A Complete Guide to Boiled Peanuts

by Curtis R. Fennell

Boiled peanuts are the official state snack of South Carolina, loved by most Southerners and 50% of Yankees who try them (the other 50% just won’t admit it). Although they're often viewed as a Southern oddity, the truth is that the Northern US is one of the few places in the world where boiled peanuts are not eaten. They’re popular around the globe, from South America to Africa to Asia.

Carroll Culbertson at the Greenwood Farmers Market

The best ones come straight from big kettles at roadside stands. These aren’t quite as commonplace as they used to be, but they’re still out there, and it's worth seeking them out. You get the real thing, and you help preserve a fine tradition.

Boiled peanuts are available at many local convenience stores, but they’re usually not cooked on the premises. They come pre-cooked in big cans and are reheated in a crock pot. You can get the same peanuts at the supermarket in smaller cans and microwaveable bags. Like most pre-packaged foods, they lose some quality in the process, but they're better than you might expect and acceptable for emergencies.

If you can’t find an authentic boiled peanut purveyor and don't feel right opening a can, you can make them yourself. After all, it’s a simple recipe—put some peanuts in water, throw in some salt, and boil them until they’re done. Nothing much to debate, right? Well, if we've learned anything from the  Internet, it’s that there’s always room for controversy. Boiled peanuts are no exception. If you talk to enough people you’ll soon discover opposing schools of thought regarding specifics such as which type of peanuts to use and whether the raw nuts should be green or dried.

Green or Dried?

Green peanuts aren't a separate variety. They're just peanuts of any type that are harvested early and sold while they're still moist. You can only get them during the growing season.

Green Peanuts

The phrase "boiled green peanuts" is used so much that a lot of people think it's the authentic and preferred method of preparation. This is misleading. The main advantage of green peanuts is that they cook faster, but the early harvest means more underdeveloped nuts. You get everything that comes out of the ground, including a lot of small, slug-like specimens and empty shells that fill up with water. You’re more likely to get an eyeful of salty water from a green boiled peanut, but you can have a batch ready in a couple of hours.

Dried peanuts take much longer to boil. If you're penciling this activity into your schedule, all day is a reasonable time to allow.  Supporters of the dried peanut method believe that it produces a superior product that's worth the wait. Peanuts destined to be dried are allowed to mature a little longer before harvesting, then culled for size and quality to yield consistent, flavorful, fully formed nuts.

Dried Peanuts

You can get dried locally-grown peanuts at farmers markets, jockey lots, or direct from the grower. You can also buy bagged dry raw peanuts at the grocery store, but these have the lowest moisture content and require the longest cooking time. If you do buy them from the supermarket, make sure to pay attention and get raw ones. I have no idea what would happen if you tried to boil roasted peanuts, but the end result could only be embarrassment.

Types of Peanuts

There are four main types of peanuts grown in the US, ranging in size from the small Spanish and Valencia to medium-sized Runners to large Virginia peanuts. In the Southeast, the robust, high-yielding Runners have increased in prominence over the last half-century to become the region's primary peanut crop. These are what you're most likely to find, especially from large-scale producers.

In recent years, there's been a lot more boiling of Virginia peanuts, advertised as jumbo boiled peanuts. This is supposed to be a selling point, but like most produce bred for size, there's a trade-off, and they just aren't as good, in either taste or texture, as smaller varieties.

Boiled Valencia Peanuts

The classic Southern boiled peanut is the Valencia. Although now grown primarily in New Mexico and Texas, some are still produced locally on small farms, often specifically for boiling. If you can't find a local source, they can be ordered from several online vendors. Many peanut enthusiasts agree that Valencias are sweeter, more tender, and better tasting than other types. They're easily recognizable, with as many as five plump kernels squeezed tightly together in the shell. If you're of a certain age and grew up eating boiled peanuts from roadside stands, these are the ones you remember.

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