Boiled peanuts, sometimes called goober peas or boilers, are a common snack food in the southern United States and are often sold in stands by the side of the road in this region. They are made by boiling unroasted peanuts in salted water for several hours without removing the shell. The boiling process makes the peanuts soft and salty. Traditionally, boiled peanuts are consumed while still hot and wet, and are paired with beer, sweet tea, or another cold drink. It is said that the snack is best enjoyed outdoors to minimize the ensuing mess made by peanut shells and wet hands.
Recipes for boiling peanuts can vary depending on both region and personal preference. While many different peanut varieties can be boiled, Valencia and Virginia peanuts are now the most common varieties used. The peanuts used for boiling are often called raw or green, which means that they are not dried or roasted. Either rock salt or table salt can be used in the boiling solution. Ham hocks, peppers, beer, and other seasons are sometimes added to the boiling water for flavor.
The actual boiling process is relatively straightforward. Raw peanuts are placed in the boiling seasoned salt water and boiled until they are finished. This can be a fairly quick process if not many peanuts are being boiled, or an extremely lengthy one if a large quantity is being prepared. Typically, it takes between four and seven hours. Boiling usually takes place outdoors over a fire or propane burner, but peanuts can be prepared at home in a slow cooker as well.
Several southern states are associated with these peanuts. They are very popular in Georgia, northern Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina. The product is so popular in South Carolina that it was made the state's official snack food in 2006. Other states, particularly Virginia and North Carolina, also have significant boiled peanut traditions. It can be difficult to find this snack food in other states, but occasionally restaurants and stores specializing in southern cuisine will boil peanuts.
This method of preparing peanuts also exists outside the United States, though these foods are usually referred to by different names in other countries. In Vietnam, for example, boiled peanuts are called dau phong or cu lac, and they are similarly often found being sold by the side of the road. Many countries, including India, Thailand, and Nigeria, have a version of boiled peanuts. Any country that has peanuts might prepare this food by boiling, and not always through the lineage of southern cuisine.
The season for boiled peanuts in the south is May through November, though they can be made out of season if the ingredients are available. These months are when it is most common to see roadside vendors in southern states. Canned boiled peanuts are available year round.
No official date exists for the origin of boiled peanuts in the south, but the snack is thought to have gained popularity during the Civil War. As this origin legend would have it, confederate soldiers salted and boiled peanuts over campfires due to food shortages. Salt was scarce for these soldiers, so this is likely a myth, but it is true that soldiers prepared peanuts often during this period. Boiling may simply be the result of the abundance of peanut crops in this area, and the population's desire for alternatives to roasting for food preparation.