Peanuts Traditions, Superstitions, and Symbolism Around the World

Peanuts next to African and Mexican ritual masks

For many cultures around the world, peanuts go beyond being simply food. They have a very rich historical significance and are often involved in traditions in many countries. 

However, peanuts are not just bound by positive associations. Some superstitions surround them with misfortune in various contexts. Today, we are going to look at all the beliefs connected to peanuts around the world. Most of these traditions have old roots, but some of them last to this day.

Peanuts in Central and South American Traditions

In ancient Mesoamerica, peanuts had a deep significance. They had a role as a food source and trade, but they were also an important cultural symbol. This is evident in documents like the Florentine Codex, where peanuts are depicted alongside rituals and scenes of daily life.


For the Incas, peanuts were sacred. They were included in burial offerings to accompany the departed into the afterlife. The historian Cobo documented their use in religious rituals in his work “Historia del Nuevo Mundo” in 1653. He also noted the importance of peanuts to the Inca diet and economy.

Artifacts have shown that peanuts were a symbol of life and rebirth. Some findings depict them on pottery and various artistic representations.

Moche Civilization

The ancient Moche civilization, located on the northern coast of Peru, held peanuts in high esteem. They were present in their art, diet, and ritual practices. They were a prominent motif in Moche ceramics. A good example is a stirrup spout bottle featuring a peanut figure.

Just like the Incas, the inclusion of peanuts in Moche burials demonstrates their perceived importance in the afterlife. This practice suggests a belief that this legume was an essential provision for the journey to the next world.


The Aztecs valued peanuts as a food source and a cultural symbol. The Nahuatl word “tlalcacahuatl” (earth cocoa bean) suggests that peanuts held a unique place in Aztec thought. Because of that, they are believed to be connected to the concepts of the earth and fertility in Aztec culture.

Finally, they were used in medicinal practices, with the most known example being a peanut paste for toothaches. This implies a connection to good health in the Aztec civilization.

Mexican folklore

In Mexico, peanuts are linked with folklore and used in festivities. During the vibrant Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) festivities, they are included among the offerings to honor deceased loved ones.

Ofrendas containing peanuts in the "Dia de los muertos"

Family altars (ofrendas) are adorned with colorful displays of fruit, peanuts, and other foods as a way to welcome back the spirits of the departed.

Peanuts in African Traditions

Introduced to Africa by Portuguese traders, peanuts quickly became integrated into various traditions. Their symbolic meanings of prosperity and abundance are reflected in their roles within rituals and ceremonies across the continent.

Lifecycle Rituals

In various African communities, peanuts are prominently featured in lifecycle rituals. During Ghanaian wedding ceremonies, they serve as snacks and represent hospitality and unity. They are also used in decorative patterns with ancestral significance.

Peanuts also have symbolic significance in rites of passage, like initiation ceremonies. They represent the transition from one life stage to the next, often embodying wishes for fertility and future prosperity.

Oshun Goddess

Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of fresh water, love, fertility, and sensuality, is connected to peanuts. In traditions like Santeria and Candomblé, peanuts (“epa” in Yoruba) are frequently offered in rituals and ceremonies.

Devotees seek Oshun’s favor for fertility and prosperity by offering peanuts along with other sweet and yellow-colored items.

Peanuts in American Folklore and Traditions

Peanuts have left an undeniable mark on American folklore and traditions, from Southern kitchens to the White House.

Symbol of the American South

The peanut holds a special place in the Southern United States, where it is seen as a culinary and cultural hallmark. Southern states often celebrate it with numerous peanut festivals and consider it a fundamental part of their regional cuisine.

One traditional dish that highlights their significance in the South is boiled peanuts. It’s recognized for its distinct flavor, characteristic of Southern hospitality and communal gatherings. For further reading on this topic, check our blog post about boiled peanuts in the Southern USA.

African American folklore

Peanuts crossed the Atlantic and became integral to agricultural practices in the United States. African peoples brought such knowledge and traditions. In African American communities, they are part of many dishes, such as the classic peanut soup. As you may have already guessed, this dish was inspired by the original West African version. The soup’s connection to African American culture is even highlighted during Black History Month.


Political discourse has often employed peanuts as a metaphor. For instance, the term “peanut gallery” originated from American theater. It refers to the cheapest seats and, by extension, to critics without much influence.

Beyond that, peanuts have entered the political arena quite literally with the farming background of President Jimmy Carter. He established the peanut as a symbol of grassroots movements and the everyday citizen in political dialogue.

Social Symbolism

Throughout American culture, peanuts suggest modesty and approachability. This is evident in their association with classic snacks and nostalgic treats.

Think of Mr. Peanut, the iconic Planters mascot. His top hat and monocle add a touch of whimsy, but his core identity remains that of a humble peanut. This reinforces the legume’s unpretentious image.

This approachable symbolism makes peanuts a recurring element in American pop culture. Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip, for example, embraces childhood’s ordinary joys and challenges, a spirit well-matched by the humble peanut.

Check out our post about peanuts in art, literature, and pop culture for more insights.

Bad Luck for Race Car Drivers

Peanuts are notably associated with bad luck in racing. This curious superstition dates back to the early days of open-cockpit racing in the 1930s. Several accidents, some even fatal, were rumored to have peanut shells at the scene. Whether the shells were found in the wreckage, embedded in the car’s grill, or simply scattered around the track, peanuts became a scapegoat for misfortune.

A vintage photo of a race car driver next to his crashed car in the 1930s

The superstition is particularly strong within the NASCAR community. Many drivers and teams refuse to have peanuts anywhere near the vehicles or pit lanes. Some racing legends have even attributed losing streaks to mechanics snacking on peanuts near their cars. While the connection to racing tragedies is likely coincidental, the superstition remains a quirky and enduring part of racing culture.

Good Luck at Nasa

Contrasting to the previous superstition, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has a long-standing tradition of “lucky peanuts.”

The tradition dates back to the 1960s Ranger missions to the Moon. After a series of failures, someone in mission control ate peanuts during Ranger 7, which ultimately succeeded. From then on, it became customary for engineers to pass around peanuts for good luck before major launches and landings.

Peanuts in Asian Traditions

In Asian cultures, peanuts carry profound significance. China, in particular, links them with longevity and fortune.

Chinese New Year

During the Chinese New Year celebrations, peanuts play an important role. Known as “longevity nuts,” they symbolize vitality, long life, wealth, and honor. Often served unshelled, cracking open the peanuts may represent the “unveiling” of prosperity in the coming year.

Their presence on festive tables is a way to wish good health and a long, prosperous life for all who partake.

Chinese Weddings

In Chinese weddings, peanuts represent fertility, virility, and the wish for the couple to have many children. Their name in Chinese (“huasheng”) sounds similar to the phrase “to give birth,” which emphasizes hopes for a fruitful union.

Peanuts, along with other symbolic items like lotus seeds and red dates, are sometimes placed on the couple’s bed to encourage fertility. They are also common in the sweets and foods shared at wedding celebrations. That also suggests an association with good fortune and abundance.


Peanuts were part of ancient rituals, symbols of good fortune, and the main subjects of quirky superstitions. They have survived through time, traveled across continents, and left their mark in many places.

Traditions may evolve, but the peanut’s ability to symbolize our hopes, fears, and celebrations suggests it will continue to be a part of many cultures worldwide.

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