The Peanut Podcast Episode 21: Alternative Uses for Peanuts

The Peanut Podcast Episode 21: Alternative Uses for PeanutsOct 2, 2023

Peanut production in the US is skyrocketing. Ten years ago, US peanut farmers produced a two-million-ton crop. Today it’s three million. In ten more years, it will likely be four million. Putting future peanut crops to good use will take innovative approaches and requires attention now to set farmers and the industry up for success. In this episode, we’ll learn about promising areas of innovation to push this crop into new frontiers and keep peanut farming profitable. We speak with Dr. Nino Brown of the University of Georgia, Dr. Marshall Lamb from the National Peanut Research Lab, Texas peanut grower Larry Don Womack and Stephen Richards of Better Body Foods. Below are a few excerpts from the episode, and you can listen to the full episode here.

First, we spoke with Dr. Nino Brown, an assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia. “I work in peanut breeding. I'm originally from Suwannee, Georgia, and my family is from Texas. So, I kind of claim dual citizenship with Georgia and Texas,” said Brown.

A lot of the different uses of peanuts center around its oil—both the balance of fatty acids in the oil and the amount of oil in the peanut. Brown explained the difference between normal-oleic peanuts, high-oleic peanuts and high-oil-content peanuts. “The oil of the peanut seed has different fatty acids that make up that oil. And one of those is oleic acid, as well as linoleic…We've just begun a new direction for the breeding program looking at high oil content peanuts. So, there's some demand in the market for higher oil content. Internationally, the peanut industry is largely an oil market. And so, we want to be able to play in that marketplace and to do so we need high oil content peanut variety.”

Developing these new varieties can take a long time so it’s important to begin the work early. “It takes about 10 years from the time we first make a cross-pollination between a high oil line and the Southeastern-adapted line,” said Brown. “It'll take approximately 10 years before we have variety that's ready to go.”

Next, we spoke with Dr. Marshall Lamb, the location coordinator and research leader at the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Georgia. “I'm particularly bonded to peanuts because I was born and raised on a working peanut farm,” said Lamb. “And my brother is a full-time farmer. I'm generally with him on the farm almost every day. So, peanuts are in my lifeblood if you will.”

According to Lamb, there are a few different opportunities for research into non-traditional uses for peanuts. “I think the two to three most promising is the work looking at alternative feed additives from poultry, both for meat production and poultry, as well as eggs, and also potentially other livestock because we're seeing the positive attributes of peanuts and even high oleic peanuts that can actually transfer into positive characteristics of poultry, meat and eggs.

“Another one was from the Southern Peanut Growers Conference where we had Dr. Atanu Biswas come down from Illinois talking about our potential in the bioplastics arena. Bioplastics is a very fast-growing alternative. And he really opened our eyes and helped expand our thinking on how peanut oil can be a great option for the bioplastic industry as we move forward.

“And of course, at the conference, we also had a couple of talks looking at biofuels. And there have been several studies looking at biofuels for the growing biofuel market in the United States…So, all of these options coming together could really be a boost for the peanut industry.”

We also spoke to Larry Don Womack for a peanut grower’s perspective on these new uses for peanuts. “My name is Larry Womack or Larry Don Womack as a lot of people call me Larry Don. I am from Central Texas. I have grown up raising peanuts. My first peanut crop was an FFA project at 14. So, at 63 I've went through a few crops, quota years into the new program. Some years of not growing. But peanuts have always been a passion for me. Now my main business is I have a mail-order fruit and pecan tree nursery where we ship trees all over the South. And then I've got into cotton farming, a cow-calf operation, wheat, hay. I do a little bit of everything, but it takes diversity to make it nowadays in agriculture.”

As a grower, Womack knows it’s important to keep growing demand for peanuts. “I fully believe that any displaced peanut in the market is at an advantage to growers. Because once you get rid of supply, as the demand increases prices or money back at the farm gates should follow. We've got to start thinking outside of the box. Here in Texas, as most know, we are working on the diesel peanut. The diesel peanut is going to be really good because it's a plant-based fuel. And along with it the byproducts and such growing this can be used for livestock feed. So, you know, it's just going to take all of us working together in finding new markets for what we have.”

Finally, we spoke with Better Body Foods CEO Stephen Richards about new uses for peanut in foods. “I founded the business in 2007,” said Richards. “Prior to founding Better Body Foods, I graduated from law school, I practiced law, I did some investment banking. And then I worked in the healthcare industry. But throughout the course of my career, and even prior to my professional career, I always had a very strong interest in cooking. And in particular, in eating healthy foods.”

Better Body Foods makes the popular PBFit powdered peanut butter and has several other nutrition-focused brands that are available at retailers nationwide. One of the new products Better Body Foods has released is their PBFit Peanut Flour Baking Blend, available on Amazon. “That product is one of our new innovative products. It's a combination of peanut flour, buckwheat and xantham gum so it's a blend of four different ingredients,” said Richards. “But the reason why we blended is we wanted to develop a one-for-one exchange with white flour, a product that you would actually use to bake. That came about because we were using PBFit in so many baked items, cookies and other stuff. We found that the taste and texture was just fantastic. And so, our peanut flour is actually gluten-free, whole grain, very clean ingredients, [10 grams of] protein vis-à-vis white flour or almond flour, significantly less calories than almond flour.”

Another innovative use for peanuts on the horizon for Better Body Foods is peanut milk, which NPB is supporting with funding for research and development and future marketing. “One of the brands in our portfolio is Oatsome,” said Richards. “We do an oat milk, which is out in the marketplace right now. That product is made by taking oats, blending them with certain enzymes, and then the milk and the nutrition and the flavor is extracted out of that. So, because we're in that peanut business with PBFit as well, and that's our biggest brand, we thought it'd be interesting to see if we could do a PBFit peanut milk. That product is actually under development as we speak. We've developed a base product and a milk as a base. It's really, I think, a pretty good product. We're finding it nutritionally much higher in protein than our oat product. I don't think it's going to be as all-purpose oat milk. I think its purpose will be primarily to be blended as an ingredient. But I think we're going to be able to develop plant-based protein chocolate peanut butter shakes and things of that nature with it. That'll be quite delicious. And, and again, very clean ingredients, and directed and sourced directly from peanuts themselves and the protein will be from the peanuts themselves.”

The beauty of this story is that peanut growers are increasingly able to produce high-yielding, high-quality crops without increasing use of resources. That’s a great thing. But with larger crops comes the need to find new ways to put them to good use. In talking with Nino, Marshall, Stephen and Larry Don for this episode, it’s clear that this topic is on the minds of folks across the industry and it needs continued investment, new ways of thinking and operating. Plus, as Marshall said, the industry has successfully navigated similar challenges before and can do it again.

Listen to the full episode here.

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