A Quick History of Peanuts
Peanuts have been around since the dawn of time and appear to have first been domesticated in Peru in South America. Archaeologists have found evidence that peanuts were in common use there as long as 7,600 years ago.
However, they first entered European history books in the 17th century when they were carried aboard Portuguese slave ships as an essential food.
The Portuguese were bold, daring seafarers who operated a vast global trading network. And over the next three centuries they helped spread peanuts from Brazil (Portugal's major colony in South America at that time) to many other parts of the world including India, China, Africa and North America.
How Peanuts Arrived in Australia
Peanuts arrived in Australia in the 1870s with the gold rush. Chinese prospectors near Cooktownappear to have laid down the first domestic crops using seeds and clippings they'd bought with them from China.
Surprisingly, though, Australia took very little interest in peanuts at first. In fact, the total amount grown in the country by 1900 was estimated at less than 11 acres.
Over the next 20 years, however, peanut crops slowly began to expand.
By 1920 they occupied 272 acres of Queensland farmland and total annual production had risen to 123 tonnes per year.
The South Burnett region (which is now Australia's prime peanut growing area) put in the first test planting of an acre that same year. This marked the true beginning of commercial peanut cultivation in Australia.
Peanuts in the South Burnett
For the first few years production in the South Burnett remained pretty low (so low, in fact, that in 1922 the Marrickville Margarine Company was able to purchase the entire crop in a single buy!)
But the early trial plantings soon showed that the South Burnett's rich, red volcanic soils made it one of the most ideal places in world to grow peanuts.
So in 1924 the district established the Peanut Marketing Board(now the Peanut Company of Australia) headquartered in Kingaroy. And by 1930 production had climbed to 814 tonnes per year.
In 1933, the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland also started planting peanuts (ironically, in the same areas that the early Chinese gold prospectors first planted them).
Peanuts in Australia Today
Australia's annual peanut production continued to rise from the 1940s through to the 1980s as the nation developed a taste for this wonderful nut and all its derivative products.
The harvest reached 21,000 tonnes in 1960 and almost 47,000 tonnes by 1970. And it even went right up to a staggering 61,464 tonnes in 1979 after an exceptionally good planting season - a national record that still remains unbroken.
These days, though, Australia tends to produce a steady supply of approximately 40,000 to 45,000 tonnes of peanuts every year (the total harvest varies slightly depending on seasonal conditions). Nearly all of this crop is consumed domestically.
Peanuts are now also grown in the Bundaberg and Childers areas - the reason why we opened our second Peanut Van there! - and in the Northern Territory.