Are peanuts good for you? These days they’re almost looked down upon as a lowbrow choice, but the truth is that if prepared properly, they’re extremely healthy for you. Even better than most of the more expensive nuts.
High protein and moderate amount of antioxidants – including resveratrol – are just a couple of their health benefits. Though how do they compare to the wild jungle variety?
What are jungle peanuts?
Both regular and the “jungle” variety come from the same species (scientific name is Arachis Hypogaea). Despite being labeled a nut, they are actually a type of legume.
The difference between them is that the wild jungle peanut is an heirloom variety native to South America. This is where the crop originated, as the British “discovered” it in Brazil during expeditions a few centuries ago. Its history as a food dates back some 3,500 years, based on ancient pottery found in present day Peru and Brazil which were made in the shape of this legume. Typical grocery stores don’t sell them. On Amazon here is a link for the raw and organic harvested.
In the early 1800’s, farmers in the southeast United States began growing them. Generations of cultivation would lead to what today you would call a regular peanut – very uniform in appearance and taste.
On the other hand, jungle varieties have had limited cultivation. Like heirloom tomatoes, they remain truer to how the original wild plant actually was, before industrial farming.
Sellers of superfoods claim they were discovered “deep in the Amazon” which sounds like embellished marketing, but it is actually close to the truth.
Where jungle peanuts come from is often times the Achuar people. They are a community of around 18,500 people who up until the 1970’s, remained largely isolated from the rest of the world. Their region really is in the jungle along the Amazon, with around 15,000 on the Ecuadorian side and 3,500 on the Peruvian side.
So yes, calling them wild is an appropriate label. The history of the jungle peanut as food outside of those native countries is a very new phenomenon.
Consumption by type
What is the most popular type of peanut in the US? That would be the Runner peanut, which accounts for 80% of the domestic crop production.
Virginia come in at 15%, Spanish are 4%, and less than 1% is Valencia (1).
All of those are what people think of when they hear the word peanut. They have been heavily cultivated throughout the past two centuries to create a uniform appearance and taste.
Sadly, most of the worldwide crop today is grown in China. Unless a package you buy is specifically marked as grown in the USA, there is a good chance it’s coming from overseas.
If you look for a jungle peanuts wiki entry, you won’t even find one. It remains an extremely niche superfood representing less than 0.01% of US consumption. Unless American farmers learn how to grow jungle peanuts, it will likely stay that way too. Today’s supply is so limited coming from the Achuar people.
Here is how their nutritional information compares…
(per 1 oz serving)
|Jungle Peanuts||Regular Peanuts|
|Amount||% Daily Value*||Amount||% Daily Value*|
|Calories from Fat||120||130|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||not listed||4.5g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||not listed||7g|
|Vitamin E||not listed||15%|
|Thiamin (Vitamin B1)||not listed||10%|
|Niacin (Vitamin B3)||not listed||15%|
|Source||Sunfood Wild Amazonian Jungle Peanuts
|Planters Peanuts, Unsalted
(dry roasted, conventional)
|*Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.|
When it comes to listing nutrition facts, there are required fields like how many calories, and optional fields, like certain vitamins and minerals. Even though both sources don’t list all the same fields, based on their known values and the fact that they come from the same species, one can assume the missing fields are fairly comparable between the two types.
It’s also important to note this is not a true apples to apples comparison. Why? Because the Planters peanuts are dry roasted, while the Sunfood jungle peanuts are raw.
Where can you buy raw peanuts for sale? Surprisingly almost nowhere, at least when it comes to the regular varieties like Runner and Valencia.
For example in Los Angeles, among all the locations for Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and independent health grocers in the city, we have only come across a single store which sells raw peanuts – Rainbow Acres in Culver City.
What they sell as “raw” is without the skin, which is less nutritious. While not roasted, it is obvious some sort of heated blanching had to take place, as that is the only way to remove skins. Their raw descriptor should really be changed to “not roasted” since they were probably immersed in boiling water.
You can find truly raw for sale online. This 5 lb bag of raw redskins is a good deal, but it lists only the minimum required fields on the label. That’s why we chose Planters for the comparison, since it was one of the most comprehensive for nutrition facts.
Which is healthier?
Before even getting into whether jungle peanuts vs. peanuts are better for you, it’s important to address the elephant in the room… roasting.
Some people are on strictly raw diets, on the premise that everything cooked is bad or less healthy than before heating.
Most people are like use – we still eat plenty of cooked food, but try to avoid or minimize consumption of heated foods which create high amounts of advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
That’s what happens when proteins or fats interact with sugars (carbohydrates) and become glycated upon heating. They mostly form under the following conditions:
- Temperatures above 250 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of cooking method.
- Cooking which involves uneven heat distribution (grilling, frying, roasting).
- Cooking which has a drying effect (baking, roasting).
Visually, it often manifests itself as the browning and charring you see on food.
Molecularly, these AGEs are substances which science suggests may have an adverse affect on health.
Some of the most concerning are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in meat.
There are around a dozen different types of HCAs/PAHs which are classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” or “carcinogenic to humans” according to the World Health Organization (2). Though to be clear, when they are inside of food, they are not classified as such. It’s only when they are encountered through other means, like as a byproduct of petroleum combustion.
Essentially, regulators are willing to label them as bad, but won’t go so far as to say the amounts contained in food are bad.
Does lobbying pressure and fear of food industry liability have anything to do with that?
In cooked plant-based foods, the type of end product most prevalent is acrylamide. It too is listed as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization, when outside of food. It’s found in cigarette smoke and used for some industrial purposes.
So officially, the amounts of HCAs, PAHs, and acrylamide in your food are perfectly safe. For liability reasons, we are not going to disagree with that at the moment.
Regardless, if you want to reduce your consumption of advanced glycation end products, it’s better to eat raw nuts. Why? Because some types of roasted nuts can contain high amounts of acrylamide, at least relative to other foods.
When you do eat peanuts, it may actually be healthier to eat those traditionally roasted in oil versus dry roasted.
Yes, cottonseed oil is one of the most unhealthy and has its own set of issues, however it still may be preferable because dry roasting appears to create more acrylamide, based on the following samples tested by the FDA (3):
- “party” style: none detected
- honey roasted: none detected
- dry roasted, unsalted: 28 ppb
Regardless of which form you eat, nuts should not be your top concern relative to other dietary sources. Cooked potatoes are a major source and the highest is acrylamide in coffee.
5 shared health benefits
As you saw above, their nutrition facts are extremely similar and that is to be expected given that jungle and regular come from the same plant species. Here’s a rundown of peanut benefits, which will be shared among all varieties.
1. Protein content
Among those which are commonly available, peanuts are actually the best nuts for protein. With nearly a third of their content being protein, they have over 20% more than the 3 runner-ups; pistachio, almonds, and cashews.
Bodybuilders appreciate their amino acid profile. Pistachios do beat them on the BCAAs, but not by much.
|Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) content|
|Leucine||1535 mg||1600 mg||1170 mg||1461 mg||1285 mg|
|Isoleucine||833 mg||932 mg||625 mg||745 mg||731 mg|
|Valine||993 mg||1262 mg||753 mg||848 mg||1040 mg|
That’s for the regular common variety. Even though the amino acid profile for jungle peanuts has not been published, it’s safe to say it would look quite similar.
The ORAC value of raw peanuts is 3,166. That’s high relative to even many fruits and vegetables.
Are peanuts a superfood? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that they are antioxidant-rich, but no when it comes to portion size.
All of those ORAC values reflect how much antioxidants are in 3.5 ounces worth. Eating that many of this nut equates to several servings, totaling 567 calories. Eating that much wild blueberries may be one serving and as little as 60 calories.
When you compare the ORAC of peanut versus almond, chestnut, pistachio, hazelnut, walnut, and pecan, it will be lower than all of them, though it is still a rich source.
There is one particular type of antioxidant that peanuts are a rich source of and the others are not…
3. Resveratrol content
How much resveratrol is in peanuts? Researchers measured crops over a two year period and found concentrations ranging from 0.015 mg to as high as 1.33 mg per gram (4).
To put that in perspective, an entire glass of red wine (around 5 and 1/3 oz) may contain around 0.50 mg of resveratrol (5).
Even using the lowest amount of resveratrol measured in peanuts (0.015 mg), that means a typical 1 ounce serving (28g) would provide almost as much resveratrol as red wine; 0.42 mg vs. 0.50 mg in the wine.
And remember, that was a “worse case” scenario. If you run the numbers using something in the middle or upper-end of the range, it means that your average serving of peanuts might have several dozen times the resveratrol content as a glass of Merlot or Cabernet.
Not to mention, one source is alcohol which is not healthy, while the other is a beneficial food in moderation.
No one has measured the resveratrol content in jungle peanuts, but again it would be expected to be similar and possibly even higher.
Since resveratrol is easily destroyed by heat, it’s yet one more health benefit of raw jungle peanuts. Since the regular kind are almost always sold roasted, it’s tough to say how much resveratrol they have left remaining.
4. MUFAs vs. PUFAs
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are considered healthier than polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).
The Achilles heel of eating nuts is that most types have a high amount of PUFAs and very little MUFAs.
Almonds and cashews are only 33.7% and 23.8% monounsaturated fat, respectively.
How much monounsaturated fat is there in jungle peanuts? No one can say for sure since that data has not been published, but it will be a similar number to the regular variety; about 50% monounsaturated and 32% polyunsaturated fat.
How much omega 3’s vs. 6’s are in jungle peanuts? Again, no published data but if you compare them to regular, the ratio is pretty bad; almost 5,000 to 1 (for omega 6 to omega 3 content). This is one drawback but not unusual for nuts and seeds, as only walnuts, sacha inchi, chia, and flax have ample amounts of omega 3 fatty acids.
5. Cholesterol lowering
The high percentage of monounsaturated fat may not be the only reason they’re heart healthy.
Peanuts are cholesterol free, but the same can be said about all plants, as only humans and animals produce it.
What’s unique is that they contain a high amount of phytosterols. Those are found in the membranes of plant cells.
On the molecular level, they are structurally similar to cholesterol. For that reason, they can compete with dietary absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract.
There is research which suggests that plant sterols, like the beta-sitosterol found in these nuts, may help to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) as part of healthy diet (6).
Jungle peanut allergy?
The amount of people who are allergic to the regular kind is truly exaggerated.
Both government bodies and academic institutions conclude that only between 0.6% and 1% of the population has a peanut allergy (7).
But for a moment let’s say that number is grossly misrepresented and it’s actually 300% or even 500% higher. Even if that were the case, it still would be 1 out of 20 people. Yet it sometimes seems like everyone claims this allergy, even when they’ve had no actual testing!
However for those who do have the allergy, it can definitely be dangerous and is nothing to fool around with. That brings us to another misconception…
We have seen a number of “health” bloggers and even a couple sellers who claim that you don’t experience allergies with jungle peanuts or that being allergic to them is rare. They allege the reason for this is because they’re non GMO.
What a total crock!
If you are allergic to regular peanuts, then you should not eat the jungle varieties. Remember, both come from the exact same species and therefore, their proteins are the same. If you’re allergic to one, you’re allergic to both.
For those who allege they’re allergic but not to the jungle type are likely delusional… they probably didn’t have a real peanut allergy to begin with.
As far as an allergy test for jungle peanuts, that is also nonsensical since if one existed (and it doesn’t) it would be testing for the same proteins.
5 benefits of jungle peanuts
So which characteristics can be claimed specific to these varieties? Or at least more likely to occur in them?
The truth is that as of right now, not a whole lot. This is because there is very little scientific research out there analyzing the differences. No one can say with certainty all the pros and cons which exist with one type, but not the other.
Though a few things jungle may have going for them are…
1. Grown in a potentially safer country
As mentioned above, most of the regular varieties today are grown in China.
You can’t factually claim that simply being grown in China is any less healthy than US crops. If rules followed, they will be equally as healthy.
Regardless, many people would prefer to have their food not come from China, given the rampant pollution problems and safety issues which have occurred with other types of imported foods originating from there.
One advantage of jungle peanuts is that as of now, we are not aware of any being grown in China. To the best of our knowledge, all for sale are imported from South America, primarily Ecuador.
2. You can buy them 100% raw
Between the resveratrol content and acrylamide, we already went over two advantages of eating them raw. Those aside, many vitamins and other phytonutrients are destroyed by heat.
Regular are almost impossible to find for sale in the raw form. With organic wild jungle peanuts, it’s the opposite – trying to find them for sale as roasted/heated is a hard challenge!
3. High in antioxidants
Because they are raw, they should have higher antioxidant content. Though even if you were comparing jungle versus regular in their raw form, they still might win.
Why? Without ORAC testing it’s impossible to know, but in theory, there’s a good chance their unique tiger striped skin offers more than aesthetic benefits.
The most prevalent antioxidant in peanuts is p-coumaric acid. Unlike resveratrol, it actually holds up well under dry and oil roasting. High-oleic Spanish redskins are said to have the highest amount of p-coumaric acid (8).
Given the dark outer skin found on peanuts of the jungle form, it would be likely that they contain high amounts of p-coumaric. Probably even higher than those common varieties sold without skin like Runner, Valencia, and Virginia.
4. Low in aflatoxins
These are toxins produced by certain forms of fungi which grow on peanuts, as well as other nuts, grains, even milk and cheese. Regardless of where it’s found, it is can have serious side effects on the liver and since 1988, this toxin has been on the World Health Organization’s list of human carcinogens.
To be clear, aflatoxins are not normally in any of these foods. Only contaminated crops are a concern.
In the United States this is not really a problem, as the USDA routinely tests nuts (and other foods) to check for aflatoxin contamination.
Despite their safety, you regularly hear about people hesitant of eating peanuts because they might be exposed to low levels of aflatoxin (amounts below detection and/or maximum thresholds). There is no evidence or proof that is happening, but it remains a concern for some people nonetheless.
Some people purport that because they’re not grown on large scale factory farms, wild jungle peanuts are aflatoxin-free. As of the time of this review, Essential Living Foods who is a popular seller of them, claims this on their website:
“The FDA allows up to 15 parts-per-billion (ppb) of aflatoxin in peanuts destined for human consumption. Our wild jungle peanuts consistently show less than 2ppb and often less than 1ppb. That’s up to 15 times less than what the average American is allowed to eat!”
We point out that while they cite how much aflatoxins are in theirs, they don’t cite the average for regular, only the max allowed.
Without knowing that data, you can’t say jungle peanuts contain less aflatoxins than conventional peanuts. Unfortunately we are not aware of current comprehensive research which publishes the average amount contained in U.S. sold conventional varieties.
However for those grown and sold overseas, the case for eating jungle becomes much more compelling.
For example in Thailand, 92.6% of aflatoxin intake is said to come from ground, roasted, and raw peanuts:
That’s according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (9). Obviously we don’t have that issue in the US, but the graph does show you just how much aflatoxin is in peanuts as a crop if stringent countermeasures aren’t taken to control them (like we have).
5. Unique taste
Why is it bad to eat raw peanuts? It has nothing to do with safety, but rather taste.
Eating them raw is 100% safe. Even if aflatoxins were present, roasting does not destroy it. The reason no one sells raw is because most people think they have a horrendous flavor.
Why do raw peanuts taste bad? Because they taste like a raw legume (uncooked bean). Some say they taste like a raw potato.
What do jungle peanuts taste like? Many people enjoy the taste more than the conventional type in their raw state. Jungle’s flavor can be described as sweeter and milder than the roasted versions you are accustomed to.
Of course taste is subjective so they will not be to everyone’s liking, but generally the opinions are quite positive. We have read product reviews which say they are the “most delicious” nut or their “favorite” flavor versus almonds, cashews, and other common varieties. We wouldn’t go that far, but they do taste significantly better than their domesticated cousin in the raw.
There is not adequate research out there for people to claim that jungle peanuts are healthier than regular. Both types are good for you. That said, given their exotic origin and unique flavor, it makes sense why the popularity of jungle is surging. Here are some on Amazon that we like.