History and Recipe of Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts inside a paper bag

Boiled peanuts are a Southern classic, a snack that’s become much more than just food. They’re all about those long summer and fall days, often seen at roadside stands, ballgames, and anywhere good folks gather.

It seems simple enough to prepare them, but the perfect boiled peanut takes a little know-how. You start with those green peanuts, fresh from the field. Toss them in a big pot of salty water and let them simmer for hours until they’re soft as butter. What you get is pure Southern comfort, a taste of home and tradition.

Historical Background

Boiled peanuts have a rich heritage that connects continents and centuries. Their history reflects cultural exchanges from times of colonial trade to the practices of the American South.

Origins and Spread

Though they’re a Southern tradition now, peanuts actually started their journey in South America. History and trade carried them far and wide. The Portuguese played a big part, bringing peanuts to Africa sometime in the 1600s. They took root there, quickly becoming an integral part of many regional cuisines.

Emergence in the American South

The same ships that brought enslaved Africans to the shores of the American South also carried peanuts. Their destinies were tragically connected. In the harsh realities of the colonial era and slave trade, peanuts took root in the fields of Georgia, South Carolina, and neighboring states.

They were consumed in various forms, with boiling them in saltwater becoming a popular method to enhance their flavor and longevity.

The American Civil War

During the Civil War, peanuts became an even more crucial food source for the Confederacy, especially for soldiers. With Union blockades restricting supplies, boiled peanuts provided a portable, protein-rich option for soldiers on the move. There are even mentions of soldiers carrying them to roast or boil over campfires.

The cultural significance of boiled peanuts is even immortalized in a popular Civil War-era song called “Goober Peas.” The humorous lyrics tell of Confederate soldiers relying on boiled peanuts (“goober peas”) for sustenance when other food sources became scarce. You can check the song and lyrics on the following page.

Rise in Popularity in the Early 20th Century

The status of boiled peanuts as a Southern delicacy was solidified in the early 20th century. The first published recipe dates back to 1899 by Almeda Lambert, indicating the beginnings of their widespread popularity. By the 1920s, they were being sold on the streets of South Carolina for five cents a bag. That suggests a significant turn in their commercial availability.

Peanuts were everywhere! You could even find them sold in barber shops and elevators. Especially after bumper crops, like the one in Georgia back in ’45, boiled peanuts flooded the market.

Cultural and Social Significance

Boiled peanuts have a special place in the South. They reflect the region’s identity and traditions through cuisine and social practices.

Symbol of Southern Culture and Cuisine

Boiled peanuts are commonly associated with a warm spirit reflective of Southern hospitality. They have become a beloved icon throughout some states.

State Recognition and Heritage

The legume has gained such prominence that it has been named the official state snack of South Carolina. This recognition is a perfect example of its importance to the region’s heritage. It also honors the agricultural traditions of Southern farmers who cultivate and harvest this crop, contributing to the local identity and pride.

Social Tradition

They are usually served at social gatherings such as weddings, parties, tailgates, and ball games. This is a clear indicator of the peanut’s role in community bonds and shared cultural experiences.

Impact on Local Communities

The boiled peanut industry supports local economies, particularly in rural areas. Farmers who plant and harvest this legume depend on the revenue from both grocery store sales and the numerous roadside stands.

It’s evident how this industry sustains the livelihood of several communities across the Southern United States.

Contemporary Culinary Scene

Boiled peanuts aren’t stuck in the past. Chefs all over the South are finding exciting new ways to use them – think appetizers, salads, even fancy main dishes. One that’s blowing up right now is boiled peanut hummus. It’s got all that classic hummus flavor, but with a Southern twist

Boiled peanut hummus in a bowl

Preparation Techniques

When preparing boiled peanuts, it is very important to choose the right ones and cook them with proper technique. The classic boiling method is a popular approach, but modern techniques offer variations to suit different needs and equipment.

Classic Boiling Method

Green peanuts, which are fresh and not dried, are the preferred choice for boiling. Their higher moisture content allows for a shorter cooking time and a more tender result. 


  • 1 pound of green or raw peanuts (fresh, unroasted)
  • ½ cup salt
  • Water (enough to cover peanuts generously)


  • Large stockpot or Dutch oven
  • Colander or strainer


  1. Rinse: Thoroughly rinse the green peanuts in a colander under cool water to remove any dirt or debris.
  2. Prepare the brine: In your stockpot, dissolve the salt in enough water to fully cover the peanuts. Aim for a nice salty flavor, like seawater.
  3. Boil: Add the rinsed peanuts to the brine and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer: Once boiling, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the peanuts reach your desired level of tenderness. For green peanuts, this will be around 2-4 hours. If you opt for raw peanuts, it could take up to 8 hours. Check periodically and add more water if needed.
  5. Test for doneness: Carefully remove a peanut, crack it open, and taste it. If it’s the right tenderness for you, they’re done! If not, continue simmering with additional checks.
  6. Drain and enjoy: Once the peanuts are cooked, drain them in a colander. Serve warm or allow them to cool for later.

Alternative Cooking Methods

For those seeking convenience or to save energy, cooking peanuts in a slow cooker or crockpot is an effective method. 

  1. Follow steps 1 and 2 above.
  2. Transfer the peanuts and brine to your slow cooker.
  3. Cook on HIGH for 5-7 hours or LOW for 22-24 hours.
  4. Check for doneness as indicated in step 5 above, and adjust cooking time if needed.
  5. Drain and enjoy as before.

Variations and Flavors

Boiling peanuts can be enjoyed in all kinds of flavors. 

Cajun Boiled Peanuts

Load up that boiling water with Cajun seasoning, salt, Old Bay, crushed red pepper, brown sugar, garlic, and a dash of liquid smoke. You’ll get boiled peanuts with a serious kick and a smoky depth.

Lemon Pepper

This variation pairs the zestiness of lemon with the sharp bite of black pepper. It offers a tangy and aromatic twist to the classic boiled peanuts.and

Salt and Vinegar 

Reduce the water and add apple cider vinegar along with kosher salt for a salt and vinegar flavor profile.


Add star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks to the boiling water for an Asian-inspired flavor.

Hawaiian Style

Hawaiian-style boiled peanuts are a unique fusion. It mixes Aloha State favorites, such as Hawaiian salt, ginger, and peppercorns, with typical Asian ingredients, such as star anise.

Sweet and Spicy

This version balances the heat of chili flakes with the sweetness of honey. Adding soy sauce and ginger will create a unique flavor to this variation.


Coat the boiled peanuts in your favorite BBQ sauce or dry BBQ spice rub after cooking.

The “Messy” Experience of Eating Boiled Peanuts

Eating boiled peanuts is a whole experience in itself. First-timers might be surprised by the soft shell; that’s what hours of simmering does! But that’s how they get so flavorful, with a texture you won’t find in the roasted kind. It’s a different way to enjoy peanuts, and a delicious one at that.

To begin the eating experience, one grasps a peanut and gently squeezes to crack the softened shell. It is a simple motion that quickly becomes second nature.

Once the shell is cracked, the eater is greeted with a bit of salty broth that has infused the peanuts during boiling. This liquid, rich with seasoning, is often enjoyed before reaching the peanut itself. It’s an integral part of the experience, like savoring the broth of a soup before indulging in the solid ingredients. The taste is robust and enticing, and encourages the eater to continue.

They can then be eaten directly from the shell. The peanuts inside are usually tender, making them both easy to eat and digest. The act of eating becomes interactive, as each person has their own method for extracting the peanuts. Some favor efficiency while others take a leisurely approach, savoring each bite.

Where to Find and Enjoy Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts can be found in various locations, and they are often enjoyed by both locals and visitors. 

A sign for boiled peanuts with an arrow
  • Roadside stands are traditional spots where you can purchase freshly boiled peanuts. They are typically found dotting the highways and backroads in Southern states.
  • For those seeking to indulge in this treat at local gatherings, farmers’ markets provide a space where boiled peanuts are sold alongside other fresh, local produce. From time to time, there are festivals dedicated to boiled peanuts in the South. 
  • In areas where they are less common, specialty stores and online retailers offer pre-packaged or “boil-at-home” options, making it convenient for enthusiasts to enjoy this delicacy regardless of their location.
  • For a more hands-on approach, individuals can purchase green peanuts during the harvest season and prepare them at home. That allows for complete control over the seasonings and level of tenderness.


The traditional art of boiling peanuts has deep roots in Southern history, with mentions of early recipes dating back to the 19th century.

They’re often associated with the image of roadside stands, where freshly boiled peanuts are sold in paper bags. This imagery is a slice of life in the South.

For those who have not had the pleasure, exploring the different types of boiled peanuts can be rewarding. Each variety brings its own profile of flavors, fitting either a casual gathering or a solitary moment of comfort food. 

The snack is an invitation to a broader appreciation of Southern foodways. Visitors and residents alike celebrate this simple food’s ability to convey a sense of place, history, and community.

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