization came to me: Not only was I guiltily eating the RTSPs, but what if the excellent flavor was genetic? What if a certain subspecies of peanut made the RTSPs? Scientists and peanut growers need to know this, and here I am on my back porch eating the damn things—and this is the most tragic part: I’m taking them out of the gene pool. If I’m eating them, they are not being planted and therefore cannot reproduce and pass on the DNA that creates the delicious cocktail of peanutiness. The best are being systematically removed from the gene pool.  It’s like going to the nearest elementary school, going right to the classroom with the best and brightest children, and cutting them up with a machete, making sure they would never live to have children.

Okay, it’s not quite like that, but you get the idea.

It’s not all me; I’m not completely to blame, just as I personally am not causing global warming. But we each play a small role in our global environment; recycle, reduce, re-use, green footprints; hakuna matata, and all that jazz. And, I guess one could argue, that the process of roasting the peanuts basically kills them, so even if the RTSPs were planted, they wouldn’t pass on their tasty genes. Can any readers help me sort this out? Am I in some small way contributing to a world of bland legumes?